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Panama Canal - Panama

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

It was fascinating, especially as we experienced the visitor centre of the Gatun Locks chambers of the Panama Canal from the shore the day prior in Colon.

Fun facts:

  • Until 1979, Colon was part of America. US citizens can retire back in Colon and receive 20 years tax-free.

  • 80% of Panama City is Chinese due to the railway building, and 80% of Colon is from Barbados and Jamaica due to the canal. Every little town has a different influence.

  • Ships transiting through the canals pay for all containers/cabins, whether occupied or empty. On average, it is 350k per ship to transit the canal.

  • The canals make an average of 12-15 million daily in revenue, and the minimum wage is $600 monthly.

  • A dry canal refers to offloading containers in port and then using rail to transit the cargo, and another ship waits to collect on the other side to continue the move. Some companies want to save dollars and opt for a dry canal.

  • Panama Canal was inaugurated in 1914; for 85 years, the US operated and had government control.

  • In 1999 the canal was transferred to Panama; they now operate and manage the route; a new lock was built to transport more cargo and more than 40,000 workers to make, and the larger canal was inaugurated in 2016.

  • The old canal does not recycle water; the new one uses the same water three times, then refreshed to avoid pollution and only recycles in the dry season.

  • Fifty-two million gallons of water are released from the lake each transit in the old canal.

  • Up to 10,000 people work in the canal today; the best salaries in Panama are from the canal; the top level is 500k a year for pilots.

Panama Canal Transit

Today was the transit through the Panama Canal, an experience both Wayne and I have had on our bucket list for over 15 years. We booked a cruise in 2009 but decided to change our plans and postponed the cruise (which never eventuated).

We were advised we would be entering Gatun Lock (the Atlantic exit) at 8.45 am, so we set the alarm and were up and ready.

The ship was on schedule, and we commenced our entry into the first chamber (as we are a smaller ship, the old canal chambers were for us); there were three in total, and we were supported by a tug boat at the front and rear, along with the mules (locomotive trains). It takes about one hour to go through the three chambers as you experience the waters in the chambers using the force of gravity to raise you and bring you to the same level so we can continue our transit to the South Pacific.

The day was spent cruising through the Panama Canal, luscious green jungle scenery for the next five hours. We enjoyed this from Lindstrom Restaurant on the ship, followed by our balcony; it was warm and humid but a once-in-a-lifetime experience; we captured many videos and pictures!

We arrived at Miraflores Lock (the Pacific entrance) around 5 pm, and the same process to enter, lower and exit the chambers; this was perfect timing to call my Mum and Dad in Australia, who also wanted to share this moment with us, they were also able to enjoy it over the wifi. However, some video images were blurry but didn't ruin the moment.

Once through the last of chambers, we had completed the entry into the Pacific Ocean; it was a beautiful evening, blessed with a vivid and colourful sunset, over a backdrop of ships all waiting their turn to cross into the Atlantic Ocean.

After experiencing the Panama Canal locks from both outside and inside the ship, we felt the visit to watch the ships transit the locks was much more enjoyable; once on the ship, it is difficult to understand the full power of the process due to visibility, but all the same, we loved having the chance to experience both sides.

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