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Panama Canal Transit from Panama City

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

PANAMA CITY | Panama Canal

It is hard to believe we experienced the Panama Canal twice in six months, the transit from both directions. This time, we were northbound from Panama City as we were in the final days of our 110-day voyage with Oceania Cruises.

Panama City, Panama

Welcome to Panamá City. It is a cosmopolitan city framed by the Pacific Ocean and the gateway to the artificial Panama Canal.

With only one day in the city, a Sunday and a day of rest, we explored Casco Viejo, its cobblestoned historic centre, famed for colonial-era landmarks and bougainvillea-filled plazas lined with cafes and bars.

After checking the weather, we opted to stay calm and avoid the humidity and hot sun by bar-hopping through fabulous cocktail bars and hunting for more Pisco Sours. It's our last chance before we leave this wonderful continent we have been blessed to explore over the past six months.

Ubers were plentiful and comfortable, all with air conditioning, so that was a bonus! We were whisked away to our first rooftop bar in the old city; as we whizzed through the streets, we knew we had made the right decision.

Lazotea Rooftop Bar was impressive at first sight; Panamá City is the place to be! We were greeted by a resident DJ playing tunes as we walked in. We perched ourselves at the bar while waiting to devour more Pisco Sours.

Being Sunday, the brunch menu was the highlight, and we sampled our way through some of the options, of which we were delighted!

The next stop was a quick stroll through the old city, and after five minutes in the scorching heat, we were ready to embrace another cocktail.

We located the stunningly new La Compañia Hotel, part of the unbound collection with Hyatt, and it was the perfect place to enjoy the last Pisco in South America. The hotel was pure luxury and on our list when we returned amongst all the local eateries and bars. The old city was full of absolute charm, style and wealth.

As the afternoon settled, we returned home to the ship to enjoy another magical sunset.

Panama is unique and has some quirky fun facts; it is the only place in the world to experience the sunrise in the Pacific Ocean and set on the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the highest point in the country, Volcan Baru.

The evening was spent enjoying a delicious steak in Polo Grill and preparing for the early rise as the ship is scheduled to enter the Miraflores Locks from 6.30 am to traverse the canal, an essential shipping route linking the Atlantic and Pacific.

Panamá Canal Transit, Panamá

It's hard to believe we are about to transit the Panamá Canal again so soon. We were ticking this from our bucket list only six months ago as we sailed the North to the South Pole, so it was the Southbound route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Today, we are back to experience but northbound as we leave the fantastic continent of South America in our rear vision mirror and embark on a new undiscovered part of Central America on our final ten days aboard the lovely Marina.

We woke up with the birds. It was an early transit as we approached the 'Bridge of the Americas' connecting North America to South America in 1962, providing a pass for over 35,000 cars daily. You can take a road trip from Alaska to Panamá!

The morning sun was filtering nicely, setting us up for the day ahead. We spotted a crocodile stealthily inching through the water just before entering Miraflores Locks. As we kept a close eye on him, we soon caught sight of another; what a start to the day!

Pedro Miguel Locks followed the Miraflores Locks. Our approach today was to enjoy the transit and process from our balcony and limit the camera time to soak it all up over a coffee or two this morning.

There are three chambers in Miraflores Locks, 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 you can continue your transit to the Atlantic.

Once through the first locks, we spent lunch in the GDR for front-row seats in the lush, dense green jungle and scenery as we glided by.

In the early afternoon, we were slowly lowered into the Gatun Locks chambers and safely deposited in the Caribbean Sea to continue our journey to Costa Rica.

We enjoyed the other ships' company going southbound, and there were waves and smiles from both sides as we were lowered and raised throughout each chamber in the lock.

After experiencing the Panama Canal locks from both outside and inside the ship, we felt the visit to Gatun Locks visitor centre in Colon to watch the ships transit the locks was much more enjoyable. Once on the ship, it isn't easy to understand the full power of the process due to visibility. Still, all the same, we loved having the opportunity to experience both sides and both directions.

Fun facts:

  • 35 ships per day transit the Panamá Canal

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

  • 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 thrice, 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.

  • 90% of all the equipment today in the locks still operating is from its original installation in 1914

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

  • 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.

  • A staggering 25,000 workers lost their lives during the French effort to build the canal. Many of these deaths were due to disease, mainly yellow fever and malaria.

  • A stamp helped US senators decide to build the canal in Panamá instead of Nicaragua. Initially, they were undecided about the location. Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who lobbied for a Panamanian Canal, sent every senator a Nicaragua postage stamp depicting one of the country's many volcanoes. It was an effective ploy: Panama had no volcanoes; thus, it was a safer bet. The US senators agreed Panama was a better option.

Our next adventure is coming soon as we continue our 110-day journey with Oceania Cruises, the circumnavigation of South America.

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