Visiting Panama Canal at Miraflores locks, Panama city - eNidhi India Travel Blog

Visiting Panama Canal at Miraflores locks, Panama city

As I planned a short visit to Panama Canal,  main objective was to visit Panama Canal. 

Panama Canal is a manually made waterway that connects Atlantic Ocean and pacific ocean. Benefit of this is commercial ships can save lots of time and money in reaching their destination. They don't have to travel a long way circumventing South America. The route that would have taken 2 weeks now takes less than half a day. Since its opening more than 10 million ships are said to have availed the panama canal passing.

Quick history of Panama Canal:
The idea of being able to move between the continents did exist since centuries. Suez Canal in Egypt was build and commissioned in 1869. Suez canal shortened the shipping distance between Asia/Middle East and Europe by eliminating the need for long transit around the African continent. Similar idea to link Atlantic and Pacific ocean was first attempted by the French Government in the 1880s. But this attempt was after 9 years- as more than 20000 workers died due to yellow fever, malaria and other issues. In the early 1900s, USA took a decision to build the canal through Panama. Panama was under the control of Colombia at that time. USA's terms for building the Panama canal was highly unfavorable to Colombia so Colombia refused the deal demanding better terms. US President Roosevelt responded by sending Navy to the area and because of this, Panama became an independent country in 1903. USA proceeded with building the Panama canal and maintained exclusive rights on and around the canal for decades. USA got 10 miles land on both sides of the canal for a pocket change of a payment. Panama canal was finally commissioned in 1914. Since then USA held major control over the canal and all the financial benefits of it- only after lots of fighting, lobbying and international diplomacy, Panama got complete control of the canal as late as December 1999.

One of the major challenge in Panama canal was the geography- the lowest point in the central american mountains through which the canal had to pass was some 110 meters above sea level. Trying to dig this deep throughout the length of the canal was gigantic task and the main reason why the french failed. USA's design instead was more smarter- consisted of a series of locks, which can lift or lower the ships to desired height and let them float till next lock system where again the ship is elevated or lowered to next level as needed. If the water level ahead is higher, entire ship will be raised and released into the canal. There're hundreds of videos on youtube if you'd like to understand this mechanism better.

Miraflores Locks
I visited a place called Miraflores locks,  a few miles from Panama City. Earlier I was wondering how to get there but once I got Panama's metro card it was lot easier.  I could take a bus to Miraflores locks for just one fourth of a dollar, as the bus ticket is just 0.25 dollars one way.

The miraflores locks visitors centre has an entry fee of 20 USD per person. (local residents pay less) Once inside you can see four floors of exhibition related to the canal,  watch a movie,  access an observation balcony.  Cafe n restroom facilities available,  free WiFi was available.

The movie: Available in English and Spanish at pre-defined time intervals. Movie makes an attempt to brief us about canal's history- that originally the French tried to build a canal and so on. The movie didn't show the technicalities of the canal- how it operates.

The technical aspects and detailed history can be found in the exhibition floors. We can see how it feels to sit on the bridge of a ship while it passes through the canal. There're various other exhibits explaining the complexity of ships, canals and shipping routes, as well as nature around central America. Watch this short video below.

From an Engineering perspective, visiting Miraflores Locks is a great learning experience. I am totally glad I made it to this part of the world to see the Panama Canal. Only disappointment- there was no ship passing through when I was there- I was there for about 2-3 hours only. Panama canal is said to be the busiest shipping route, but still on that day there was no ship in sight. My bad luck. Will help if Miraflores Locks website announce when is the next ship crossing, so that visitors can plan the visit accordingly.

Ships that can pass through Panama canal are called Panamax. From above the passage looks very narrow, but it is indeed large enough to let through big cruise ships, container ships and other large vessels.

There is an imax theater that shows a separate movie for a fifteen dollar ticket.

Once out, I evaded those trying to make me travel in their taxi, waited for next bus to city, proceeded to Amador causeway


  1. I read about Panama Canal in ny school text book. Thanks for sharing the photos and other information. Very useful.


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