The Panama Canal and the Miraflores lock

The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in just 77 km.

Panama Canal map

(from: wikipedia)

It has been one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever. But it reduced the amount of time taken for ships to travel between the two oceans and the risk avoiding the long and dangerous Cape Horn route around the southernmost point of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan. Can you remember the end of the world?

Les Éclaireurs lighthouse

The shorter, faster, safer route!

But it took bloody ages to be finished, with lots of engineering problems and loss of lives. The French started work on the canal in 1881. Then the United States took over the project in 1904, and took a decade to complete the canal. It was officially opened on August 15, 1914. And it wasn’t over yet as The Panamanians took over the canal just in 1999.

There are 2 locks to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal and another one in the middle.

The Panama Canal from the Miraflores Lock:

I’ve just been at the Miraflores lock (anyway I think that visit a lock is enough unless you’re an engineer) which is the closest to Panama City. So it’s the access from the Pacific to the canal (or the exit to the Pacific through the Miraflores lake, it depends on the point of view): Miraflores lock panama canal

At the Miraflores lock you can find the Visitor Centre and several terrace (one with a restaurant) where to look at the ships crossing through the canal:

ship crossing panama channel at Miraflores lock

There is also a visitor centre allows tourists to have a full view of the Miraflores locks operation, a supporting exhibits and video show and a souvenir shop with canal merchandise.

The exhibition is nice but if you want to have a (very) clear overview about the canal, its history, issues and future you will have to visit the Canal Museum in Casco Viejo, the old city centre of Panama City. It’s a bit “institutional” but very complete and interesting.

A transit operation last about 30 minutes and you can enjoy every step of the crossing:

a ship crossing the panama canal at miraflores lock

You can have a look at the locks from webcams if you’re so curious about the traffic!

According to the Panama Canal expansion project, the canal will double the capacity of the Panama Canal by creating a new lane of traffic and allowing more and larger ships to transit. It should be completed for the centenary of the canal (2014) but none seems to rely on it.


more than 900,000 vessels had passed through the canal. The largest ships that can transit the canal today are called Panamax. The Panama Canal is included as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

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  1. Pingback: Crossing the ocean: travel to Panama | The Suitcase On The Sofa

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