Panama Canal

The Canal de Panama, or Panama Canal, is the most renowned Panama attraction, figuring prominently in recent Panama history. A most important key to shipping in the Americas, the Panama Canal is more than just a waterway. It's a historical connecting point that once served as the hemisphere's primary route for business and travel before the time of airplanes. So many international companies have benefitted from the Panama Canal, and with future plans aimed at further developments, it's hard to think the Canal de Panama will lose its importance any time soon. One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that the Panama Canal is a Panama treasure, only recently being awarded to the country where it is found. As Panama continues to move successfully into the next millennium, the Panama Canal will likely see more visitors than ever. Awaiting the curious are an array of wonderful Panama Canal tours that can help you further your understanding of this most featured attraction.

Panama Canal cruises are a good way to see the Panama Canal Zone, which is basically the term for the Canal's stretch and the land immediately surrounding it. Panama Canal history has seen its fair share of trials and tribulations, and if you are visiting Panama, it's almost a sin to miss it. This famous ship canal basically splits the Isthmus of Panama in half, running from the southern Pacific Coast, to the northern Caribbean Coast. One of the Panama Canal facts that you might be wondering about is how long it is. The Panama Canal runs the length of about 48 miles, forming an aquatic bond of sorts between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. On the Pacific side, the canal begins at Panama City, where ships wait to pass under the Bridge of the Americas from the Gulf of Panama. The bridge was finished in 1962 at a cost of $20 million. The Canal de Panama certainly wasn't easy to construct. First attempted by the French in the 1880"s, the venture proved fruitless, claiming the lives of thousands of workers. The United States would make a second go at building the Panama Canal, which they began in the early 1900"s. It would be completed in 1914.

One of the more interesting Panama Canal facts pertains to the number of workers who lost their lives building it. Some 27,500 French and American workers perished in the effort, victims to such plagues as yellow fever and deadly landslides. A huge success the canal has been ever since it opened, and it's importance to the shipping industry is monumental. Before it was available, ships had to pass around Cape Horn at the southern edge of South America. The Canal de Panama would spare ships from having to take the "scenic route", lessening the trip by almost 8,000 miles, which is among the more intriguing Panama Canal facts. The first ship to pass through the Panama Canal was the Ancon, which did so on August 15, 1914. Nowadays, approximately 15,000 ships pass through the Panama Canal every year, transporting hundreds of millions of tons of cargo. The Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Zone were largely under U.S. control, which bothered some Panamanian citizens. As tensions between the countries intensified after World War II, the passageway became a big bone of contention. One of the most important Panama Canal facts has to do with its change of ownership. On December 31, 1999, the canal was turned over to Panama, who would now have complete ownership and control of it.

Panama Canal Locks

Panama Canal Locks
Panama Canal Locks

The Canal de Panama and the Panama Canal Zone are made up of a grouping of artificial lakes and channels. Three sets of locks handle the lowering and raising of ships at various points along the way, among which figure the Gatun Locks. These are one of the more popular attractions for tours from the city of Colon. Colon and Panama City are actually found just outside the Canal Zone, though the distance is negligible. Both are ideal basing points for Panama Canal tours. Panama Canal cruises have been increasing in popularity in recent decades, and together with the San Blas Islands, the canal is among the featured Panama cruise destinations. Whether you are on a large mega-ship, or just heading out for a day cruise, it's a special treat to experience this world landmark. Plans are in the works to the tune of billions of dollars to renovate the Panama Canal, which will need to improvements to maintain its market share. As ships increase in size, the canal in its current state would be unable to facilitate a good percentage of them. Before you take a Panama Canal tour, it's a good idea to head to Panama City's Panama Canal Museum, which is found at Avenue Central at Plaza Independencia. You can learn all about Panama Canal history and the Panama Isthmus, going all the way back to Pre-Columbian times.

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