Lots of people have bucket lists to see things like the pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall of China, I have long wanted to see the Panama Canal. When we did ultimately go, it turned out to be worth the wait and just as impressive as I expected it would be. However, there were many other aspects of Panamà that enticed and intrigued us just as much.
The Miraflores Locks has a welcome center that includes a museum, a movie, and a viewing area. The museum has historical displays to give an understanding of the work that went into building the canal from the workers and machinery to how they dealt with diseases and how it functions. Each of the four floors highlights a different aspect of the canal from history, to the flora and fauna around the canal, and The movie gives additional historical background. But also discusses the expansion project completed in 2016. It really shows the pride the Panamanian people have in being able to continue successful operation of the canal, and highlight their country in this way.
The viewing areas are, of course, the main reason that people come to the canal – for a chance at seeing the big ships pass through the canal. We actually missed ships coming through in the morning, so returned in the afternoon to make sure that we could witness it.
In our viewing, ships were heading from the Atlantic through the canal to the Pacific Ocean. There was a small fishing boat, an even smaller sail boat, and a couple of bulk storage ships. The bulk storage ships were considered Panamax Ships – they largest that can fit through the canal. They seemed large until they were compared to the NeoPanamax Ship that are enormous and fit about 19 containers wide. To see they go by in the expanded canal was jaw dropping.
The gates in the canal are the same gates that have been in place since 1914. The operate by the force of gravity. Some ships have tugs that accompany them, others are tied up to a small rail car the pull them through the locks.
In addition to viewing the canal, we got to spend some time hiking through jungle in Soberania National Park observing wildlife and in a boat on Gatun Lake. We saw, and heard, many monkeys. They were fairly entertaining swinging from trees and howling as they do. We also saw a sloth and its baby high of in a tree, and something new to me were the leaf cutting ants. Unfortunately, we never saw a Tucan, which I was really hoping to see. I guess I’ll have to go back
Another favorite part of the trip was spending time in the old town, of Casco Viejo. It is a whole neighborhood of colonial architecture. It is Panama City’s second old town, this one created after the first one was destroyed by the pirate Captain Morgan. A lot of the buildings in the old town had already been beautifully restored now housing hotels, restaurants, or retail. It has become a bustling area, and much of the rest of the old town in under contruction to renew the rest of the area so that it is once again habitable.