Updated: Oct 18, 2019
The Panama Canal plays an integral part of global trade by saving cargo ships a huge amount of time.
Panama Canal 101 & Getting There
Remember reading those history books about the Panama Canal while growing up? I sure did and I do remember falling asleep at times during class ;) Still though, I always wanted to visit this modern world wonder. The Panama Canal connects two large bodies of water - the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. If the Panama Canal wasn't there, it would take months to circumnavigate the entire continent of South America just to get to the other side. The value of the canal is almost priceless, which is why the United States military has authority to defend it.
If you are visiting Panama City and are staying there, getting to the Panama Canal (Miraflores Visitor Center) is very easy. When my wife and I visited recently, we stayed downtown at the Waldorf Astoria, which was about 37 kilometers (23 miles) away. The tricky part is timing the crazy traffic. I was definitely not impressed with infrastructure of this metropolitan city and it's surrounding area. Since I didn't rent a vehicle, I took an Uber to the canal. It wasn't very expensive (about $23 USD, yes Panama uses U.S. currency), but do keep in mind that trying to find an Uber in and around the Panama Canal can be challenge. Luckily, I did some foresight and asked my Uber driver to wait for about an hour so he could give us a ride back.
The ride to the Panama Canal was mostly in two-lane roads. There's not too much to see besides some housing, jungle foliage when you drive through Parque Nacional Camino de Cruces and some military or police training area. Once you arrive you'll see plenty of tourists and tour buses parked in the small parking lot. This is another benefit of taking an Uber, which is no worries about finding parking.
This excavation machine moved a lot of dirt and took a very long time.
A Look Inside the Miraflores Visitor Center
The Miraflores Visitor Center is three-stories high, so you'll initially take some stairs up to the entrance. For non-residents the price for admission is $15 USD. Once you are inside, there's many things to do and see, but since we only had about an hour, we decided to skip the 3D film on the history. We immediately walked to the exhibition halls (there are four of them). You'll walk through glass-cased exhibits detailing how the canal was built by hiring workers from all over the world and the giant excavation machine that dug away all the sediments.
The canal heroes came from all walks of life.
My favorite part of the exhibit was the video demonstration (as seen below) of how the science and engineering made the Panama Canal possible to move very large and heavy ships which can take between 8 to 10 hours. Check it out.
This video demonstration shows how a ship is moved through the Panama Canal.
I thought it was pretty amazing to learn how water and gravity is used to move ships through the Panama Canal. After you finish up with the exhibition hall, you'll end up on one of the observation decks. From this vantage point you will see how narrow the Miraflores Locks really are. This just proves how difficult it is to move very large ships through and why it can take many hours to do.
The stress level must be high coordinating movement through the Panama Canal.
All in all, my wife and I were able to see just about everything the Miraflores Visitors Center offered in one hour. We were able to make it back to our Uber driver in time. I would recommend checking out the Panama Canal if you happen to be visiting Panama. It was a very memorable experience.
The Panama Canal from the observation deck, it was pretty amazing.