How to Experience and Learn About the Panama Canal

First of all, on the internet there is a fantastic website provided by the Canal Museum that has plenty of old photos and history available.

An article from 2019 describes How To Properly Visit The Panama Canal

Some old photos from a personal family album are here  These are from a Canal transit in the 1930s.

Quite a few yachts transit the Canal every year, and some have written blogs about their experiences. Some Transit blog links are here, and our own experiences are here.

Transit on a Cruise Ship

You will have a commentary on board from an employee of the Panama Canal Authority.

A cruise ship will often stop at Colon and there are a few side-trips you can do from there.

A cruise terminal on the Panama City side is not completed yet, but ships started using the site in late 2022.

More information about a Cruise transit including what can be done on a Shore Excursion.

Partial Transit on a Tourist Boat

Canal and Bay Tours and Panama Marine Adventures are two companies that offer a partial transit that takes you from Panama City, through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks, then along the Culebra Cut to Gamboa. More information.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

You can do boat tours on the Chagres River and out onto the Gatun Lake to see monkeys and other animals, not to mention get up close and personal with some big ships. The Resort is also affiliated with the APPC Animal Rescue center.

Linehandler on a Yacht

The original premise of this website was to describe how to transit the canal in your own yacht. Every yacht is required to have five crew for a transit so yachts are often looking for linehandlers to help out.

You can read some blogs from yachts that have made the transit, including our own experiences as linehandlers on more than 20 yachts.

Follow the Course of the Canal on the Train

The Panama Canal Railway Company offers a train service from Panama City to Colon and back, with the route closely following the Canal. The service was much reduced after the Covid pandemic, but hopefully it will eventually return to the daily trips.

Miraflores Locks Visitor Center

The primary visitor center that enables you to get close to ships passing through the Canal, with a commentary to explain what you are seeing.

The museum offers extensive displays, and there is a restaurant right next to the action.

IMAX at Miraflores

In February 2018, an IMAX cinema opened next to the Miraflores Visitor Center. It is a private entity so the admission fee is separate from the entrance to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, but the 45 minute movie is well worth it.

Pedro Miguel Locks

There is no visitor center here, but you can park on the side of the road very close to the locks and watch the ships.

Gatun Locks

Only really a viewing platform with a few relics of earlier days, but it is the closest you will get to the big ships in the locks, and there is usually a commentary explaining what you are seeing.

Unfortunately, since the new locks opened, this viewing center is only available to VIP tours such as from a cruise ship.

Canal Expansion Observation Center

The viewing deck overlooks Agua Clara, the new expanded locks, and you can see Gatun Locks in the distance. There is an excellent short movie, a small souvenir shop and a restaurant.

Canal Museum

Officially the Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama, this is the main Canal museum in the middle of Casco Antiguo. More information here and a website

ACP Administration Building

The original headquarters of the ACP Administration, this building contains four magnificent murals depicting the construction of the Canal.

Balboa High School

A little known display of memorabilia and photos from the early days of the Canal are hiding in the former Balboa High School – now the main training school for the ACP.

Amador Causeway

The Causeway was constructed as a breakwater for the Panama Canal entrance using rocks excavated from the Culebra Cut. You can walk or cycle along the three miles of track, right next to the big ships.

Ancon Hill

Provides a birds-eye view of Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, and also across Panama City and Casco Antiguo.

The road to the top was closed to vehicle traffic, but you can walk up it or take the steep track. Lots of opportunities to see wildlife such as sloths and toucans on the way.

Metropolitan Park

Several trails with probable wildlife sightings, and from the top of the hill you have a great view of the Canal, including Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks.

Balboa Yacht Club

An open-air bar right on the banks of the Canal near the Bridge of the Americas, where you can watch the ships pass by behind the moored yachts. Unfortunately the Covid pandemic closed it down, but we live in hope that it will reopen someday.