What’s even better than riding a ship through the Panama Canal?
Coming back to Panama and seeing the operation as the lock-keeper sees it.
You can do this either at the Panama City end --- on the Pacific coast where most of the good hotels are --- or at Colon, on the Atlantic (Caribbean) end.
Miraflores Locks are about a 25-minute taxi ride from downtown Panama City; the larger and busier Gatun Locks are a similar distance from Colon. Both have visitors’ ‘grandstands’ directly across from the lock-keeper’s control tower and right above all the action.
There’s something fascinating about watching a football-field-length ocean liner being lifted 85 feet up --- in two separate stages at the Pacific end but in one fell swoop from the Atlantic. In my opinion, no tourist visiting Panama should leave without visiting one or the other.
We went first to Miraflores, but were disappointed: No ships passed during the hour that we were there and none were scheduled for another several hours. My driver/guide had access to shipping schedules, and had warned me about this; he wanted me to pay another $30 or so for a city tour so we’d reach the locks closer to the arrival time of the first ship. Lesson: Tourists, too, can call in advance for schedules. Get the phone number from your hotel concierge.
A day later, at Gatun, we hit the jackpot: six ships in less than two hours.
Drivers recommended by the hotels usually work for the hotels -- not the taxi companies --- and prefer to be hired for several hours rather than just taking people point-to-point. Jorge --- the hotel guy --- asked $30 to take me to Miraflores Locks, wait for me, then bring me back. I’d have gotten there for far less by flagging a taxi off the street, but getting back might have been a different story. Jorge was there when I was ready to go home; there were no taxis anywhere near. My $30 also bought me a short tour of Panama City via a different route than we’d taken outbound.
It’s now possible to take a day-trip THROUGH the canal. At least one company, Argo Tours, was offering partial transits for U.S. $90 and ocean-to-ocean transits for $135. In January, 2002, these trips operated Saturdays only, departing at 7:30 a.m. from the Port of Balboa.
The tourist facility at Miraflores has bathrooms, shade, and safe drinking water. It’s a great place to spend a few hours while you’re in Panama. But for an even better spot for viewing canal action, see my soon-to-be posted journal on Colon, and the Gatun Locks.
Results 1-2of 2 Reviews
Vancouver, British Columbia
July 1, 2006
From journal Travelling in Panama with a 1-Year-Old
February 24, 2002
From journal Panama: Much More than a Canal