The Panama Canal is one of the most spectacular sights from Panama. Since the opening of the canal in 1914, millions of people have passed from ocean to ocean enroute to countless destinations. Many have returned to that beautiful and mysterious place called Panama that they had once only viewed from a passing freighter, tanker, passenger ship or military vessel. Though this is not just a canal, the Panama Canal is a major attraction bringing visitors from around the globe to see what is sometimes called, The eighth wonder of the world.
Located in Central America, the Panama Canal is a maritime shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The route cuts through the Isthmus of Panama, joining North and South America. It was built to shorten the distance that ships had to travel to pass between those two oceans. The Panama Canal permits shippers of commercial goods, ranging from automobiles to grain, to save time and money by transporting cargo more quickly.
Construction of a canal in Panama was first attempted by the French in the 1880s, but their efforts resulted in disaster and over 22,000 men died. In the early 1900s, the United States bought the partially completed project from the French and spent a few years reorganizing, changing the engineering of the project from a sea-level canal to a series of locks that slowly adjust the water level as boats pass between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. At the height of the canal's construction, more than one million cubic yards of earth was moved by approximately 25,000 workers each day. Americans completed construction of the Panama Canal in 1914. On 15 August 1914, the cargo ship Anconbecame the first of hundreds of thousands of vessels to traverse the canal, which has been hailed as one of the greatest engineering wonders of the world. The United States handed over control of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999. Today, the Panama Canal is run completely by Panamanians and is a great source of support to the economy.
The Panama Canal is 48 miles (77 km) long. It accommodates 14,000 ships a year on average, with over 200 million tons of cargo, representing five percent of the world's trade, offering passage to ships of all nations. It takes around nine hours for a ship to pass through the Panama Canal; this is known as Canal Waters Time. The largest ships that can pass through the Panama Canal are called Panamax. Because many modern ships surpass the parameters of Panamax, the Panama Canal is currently undergoing an exhaustive construction, known as the Panama Canal Expansion Project.
The canal essentially consists of a series of locks and lakes, including the massive Lake Gatun, which was created by flooding acres of forest during construction. Another of the most spectacular parts of the canal is the Gaillard Cut, where labourers hacked their way through nine miles of solid rock. Cruising through the canal is a spectacular experience, more like sailing along a wide, natural tropical river, overhung with lush jungle foliage, than travelling along a man-made waterway.
Travelers can arrange guided tours to the Panama Canal from Panama City. One of the ways to experience the canal is in a cruise. During the transit, tourists will have the unique opportunity to see the Canal up close in operation. They will transit with the big ships and see the tug boats in operation and of course, the locks themselves. The sensation of going up or down to get from one ocean to the other is indescribable. Everyone who visits Panama should try this adventure and experience, whether it be a partial or full transit. Panama Canal boat tours are also available. Boat tours of the Panama Canal generally pass through the Lake Gatun portion of the canal to fish, view wildlife or visit the Smithsonian research station on Barro Colorado Island.