A visit to Panama would be incomplete without witnessing this incredible engineering feat, usually by visiting Miraflores Lock with its excellent museum’s historical displays.
The canal has a long history, having defeated the French who thought that, having built the Suez Canal, they would be able to manage to build Panama’s. After toiling from 1881 to 1889 the 40,000 workers suffered many casualties (22,000 is one estimate) and finally France abandoned the project. The US took over and through sheer determination, new inventions, dynamite and physical labour finally carved out the canal as we know it today.
The desire to control the canal zone led to a US-led revolt over Colombia and the creation of modern-day Panama. The canal was finally opened in 1914: thus 2014 was the Canal’s 100th anniversary. There is currently a project to widen the canal from the old Panamax width to one which can take larger modern vessels – a further impressive engineering feat.
Boats transiting the 80 kilometres of the canal pass from the Pacific through three sets of locks into Lake Gatun (once the largest man-made lake in the world) then on to the Caribbean. Partial and whole transits of the canal by boat are possible for visitors. The lake’s rainforest islands (former hills) play host to a surprising amount of easily observable wildlife, including spider monkey, white-faced capuchin, squirrel monkey, endemic red-naped tamarin, two- and three-toed sloth, spectacled caiman, osprey, snail kite, whistling duck and keel-billed toucan.