The Panama Canal Experience

  • Destination:
  • Duration: 6 days
  • Price: from $1,595 per Person

The Panama Canal is a truly impressive wonder of the world, so why not see it up close and personal? This tour is perfect for passionate canal enthusiasts and includes a high speed boat ride,  a full or partial transit tour, a historic train ride along the canal and visiting the Miraflores or Gatun Locks. Now is the perfect time to book your trip and witness the impressive expansion work taking place.

Day 1

Arrive in Panama

Upon arrival at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be met by a tour representative and transferred to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which is about an hour’s drive from the airport. There you will check in to your resort that boasts one of the most unique locations in all of Panama. It’s nestled within the Soberania National Park overlooking the Panama Canal. Rest and Relaxation is synonymous with Gamboa and you’ll have a comfy hammock on your balcony offering spectacular views of the Chagres River.

Night at Gamboa Rainforest Resort – Deluxe River View Room

Day 2

Private Panama City and Miraflores Locks Visitors Center

The Full Day Panama City and Miraflores Locks Tour will give a detailed focus on the most relevant sites of Panama City and the Panama Canal Area. Participants will have the opportunity to do a walking tour at the Casco Viejo section, walking past monuments such as the Plaza Bolivar, the San Francisco de Asis Church, Bolivar Palace and the National Theater; “Las Bovedas Promenade”, with one of the most spectacular views of Panama City.

Panama la Vieja
Panama La Vieja, or Old Panama City in English, is situated just northeast of downtown Panama City. The city was founded by Pedrarias Davila in August of 1519, and is the oldest Spanish settlement on the Pacific. At one time a thriving city, Panama La Vieja benefitted from the Portobelo trade fairs and most notably from Spain’s great bullion lifeline (shipments were said to pass through Panama while en route from Peru’s silver mines to Europe). Quickly, the city became a major center for merchants and landowners, with a population that presumably reached 10,000 by the mid-17th century.

Panama City was destroyed in 1671 during Sir Henry Morgan’s invasion and was relocated approximately 8 km (4.8 miles) to what is today known as “The Casco Viejo”. Declared a Historic Site in 1976, the ruins or Old Panama enjoy government protection, and have been administered by the foundation Patronato Panama La Vieja since 1995. A new Panama Viejo Museum, situated just east of the ruins, has recently been completed and is now open to the public.

Casco Antiguo
Casco Antiguo is the oldest sector of modern Panama City and was founded in 1673.  This beautiful little area has several attractions that tourist shouldn’t miss and can easily cover in a walking tour of a few hours. A monument to the French entrepreneurs who began the Panama Canal stands at the bayside end of the Casco Viejo. There is also an adjacent art museum in the converted strong house, known as Las Bovedas, once used for storing gold.

Other points of interest are the famed flat arch or Santo Domingo Church, the beautiful gold-plated altar of the San Jose Church, the Panama Canal Museum, the National Theater, the National Cathedral, the Presidential Palace and other colonial churches and monuments.

Miraflores Locks / Panama Canal
This classic experience brings you to the very best that Panama has to offer: The Panama Canal. Participants will be able to witness the magnificent Miraflores Locks and most probably, its operation. An expert canal guide will take us back in time to be part of it. What a wonderful way to experience this magnificent architectural masterpiece and to have a breathtaking view of the 8th wonder of the World. This tour will also include a visit to the Miraflores Locks Exhibits.

Night at Gamboa Rainforest Resort – Deluxe River View Room

Day 3

Gatun Lake Boat Expedition with Aerial Tram and Ecological Exhibitions Tour

Experience the verdant rainforest of Gamboa from within, ascending some 280 feet from the shadowy forest floor, through the dense undergrowth and up to the sun drenched canopy with its thousand shades of green that are only interrupted by the vibrant colors of flowering trees. Once at the top, you will have the opportunity to climb our observation tower (also accessible for wheelchairs) from where you will have uninterrupted views of the vast rainforest of Soberania National Park while at the same time watch the giant cargo ships maneuver through the Galliard Cut (the narrowest part of the Panama Canal).

Once we finish our visit to the Aerial Tram and Natural Exhibits, we will experience an exhilarating 20-minute ride at high speed right through the heart of the Panama Canal. The boat will slow down and enter the labyrinth of jungle-covered islands of Gatun Lake. In this protected area the wildlife is plentiful, and you are likely to encounter capuchin monkeys, 3-toed sloth, howler monkeys, various kinds of toucans and other bird life as well as caimans, crocodiles, turtles and a wealth of butterflies.

This is an exceptional place to experience the sights and sounds of the jungle up close. Our trained naturalist guides will ensure that you have an outstanding nature experience by tracing the wildlife as well as educating you about it and its habitat throughout this exceptional jungle and canal adventure.

Night at Gamboa Rainforest Resort – Deluxe River View Room

Day 4

Panama Railway along the Panama Canal with Gatun Locks/Canal Expansion Visitors Center and Historic Portobelo Tour

You will be picked up at your hotel for the private transfer to Corozal station where you will board the comfortable train for a historical ride alongside the Panama Canal. This railroad, constructed with immense drama, snakes its way past protected rainforests, the river feeding the Canal and the once largest man-made lake in the world, the Gatun Lake. You will have unsurpassed views of the 8th wonder of the world and the giant ships transferring between two seas as well as of the spectacular nature of the isthmus where native Indians still live in the jungles and a vast array of birds and wildlife can be encountered.

Originally completed in 1855, The Panama Railroad became the first transcontinental railroad. The French Panama Canal Company purchased the railroad in 1880 to assist in their attempt to build the Panama Canal. In 1904, the United States purchased the New Panama Canal Company’s assets from the French, including the railroad. The United States rebuilt and operated the railroad until 1979, when it was transferred to Panama under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. In 1998, Panama privatized the railroad and awarded a 50-year concession to the Panama Canal Company, a joint venture of Kansas City Southern and Mi-Jack Products, to rebuild and operate the line. The new “reborn” railroad began operations in 2000. The visual charms of this train ride will make this an unforgettable trip.

Gatun Locks
Gatun Locks just might might be the most impressive and worthwhile visiting of the three sets of Locks.  Gatun Locks is much less crowded than Miraflores which are on the Pacific side and the ships pass by so closely it feels like you can reach out and touch them.

Since all three chambers are connected, you’ll have the opportunity to see the entire process completed in one set of locks. On the Pacific side the process is split into two distinct sets of Locks. It takes approximately 1.5 – 2 hours for a vessel to complete the transit at Gatun Locks, regardless of whether it’s heading northbound or southbound. As in Miraflores, there are bilingual guides providing a detailed narration of the mammoth ships squeezing through the outdated and narrow chambers.  Photo opportunities are excellent! Public bathrooms and bottles of water are available for purchase and there is also a small gift shop at where they sell souvenirs.

Panama Canal Expansion Project
The current Canal Expansion project was approved by the people of Panama via a referendum in October in 2006 at the extraordinary cost of approximately $5.2 billion dollars.  The widening of the Panama Canal began in September 2007 as a means for doubling the capacity of the inter-oceanic passageway to meet the world’s growing commercial demand.  Though slightly delayed, this unprecedented expansion project is due to be completed by the third quarter of 2015.

Due to the girth of Post-Panamax ships being too large to fit through the existing chambers, two new sets of locks are being located alongside the existing ones – one on the Caribbean side at Gatun and one of the Pacific side at Miraflores.  The new locks are being constructed in a channel started by the U.S. in 1939 but later cancelled due to World War II breaking out.  The new locks will be 30% larger and are intended to accommodate Post-Panamax ships and the increased commercial demands resulting from enhanced global trade.

During this fascinating tour, visitors have the opportunity to witness history in the making by witnessing firsthand the expansion project at Gatun where a new additional set of locks is being constructed.  Then enjoy an informative and interesting video about the history and construction of one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders – the Panama Canal.

Historic Portobelo
Portobelo is a sleepy bayside town full of colonial history where you will feel transported back in time. Here, you will encounter no less than 5 colonial fortifications where the canons are still pointing their mouths towards the bay they once protected. Portobelo is also home to the statue of the Black Christ, which according to the legend possesses divine powers, that has several times prevented the statue from being removed from here. Other monuments of interest are: The Custom House (counting house) built in 1640 and the Hospital Chapel built in the year 1597.

There is a nice variety of different Caribbean-style restaurants to enjoy lunch at on your own expense before continuing with your sightseeing of Portobelo and eventually heading back along the highway to your hotel in Panama City or the surrounding area.

Night at Country Inn and Suites – Canal View Room

Day 5

Panama Canal Full Transit Tour

Our trip departs from the Flamenco Marina at 7:30 a.m., and you will travel from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean all in the same day. Once in the Pacific Ocean, you will be able to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s spectacular skyline before passing under the Bridge of the Americas.

The vessel will then transit through the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, where it will ascend 18 meters in two distinct steps. Next, you will enter Miraflores Lake, which is a small artificial body of fresh water that separates Pedro Miguel Locks from Miraflores Locks. The vessel will transit through Pedro Miguel Locks, which is one of the two sets of locks on the Pacific side, and here the vessel ascends 9 meters in one step.

After exiting Pedro Miguel locks, you will travel through the Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the Canal. The Gaillard Cut (also known as Culebra Cut because its curves resemble a snake) is one of the main points of interest for visitors because it was carved through the Continental Divide and this section of the Canal is full of history and geological value. As you transit the Cut you will be able to appreciate the continuous maintenance that this area requires, because it is very susceptible to landslides. In this area you will also be able to observe the work in process for the Panama Canal expansion project.

Next, enjoy a trip through Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River. During your transit through Gatun Lake you will pass the Smithsonian Research Station at Barro Colorado. You will also experience the Gatun Locks, which are the only set of locks in the Atlantic sector. In the Gatun Locks, the vessel will be lowered a total of 26 meters in three distinct chambers. Upon arrival at Colon, you will disembark at Pier 6, where ground transportation back to Panama City will be provided.

Night at Country Inn and Suites – Canal View Room

Day 6

Depart Panama

Today you will be picked up in the lobby of the hotel about 3.5 hours prior to your scheduled departure flight to be transferred to Tocumen International Airport.

This is a private tour so it can be customized to be longer with add-ons to San Blas, Bocas del Toro, or the Pacific Beaches!

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