Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Tue June 23 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | June 23, 2015 3:00 PM ET

    The Panama Canal Experience

    The Panama Canal Experience

    All photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    As one of the most famous engineering marvels of the world, the Panama Canal tops everyone's list as a must see Panama attraction. But if you're like me and naturally leery of popular tourist spots, you might miss one of the most striking developments in North America.

    Although I usually avoid  overblown travel spectacles, the Panama Canal proved the exception for me. Everybody heads to the site whenever they touch down in Panama and now I understand why. Viewing one of the most difficult engineering feats ever accomplished is an awesome sight up close.

    The experience begins with a stop by the Miraflores Visitors Center, which supplies four floors of extensive history and interactive displays about the Panama Canal. There are always crowds crammed into the center no matter what the time, so be prepared for lines and long waits. I waited for big tour groups to finish by checking out the gift shop first and then starting with the 3D movie that details the canal's construction.

    Miraflores Locks is the tallest of the three sets of Panama Canal Locks, measuring over a mile long. The Panama Canal unfolds for 48 miles between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans so you can only view a portion of it at Miraflores Locks, but it's still a jaw-dropping sight.

    From the Gatun Visitor's Center, I looked down from the observation deck and witnessed a ship entering the waterway. Gatun Lake forms part of the Panama Canal, carrying ships across the Isthmus of Panama. I watched as the canal gates gradually opened and closed for the massive cruise ship.

    I stared as the ship was raised 87 feet above sea level, all through gravity. The passengers waved as they glided through the canal and I stood amazed at the spectacle I had been lucky enough to observe.

    The mechanics of the canal are intricately explained at the visitor center, but all I remember is the image of that sprawling ship being gently raised and guided through the canal's passage, like it was a toy boat.

    The newest tourist-oriented part is the Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center, which features details about the next 100 years of new development for the canal and offers a chance to see the construction of new locks. The center is surrounded by a tropical forest and boasts an ecological trail where visitors can view wildlife.

    It takes at least two hours to go through all aspects of the canal but more time is required if there are a lot of tour groups.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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