panama canal locks

5 Things You’ll Discover While Cruising the Panama Canal

Posted February 2nd, 2018

You may think the Panama Canal is just a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, but it’s also a remarkable destination. We’ve listed five things below that you’ll discover on your 77km trip through the clever waterway. So sit back and enjoy the journey.

1. The Canal Locks

No matter which end you enter from, one of the first things you’ll come across is a Panama Canal lock. Great big gates will open up for the ship you’re in and then close behind you – this is when the wonder begins.

One of the early struggles faced with the Panama Canal was that it couldn’t hold enough water to safely float larger ships. The ingenious solution was to create a large lake (Lake Gatun) in the centre and trap the water with canal lock systems. With this invention at the front and back door of the canal, the water is kept 26 metres above sea level.

The locks work like an elevator by closing off a section of water that is either filled more or drained. This raises or lowers the ship inside. So if you stand on the deck of your ship, you can watch your ship and others going through this mesmerising process.

2. The Culebra Cut

Cutting through Panamanian forests and mountains was an immense engineering project and human accomplishment. The effort behind the Panama Canal is most evident as you pass through the Culebra Cut, an artificial valley.

Over 76 million cubic metres were excavated and transported along a temporary railway. Large steam drills bore into the ground where dynamite was placed to blast the valley’s hard ground. This human excavation is incredible to witness as you see the sides of hills that have been cut perpendicular – as if to make stairs for giants into the sky.

3. Rich History

Panama is full of history and, aboard a cruise ship, you’ll get to approach it as if you were a conquistador looking to trade or a pirate hoping to plunder. With Spanish colonisation of Panama in the 1500s, trading routes through the area grew, along with piracy, especially near Panama City. This reached its height when the area became famous for transporting Peruvian gold.

4. Lake Gatun

It may look like a natural wonder, but Lake Gatun is another artificial feat. By constructing a dam between this area and the Charges River, Lake Gatun was formed. Its main responsibility is to hold enough water for cruise ships to safely pass through.

With many small, lush islands sprouting out from the water’s surface, it’s a beautiful sight to cruise through – you’ll wish the trip was longer. It’s also home to a lot of active wildlife. In fact, right in the centre of the lake lies the wildlife sanctuary Guacha Island.

5. Wildlife

With such rich and biodiverse forests surrounding the canal, there’s a myriad of wildlife to watch soar, swim or swing by. In the sky you can find anything from famous toucans and parrots to blue-footed boobies. In the water you’re likely to see a crocodile (a safe distance away) and, if you’re lucky, a manatee.

If you have your binoculars handy, the trees along the water are home to sloths and spider monkeys that you can catch glimpses of as they dance in the canopy.

Looking to discover the wonder of the Panama Canal? Contact a cruise expert now on 1300 769 228 or visit your local Cruiseabout store.



Cruise Specialist

  Absolutely nobody in Australia knows more about cruising than Cruiseabout. With close to 30,000 nights on ships all across the globe, our consultants’ extensive experience and passion for cruising is unequaled. We're here to share the joys of cruising holidays with more Australians and invite them into our world - because we love cruising!

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