Panama Canal, Panama
The Panama Canal is a feat of modern engineering, raising ships some 25 metres above sea level, along its 77-kilometre stretch via a series of locks. It is a narrow body of water, with pristine rainforest on both sides. The waterway provides a historic shortcut for ships travelling from the Caribbean down to the South Pacific. The canal is a popular means to see Panama in the most complete way, from virgin forest to the hustle and bustle of the Central American nation’s urban hubs.
The city of Colón, located at the north end of the canal, is a major seaport founded in 1850. It was originally the terminal for the Panama Railroad and is well known as the gateway to the beautiful Panama Canal. The city is also noted as the site of the Colón Free Trade Zone, 1 of the largest free ports in the world.
At the north end of the Panama Canal, facing out towards the Caribbean Sea, lies the recently developed Colón 2000 Cruise Port. Located within the Colón Free Trade Zone, it features great duty-free shopping on a narrow peninsula jutting out into Limon Bay.
Colón 2000 Cruise Port, fittingly developed at the turn of the century, offers some great shopping, food and transport facilities.
- Restaurants and cafes within the Colón 2000 shopping centre.
- Regular taxi services available directly outside the terminal.
- Some great duty-free shopping to be had in the Colón Free Trade Zone, 1 of the world’s largest free ports.
How To Get Around
The trip down the Panama Canal is an experience in it itself without ever leaving the ship. However, from Colón there are other travel opportunities to get an up-close look at the rainforests, engineering marvels and natural beauty of the canal and surrounding area.
Taxis are readily available from the Colón Terminal, and the city is relatively small and easy to get around. Panarail operates a train service from 1 end of the canal to the other, and trains leave from the Atlantic Passenger Terminal a short walk from Colón 2000.
- Currency: Panama uses 2 currencies, both the Panamanian balboa and the US dollar. The balboa is subdivided into 100 centésimos whilst the US dollar is divided into 100 cents. The coins that are currently in circulation are similar in composition to their US counterpart, available in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centésimos and 1 and 2 balboa denominations. There are no balboa notes in circulation in Panama, making use of US notes instead.
- Time Zone: The Panama Canal uses Eastern Standard Time (EST), which is -5 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time.
- Weather: The weather varies down the length of the Panama Canal, but there are two seasons for the region. The dry season is the most popular time for tourists to visit and generally runs from mid-December to mid-April. The wet or ‘green’ season is from mid-April to mid-December. Temperatures range from a monthly average low of around 20 degrees Celsius to an average high of 30 degrees Celsius. These do not see much seasonal variation.
- The Locks - A true feat of engineering, the locks that control the flow of water and consequently the height at which large ships are travelling, are a drawcard for tourists and passengers. Raising ships in excess of 25 metres, their mechanisms can be viewed from onboard or from viewing platforms such as the Miraflores Visitors’ Center.
- Colón Free Trade Zone - Exempt from import and export taxes, Colón’s Free Trade Zone is exceptional in both its size (it spans 400 hectares) and variety. The cruise terminal is located right in the middle of the Free Trade Zone, making a shopping excursion a quick, fruitful and painless exercise right from the gangway.
- Portobelo - This small waterfront area contains the ruins of Spanish fortifications that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. An hour’s drive north east of Colón, it provides a great insight into the Spanish history of the area in a picturesque setting.
- Canal Small Boat Tour - Various companies offer tours of the first portion of the canal, with guides explaining the history and mechanisms of the famous trade route. Stops are made at local villages to experience the traditional way of life in the area.