VIP pass to Panama Canal

(Feb 2017)

We are still new in Panama, we still haven’t left the city; we’ll talk about it some other times. Today I sit down to write about our visit to Panama Canal.

Thanks to our friend M we had the chance to enjoy the Canal with a private tour. Miraflores centre is divided in three parts: the cinema, the exhibition centre and the viewpoint to the canal.

Cinema: the canal’s history

When the Spanish arrived in the XVI century an idea started: to create a route that would cross the isthmus and will join the Atlantic and the Pacific ocean spliting a continent. However, it was the French who started the construction in 1880. Only 20 years later they gave up on  this bold task, tropical illness, financial problems and the machinery used then didn’t help.

Not long after that, in 1903 after the independence, Panama agrees with United States the construction of the Canal, and on the 15th of August 1914 the Canal is open, this means that it has been functioning for more than a hundred years.

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An extension of the canal has been made recently. New locks have been created which allow larger and heavier ships to come through.

Exhibition centre

Following the chronological order, you can see real machinery and some to scale of the Canal’s construction. It is interesting to see how at the beginning everything was dig up. The French carried the materials in small pushcarts which was hard; on the other hand, the Americans started railways that could transport everything easily.

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Once in the fourth floor you can go to the terrace, from here you can see the whole mechanical process that is needed to make the ships go through, it takes between 20 or 30 minutes to cross each lock.

Let’s see, the oceans are at level 0, however Miraflores lake is at 16 metres above sea level (the highest point in the canal is in lake Gatún at 26 metres). This means that for a ship to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific (or viceversa) it has to go from 0 metres to 16 and then back to 0. How is it done? Well, the water goes from one part of the lock to the other by gravity forces. The new locks open in 2016 save up to 60% of the water used, the first ones is reuses less.

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While the ships are crossing, the engine is on, in both locks (the new and the old) they have to be guided with precision by the Canal’s personnel. In the old locks, some small engines guide while in the new ones it is done from the water. In both cases, this is done to avoid the crashing of the ship with the walls of the locks.

Why using the Canal?

Crossing the canal is expensive; the largest ship that has crossed it paid $905000 or a simple yacht can cost $800. Still, crossing this 80 kilometres will take 30 hours, if you don’t cross it you’ll have go around the continent which will take 21 days. Although for leisure boats the greatest attraction will be to cross the canal, for cargo ships means a great advantage. Since 1914 the route between the East coast of USA to the West coast of Asia  is closer, just to set an example. Think about products: cell phones, computers, machinery pieces… do you understand why it is used? Do you see why this is one of the biggest engineering achievements of all times? Now, I do.

Find out more about Panama here.

How to get there:

  1. Take the metro to Albrook (this is last stop)
  2. Take the bus to Miraflores (this is last stop)

Cost: $15 non-resident adults & $10 non-resident child

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Panama (1)

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