One of the most remarkable documentaries I’ve seen was on American Experience on PBS several years ago. Simply called “Panama Canal”, I found it riveting, never thinking I would see the canal up close and in person one day. When we visited Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a couple years ago, I began to understand more clearly the mechanics of using water and gravity to lift and lower large ships in locks, and fell in love with the huge freighters.
This replica of a lock gate is in the museum at the Miraflores Lock Visitor Center.
Watching one of the big ships enter the lock, preparing to descend to sea level.
We were lucky – we happened to be in Panama City on one of the days the partial transit tour is available (they don’t run daily). After making a reservation with Panama Marine Adventures (www.pmatours.net), we prepared for our canal tour with a trip to the modern visitor center at the Miraflores locks (the lock closest to Panama City). Once again, watching the huge ships rise and fall in the locks captivated me – and it was fun to watch Pat and Becky study the process.
So we were excited when we boarded the Pacific Queen early one hot morning. I can’t recommend this tour highly enough; there is nothing I would have changed. For $115, we spent half a day on their comfortable tour boat (air-conditioned inside, with plenty of outdoor space both covered and open) with a fantastic, bilingual tour guide (English and Spanish) to fill us in on the history, engineering and stories of the canal. Lunch was included (and delicious), and after the ride north through two sets of locks (three lifts) to Gatun Lake (the highest point of the canal), we had a quick, air-conditioned bus ride back to Panama City. It was a great experience.
If you’d like to see a slide show of my photos from the tour, here is a little video (a couple minutes long).