It is one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history. The Panama Canal cuts a divide between North and South America, creating a short cut for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Before it was completed in 1914, a ship sailing from New York to San Francisco would have had to sail nearly 14,000 miles around Cape Horn at the bottom tip of South America.
The idea of building a short cut through Panama dates back to the 16th century, but dividing the continents came at a steep cost. More than 27,000 workers died on various efforts, before the United States successfully opened the Panama Canal.
Cruise the Crossroads of the World
When it opened, the Panama Canal changed the world of shipping and international travel, and opened up the Pacific to European and North American markets. Today, it is still a critical passage for international trade. It is also a must-see destination for world travelers, and the very best way to experience the Panama Canal is on a cruise.
From October to April, most large cruise lines offer several trips through the Panama Canal. The best time to go is after the rainy season ends in November. Cruise lines offer multiple sailing dates, and itineraries. Cruises may be as short as a week, or as long as 21 days, taking in a number of stops in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.
The most popular Panama Canal cruises tend to start in Florida, and end in California, but some itineraries include a far wider area, beginning or ending as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia and Barbados.
Popular ports-of-call on many Panama Canal cruises include Puntarenas, Costa Rica, where you can climb an active volcano. In Limon, Costa Rica, you can take a tramway 100 feet about the jungle in the Braulio Carillo National Park. Ships also stop in Colon, Panama, the gateway to the1 Canal, where you can visit an authentic Embera Indian Village in a canoe up the Chagres River.
No matter what your itinerary, the highlight of any Panama Canal cruise is the days spend transiting the canal itself, crossing from one ocean to another ocean. This is a day you will spend out on deck, taking in the sheer scope of the project and marvelling at the human effort that it took to create this crossroads.
The transit takes roughly nine to ten hours to travel the 50 miles of the Panama Canal. You travel through dredged canals, and artificial lakes, while a series of locks first raise and then lower your ship back to sea level before you emerge into a different ocean.
For every ship passing through this wonder of human engineering, the passage does not come cheap. Cruise ships pay a toll to sail through the Panama Canal, and the number of ship’s berths determines the cost. In 2008, the Disney Magic paid $331,000 for canal passage.
Spending a day crossing the Panama Canal opens your mind to possibilities. The Canal was a colossal undertaking that set out to redesign the continents. As you sail down canals that were literally carved out of the earth by human hands, you know that the people behind building the Panama Canal did not bow before obstacles.
As your ship gently rises out of one ocean, and lowers into another, you can spend those hours wondering at the engineering, appreciating the incredible human cost and effort, and even better, cruising away from the Panama Canal with a new dedication to let nothing stand in your own way.