Panama's unique geography, and its potential as an inter-oceanic link, has shaped its history since soon after the Spanish arrived: the first written mention of a canal dates to 1534. The Camino Real (Royal Road) was the first European passageway across the isthmus, connecting the fortified cities of Panama and Portobelo. Next came the Las Cruces cargo trail. After other failed attempts, the Panama Railway was completed in 1855. Its success, and that of the Suez Canal, resurrected the dream of an inter-oceanic canal.
Various governments and trade groups had debated the best canal location for decades. (Another promising location was southern Nicaragua.) Finally, in 1890, French interests began construction of a sea-level canal in Panama. Their efforts ultimately failed. After US maneuvering helped Panama gain independence from Colombia—and the US gained a favorable treaty with the new nation—the United States purchased the French canal assets in 1904. US engineers redesigned the project to include system of three locks: Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores. The 51-mile canal was competed in 1914, under budget, but at a cost of more than 27,500 lives. The canal allowed ships sailing from New York to San Francisco to cut the voyage by half—a savings of over 8,000 miles.
Today this engineering marvel is one of Panama's most important economic engines, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tolls and fees each year. These fees are reportedly used to subsidize education and infrastructure projects around the country.
The Miraflores Locks are located just a few miles northeast of Panama City. At the lock's visitors' center, a balcony restaurant offers diners an elevated view of transiting of ships. (Passage through these locks takes about an hour.) The visitors' center also displays a collection of artifacts from the construction, and a film about the project. For those who want to cruise the canal, full (ten-hour) and half-day (five-hour) canal transit tours are also available.
Mosaico Travel Services arranges private transportation, tours and transits of the Panama Canal Zone. Speak with a Mosaico travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.
"Panama was born with the US Navy for a midwife."