The Panama Canal took over a decade to build and was completed in 1914. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of all time and has been named as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The canal links the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans so that ships do not have to travel all the way around the southernmost point of South America. Before successful completion of the Panama Canal, several attempts were made, resulting in the deaths of well over 20,000 people. Even the final construction came at a cost of over 5,000 lives.
The scale of the construction is vast as the canal stretches nearly 50 miles across Panama. The canal sees a huge amount of shipping traffic with 14,702 vessels passing through it in 2008, which is some 40 ships per day.
The canal runs through thick rainforest and you will marvel just at the sight of it. Seeing vast container ships pass along a canal that was once dry land is truly remarkable. There are many locks all along the canal and watching them in action is a great experience. There are locks at either end of the canal and there is a visitor’s centre at the Pacific entrance.
It would be well worth travelling away from the visitors centre once you have explored it because the locks on the Atlantic side are by far the largest. You will find it easy to rent a car and drive the length of the canal, which is an excellent experience in itself. The vast ships have to travel through a series of three locks, each one raising the ship higher so that it can enter the main stretch of the canal.
After this, you will be able to see the ships head into the main part of the canal. At the point they do this you will be able to see how mountains have literally been moved away to make way for the canal, as you can see how a path has been cut straight through them. The administration building is located in Panama City and is also worth a visit.
The Panama Canal is a vast accomplishment for its engineers. The most staggering thing about the experience is that this was accomplished a century ago when construction technology and our understanding of engineering was nothing like what it is today.
(Image from Flickr user Official U.S. Navy Imagery)