Panama Canal
June 4, 2006 6:32 AM   Subscribe

I want to visit the Panama Canal. I know there are cruises which go through, but are they the best way to experience it?
posted by Jandasmo to Travel & Transportation around Panama (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A cruise is the great way to get to the area and across the isthmus, but if you can pick a cruise that also stops in the immediate vicinity, a helicopter tour would provide a fantastic view of the entire canal system.
posted by pmbuko at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2006

A cruise ship is a really great way to see the canal. They mostly go into the lake in the middle and stop to allow day trips. Some of them then turn around and go back the way they came, and others carry on to the other side.

The thing about cruise ships is that they are guaranteed to do their canal passage during the day. They mentioned on our cruise that they pay a premium of somewhere in the range of a quarter million dollars to get the timeslot that they want. If you went some other way - for example booking passage on a freighter - you might get to Panama and find yourself traversing the canal in the dark.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:37 AM on June 4, 2006

Panama info will help you decide. I highly recommend a visit to the visitors centre at Miraflores locks.
There is also a train across the Isthmus. The history of the Canal is also fascinating, I suggest reading The Path Between the Seas Apart from the Canal, Panama is an interesting place to hang out in for a while, though be aware of where its safe to wander and where not. You could include side trips to Portobello, Boca del Toro, or indulge in some top class bird watching - both feathered and non feathered.
posted by adamvasco at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2006

jacquilynne beat me to it, but yes, freighter ships / container ships are supposed to provide their own unique take on crossing the canal.
I understand that one can indeed book to sail as a passenger on one of these behemoths, but that the costs are substantial and that the trip is likely devoid of the customary amenities one might find on a recreational cruise ship.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2006

Cruise ships are nice because of the varying perspectives they offer - you can go from canal level (able to touch the walls) to hundreds of feet up with a panoramic view of everything. (We did a one-way cruise from Chile to Florida through the canal)

When we were going through we saw some small ferries doing the transit; they looked EXTREMELY full, with window/deck space pretty hard to come by.
posted by true at 12:54 PM on June 4, 2006

If you want to do it for free or perhaps even get paid for it, get yourself signed up to be a line handler for a yacht going through. When yachts go through the canal, they need four line handlers per boat. If the yacht doesn't have enough crew of its own, they either have to hire line handlers or pick up some travellers to do it (often you'll at least get a meal and so on, but possibly some pocket money). Line handlers have to help keep tension on the lines that go from the yacht (well, probably a couple of yachts rafted together) to hold the yachts straight as the water level goes up or down in the locks. It isn't difficult or technical and can be done without experience as long as you can pay attention. You may not even need to do anything as although each yacht requires four handlers, with the yachts rafted together, there won't necessarily be four ropes going to each yacht.

Many yachts get to spend a night moored up in Lake Gatan which is quite an experience (we were woken in the early morning by the howler monkeys). We went up the locks on the Carribbean side at sunset, spent the night at the Lake and then went along through the canal and into the Pacific the next day.

To get signed up to be a linehandler, just turn up at the yacht club - the Panama Canal Yacht Club in Colon if you are travelling from the Carribean to the Pacific side or the Balboa Yacht Club down in Panama City if going the other way (the number of yachts travelling each way is dictated by season, yachts tend to be heading from the Carribbean to the Pacific during approx Jan-May). Ask around the boats and perhaps put up a notice.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:18 PM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

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