This subject has been written on more than enough times and every travel company or taxi driver has their own canal tour or variation. If people don’t know anything about Panama, they have at least heard about the Panama Canal. For a lot of the boomers out there it is on the bucket list, most likely in the form of a cruise transiting the canal.
The thing about the canal is that there are 3 (technically 4 now with the canal expansion project) locks. There are the original two on the Pacific side, Miraflores and Pedro Miguel, in addition to the new expansion locks at the Culebra cut. On the Caribbean side there is the Gatun locks. The locks are the engineering mechanism allowing for the water elevator that is the Panama Canal. Yes, they are an engineering marvel and it is worth to see them, but there isn’t much excitement surrounding it other than to mark it off the list and say you’ve done it. Even if you’re not into engineering, going to the Panama Canal during your visit is one of those must do’s. To spice up this tourist must do I’m breaking down some different ways to experience the Panama Canal.
Miraflores Visitor Center
The standard go to if you just want to go see the Panama Canal and say you did it is the Miraflores visitor center 15 min from downtown Panama City. They have upgraded the center to include a full feature Imax film about the history of the canal narrated by Morgan Freeman. Any one who has seen has come back to me and said they loved it. Entrance fee is $20 per person for non-residents.
The most luxurious option of them all is to charter a helicopter and rip out over the Panama Canal, viewing all the different Pacific side locks. The aerial experience is amazing and allows you to take in the greater perspective and expanse of the canal as it winds through the jungle over the continental divide. This can run from $450 for up to 3 people. See more about this options here.
Other than the visitor center, you can actually get into the canal itself by booking a monkey island tour. You take small panga boats that depart from the Gamboa public boat ramp and take you into the main channel. You’ll ride alongside tankers and up past the wild landscape to the back estuaries where you could see everything from crocodiles to toucans and of course, monkeys. The main destination are a clump of islands where you’ll pull up and get to hand feed wild monkeys. This experience will run you about $89 per person.
Jungleland Panama Overnight Stay
Probably the most adventurous and immersive experience is Jungleland Panama. The only floating lodge tucked away into the jungle of the Panama Canal, this all inclusive experience lets you swim, fish, kayak, SUP, and generally engage with nature at its fullest. At night, take the boat out to hunt down some crocodiles (catch and release) or stay back, chill, and drink. This is by far one of my most favorite experiences in Panama. This could run you around $250 per couple for the all inclusive over night experience.