To experience the magnificent Panama Canal is many a traveller’s sole reason to visit the country and there is really nothing quite like watching the huge ocean liners navigate through the locks.
Visitors can join a boat tour to travel the entire length of the canal, these operate once or twice a month and the trip takes about eight hours.
More popular are ‘partial transits’ which begin at the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side, where enormous container ships queue up to manoeuvre themselves, with only inches to spare, through the tall gates, and continue to Lago Gatun, a natural lake and the midpoint of the canal.
Here the canal is engulfed by Soberania National Park, an overwhelming rainforest with spectacular birdlife. It is possible to take a canoe ride here, exploring the extraordinarily diverse flora and fauna of the extensive and remote backwaters, only to be then intimidated and dwarfed by the huge ocean liners and container vessels that ply the principal route of the canal.
Over on the Caribbean side of the canal you will find the ruined forts of Portobello and San Lorenzo overlooking the sea. Strategically located during the early days of Spanish rule, these forts were repeatedly ransacked by the notorious pirates of the region, who sought the Inca gold from Peru being shipped back to Spain.
The colonial town of Portobello itself is still home to the original custom house, where all the treasures were stored and where, in the nearby church, you can find the famous statue of a black Christ.
For train enthusiasts, the only railway to link two oceans travels from Colon to Panama City, offering a different perspective of the canal as it makes its way back to the capital.
Suggested itineraries featuring the Canal Zone
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in the Canal Zone, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of the Canal Zone
Places & hotels on the map
Places near the Canal Zone
- Panama City 9 miles away
- Coclé Province 46 miles away
- El Valle 46 miles away
- Coral Lodge 50 miles away
- Pearl Islands 67 miles away
- Darién 157 miles away
- Pacific Coast Beaches 165 miles away
- Tranquilo Bay 172 miles away
- Bocas del Toro 180 miles away
- Cala Mia 189 miles away
- Chiriqui Highlands 192 miles away
Photos of the Canal Zone
Accommodation choices for the Canal Zone
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit the Canal Zone. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing the Canal Zone
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting the Canal Zone, and which use the best local guides.
This is considered to be one of the best birding spots in the world with 300 species of birds recorded in one single day by the Audubon Society.View details