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To experience the magnificent Panama Canal is many a traveler’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.

Pacific side

Miraflore Locks, Panama CityMore popular are ‘partial transits’ which begin at the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side, where enormous container ships queue up to maneuver 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.

Caribbean side

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.

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Map of the Canal Zone

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