Two out of Three Inexpensive Ways to See the Panama Canal

Is it a big ditch or is it one of the greatest engineering feats of human history?

The answer is yes.  There are several ways to experience the Panama Canal.  You could hire on as crew of a giant container ship, which would entail months at sea and hard labor.  You could spend several thousand dollars and ride through on a luxury cxruise ship, many people do.  You can also go on a half day trip on a big boat out of Panama City and do a partial  transit for about $100, sitting in a chair on deck with a few hundred folks for four hours.  None of these were a viable option for me so I did a little reasearch and came up with three affordable and fun-sounding ways to see it.

First, I booked a full day trip that sounded really interesting and came well recommended to me.  The cost was a mere $50.  For that, I got picked up at my hostel at 8:30 a.m. and traveld with several others to Lake Gatton where we boarded a launch.  Lake Gatton is a huge manmade lake created as part of the Panama Canal.  At the time it was the largest in the world.  We spent the morning chasing after cruise and continainer ships and viewing wildlife.

Container Ship on Lake Gatton

There are three types of minkeys that are native to the jungle in this part of Panama, and it is definitely a jungle out there!  First there were the Holler Monkeys very high in the canopy and hanging by their tails.  Then we saw some Capuchin Monkeys, so named for the white caplike markings that were once said to resemble St. Francis’ Hat.

Mama Capuchin Carrying Her Baby

And lastly we were treated to a sight of some Tamarin Monkeys, the smallest in Panama.

Tamarin Monkey in the Wild

We also saw tons of birds and even an alligator.  Finally we pulled up to a couple of houseboats that are owned by Cptain Jack who had run a very entertaining commentary during the morning.  We had a great lunch.  Afterward, some went fishing, some hung out on the house boat and I went kayaking down jungle rivers all afternoon.

View from my Kayak

I was back at the hostel around 5:00, deliciously tired.  A great value and highly recommended.

The next day I took a taxi to the Mira Flores Locks and spent an hour shooting some stills.

Eight Custom Powerful Locomotives are Used to Guide the Ships into the Locks

Canal Engineer Hard at Work

Container Ship About to Exit the Mira Flores Locks

I marvel at what the engineering mind could conceive and achieve 100 years ago.  I was going to take the train the next day which you can ride for $22 at 5:00 p.m. from Colon bck to Panama City.  You transit along much of the Canal in a dome car and also through total roadless jungle.

I have been trying to book a sailboat to Cartegena for a week.  I had two lined up with some buddies but they both cancelled at the last minute because they did not have enough people.  Some people wait around Panama for weeks trying to catch one.  Well we just did and I slept on the boat, a 42 footer, last night so the train will have to wait for another trip.

We sail tomorrow night under a full moon to the San Blas Islands were we will spend two days snorkeling reefs and maybe meeting some Kuna natives.  Then it is two more days at sea to Cartegena.  Talk to you after I get there.  Caio.


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4 Responses to Two out of Three Inexpensive Ways to See the Panama Canal

  1. Stephanie March 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I was in Panama City for almost two weeks, and I couldn’t be bothered to spend the money or time to go to the canal. But if/ when I go back, I will definitely go on this $50 tour. Great job finding a good deal and a fun experience.

    By the way, you have to start spelling it “chau” like the rest of the Latin Americans 🙂

    • admin March 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

      Thanks for the correction Stephanie. I am so used to spellng it the Italian way.

  2. Carolyn March 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Hi there!
    Some friends and I will be traveling to Panama in about a week and we were looking to cheaper canal tour alternatives. I tried searching for this tour and wasn’t coming up with much. Do you remember what it was called? Thanks! 🙂

    • Philip March 26, 2012 at 12:37 am #

      Hi Carolyn–Sorry for the tardy reply but I have been trekking in New Zealand and just got this. Hmmm…As I recall, I booked this tour at Hospedaje Casco Viejo the hostel where I stayed in the old city of Panama (a quiet, no frill place with helpful staff). It was organized by an expat named Captain Jack who has two houseboats moored together in a quiet cove off the canal. I am pretty sure if you ask the nice young man who books tours out of there he can hook you up. It was a great day and very good value with several optional activities offered as well. I paid cash so don’t have any other records to check. Hope this helps.

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