Living Beside the Panama Canal

We left the fresh mountain air of Quito, Ecuador and headed North by airplane to Central America landing in Panama City, Panama. To avoid the onslaught of the taxi drivers and haggling wars we went with an Uber ride. Aside from needing WIFI to access the Uber app, which meant staying close to the terminal, it worked like a charm.

The flag of Panama

We drove to Ciudad del Saber (the City of Knowledge), an old US military base called Fort Clayton.  Today, it houses a University, several companies including Copa Airlines and is the central hub for the United Nations in Central and South America.

Holiday Inn Panama Canal

We checked into the Holiday Inn which is very nice and modern. The rooms were a good size and bonus alert!: they have an awesome happy hour every day.

The hotel provides welcome drinks to all guests and drink vouchers as Gold and Platinum amenities – each time you check in (and travel hack … we checked in more than once. Somehow that qualified us for new vouchers each time).
Welcome drinks to the Holiday Inn (Vodka & Tonic) and Panama beer. We paid for very few drinks during our week long stay.
Ben enjoys the pool
Hmmm… a burger and fries? Surprise! Not really, what else would this kid eat? He still has a burger post in the works.
Colleen and I have beer at the place next door – ask her about this photo for the story


Our hotel room – the girls have a similar room through the adjoining door
Outside our window in the morning – a cruise ship headed for the Miraflores Locks
Waiting for dinner

The menu at the Holiday Inn Panama Canal restaurant was limited but the dishes were fantastic. Given a larger menu selection, we would have opted for the same meal multiple times it was that good. Ben was particularly happy with the hamburger option, though we put limits on him. Poor kid.

Chicken with cilantro, rice, and plantains
Hamburger and fries – awesome meal
Steak with mashed potatoes and rosemary

The Allbrook Mall

The hotel provides a complimentary shuttle to the Allbrook mall which was about a 10 minute drive. The mall is gigantic. Gigantic! Far too big, with multiple stores of every. It was only natural to stop for an ice cream break.

Ice Cream break
Ben enjoys a double scoop

Taking the bus

The two German girls we spoke with on the ‘deep Amazon’ tour in Ecuador described their horrible experience taking the bus (or trying to) in Panama but we read it was cheap and easy once you got the hang of it. You be the judge …

No ticket for you

We lined up at the kiosk in the bus terminal area to purchase a bus card and were firmly told to go away from the woman at the desk (aka Soup Nazi from Seinfeld). A gentlemen who spoke English offered to help and said that we should be able to get a card from the kiosk. We lined up again and this time we were told (No CARD for YOU!) to go to the second floor in a very unfriendly way. We speculated optimistically that she just didn’t have any cards to sell.

Of course you can have a card

On the second floor we had success and were able to get the card and add money onto it as well. It cost $10USD – $2 for the card and $8 for rides. It worked! Oh and this lady selling the cards was very friendly!!

How do we take the bus?

Now we just needed to figure out the voodoo of the bus map. Google maps helps but it is not accurate as the bus pick-up/drop-off locations seem to change, particularly at the larger terminals. We went to the Old Quarter for the day and quickly found the sign for the return trip bus stop. When we returned hours later, a transit official told us that it was not the right stop and that we had to go down the street. A scam? That’s what we thought because the signage was pretty clear. Still dubious, we trusted our instincts and her and walked to the street she recommended. Yep, she was right! Our bus was right where she said it would be although there was not a bit of signage.

To take the bus you tap your card for each person that is in your party and voila they are in. The ride is based on zones and typically $0.25USD. A pro-tip: If you tap again on exit you get one fare back.

Line up to get a card or add money
Our bus pass

Taking the bus
Reload the bus card at the kiosk
Old Pros – Waiting at the bus stop

Casco Viejo (old Quarter)

We took the bus to the Old Quarter which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It is only four avenues wide and up until a few years ago was known for gang violence. Today it is prime real estate and in full renovation gear with many buildings already repaired to their former Colonial glory.

Walking to the Old part of Panama City
Old Church in the Old Quarter
Many historic buildings are being restored
The sign in the window caught us by surprise – Bitcoin?
Low tide – A ring road surrounds the old quarter and goes right out into the Ocean
Church tower
Pondering life in philosophical mode (i.e. bearded) while waiting for lunch
Lunch in the Old Quarter – A Ben request. We can’t eat local food every day for a whole year.

Plaza de Francia

The French began construction of the Panama Canal in 1881 and stopped in 1899 after several cost overruns and a high human toll.  The French owned company finally had to file bankruptcy.  22,000 workers died during this period primarily from malaria and yellow fever. The rooster is a symbol of France.

Monument to the workers who died building the Panama Canal
The bottom of the monument with the key architects.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Project lead for the French with the credentials of having built the Suez Canal
Lieutenant Armand Reclus of the French Navy surveyed the route for the canal in 1877
Lucien Napoleon Bonaparte Wyse also surveyed the canal route in 1877 and developed the proposal which was accepted by the Colombian Government giving 99 year control over the Canal which the US took over in 1901.
Part of the story of the Panama Canal
A renovated section of the Old Quarter
Statue in honour of Simon Bolivar, “El Libertador” of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama. Each country was granted their own sovereignty independent of Spain in the 1800s.
Ruins in the Old Quarter
Carlos V of Spain – this bust of him sits in the Old Quarter to honour his vision to build a canal through Panama … back in the 1500s

The Panama Canal

According to Ben, the Canal is 77 km long connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and saves marine vessels 12, 668 km of travel around the southern tip of the continent. The United States planned on a similar canal going through Nicaragua around the same time as the French construction of the Canal. When the French company went bankrupt the United States entered into negotiations with Colombia (which included Panama at that time) to take over the Canal. The deal went sour so the United States bargained with the Panamanian separatists which gave the United States a 99 year exclusive control of the Canal, including its security. Panama declared independence in 1903 thanks primarily to the US blockade against Colombia.

The Canal Today

The canal consists of three sets of locks (Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun) and construction by the United States started in 1904 and was completed in 1914. An additional set of locks/lanes was built between 2006 and 2016 to accommodate the fleet of larger container vessels/cruise ships.

We visited the Miraflores Locks visitor centre which focuses on the original locks. It provided good insight into the history of the Canal with a video and an excellent museum.

Welcome to the Panama Canal
A container ship leaving the locks

The Locks take less than ten minutes to fill or empty
This large container ship barely fits into the locks and has locomotives with lines to keep it aligned
The canal has two old lanes and a third modern one for bigger ships
The ship preparing to depart the Miraflores locks
The second lane of the Miraflores Locks

On the observation deck at the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal


The locomotives pull the boats once they are in the Locks

The ticket prices to visit the Miraflores Visitor Centre

Another item struck off the Bucket List

I never imagined the Panama Canal as being on my bucket list but after visiting the Locks and seeing the ships passing through, I now have added a physical trip through the Locks on a boat. We met a hitchhiker in Nicaragua who acted as a deck hand for the ropes and that solidified my desire. Just to be clear, I am not interested in the cornucopia of drugs that he also enjoyed while hitch hiking in South and Central America.

I do highly recommend a visit to the Panama Canal. The weather was extremely warm and the people incredibly friendly. Oh and the Holiday Inn has Happy Hour!!



4 Replies to “Living Beside the Panama Canal”

  1. looks amazing! guess what you’re all missing here- snow, rain, and sleet. Enjoy every last minute of the sun, it’s not showing up here anytime soon.

    1. Brrh! We were in Toronto at the end of March. No snow but it was frigid. And only one sunny day out of the three we were there for.

      In Nicaragua we had sunny clear skies 30 out of 33 days. It got so we were hoping for a bit of cloud.

  2. Interesting. I have seen the canal but not up close. Great Pics. Overall a good stop over and I would consider Panama a vacation spot.

    So while pondering life in philosophical mode what did you come up with? -oh bearded one!

    1. The visit to the Museum at Miraflores Locks was well worth it! If we had time would have explored the beaches but we were all about seeing the town. The town is pretty busy. As for pondering – it was whether I wanted Meat Lovers or Hawaiian. The Meat Lovers won the day!

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