Panama Canal Facts: Going Beyond the Locks
25 Interesting Facts about the Panama Canal
In the heart of Central America you’ll find Panama and its Panama Canal Zone, a territory that opened communication between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. With the opening of the Panama Canal, international trade as well as economic relations across continents and around the world changed forever. If there’s a single man-made structure that literally changed the face of the world; that would be the Panama Canal!
Panama Canal & the Ecology
What’s most outstanding about this engineering marvel is it’s coexistence with the environment surrounding it. The Panama Canal demonstrates to the world once again that it is possible to reach economic progress without sacrificing the beauty and nature around it. Actually, the functionality of the Panama Canal depends on the health of the surrounding environment. Panama has realized the importance of the protection of the surrounding watershed to maintain the flow necessary to operate. So man and nature are forced to co-exist and the result is beneficial to both sides. Nature has a well kept preserve for its flora and fauna and Man has its path to bring the world closer together. A perfect example of sustainability.
Panama Canal the Engineering Marvel
The Panama Canal has been referred to as the World’s 8th Wonder and with good reason!! It’s been referred to as everything: revolutionary, controversial, a living proof of human genius and in one word, just IMPRESSIVE. The show put on by the Panama Canal cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world! Nowhere else can you witness 50,000 ton vessels rise and drop over 50 feet as they make their way across the oceans in a intricate interaction of locks, water levels and human skill.
There is so much more important history and ecology surrounding the Panama Canal that we’ve put together some interesting and fun facts about the Panama Canal that we are sure will entice you even more to visit this extraordinary work of architecture!
25 Interesting Facts about the Panama Canal
- It took more than 250,000 people from all over the world and about 20 years to build.
- It spans 50 miles (approx. 80km) from Panama City on the Pacific side to the city of Colon on the Atlantic side.
- The Panama Canal runs North and South, not East and West as many would believe.
- By passing through the Canal, vessels save 8,000 miles of traverse around South America.
- Crossing the Canal takes an average of 8 to 10 hours.
- The Canal operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- The canal consists of artificial lakes, artificial channels and three sets of locks: the Miraflores Locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Gatun Locks.
- The Chagres River (Rio Chagres), which is used for the passage, actually flows both directions to the Pacific and the Atlantic.
- The damming of the Chagres River created what was then the largest man-made lake in the world, Lake Gatun.
- The locks took nearly 20 years to build if counting the first attempt by the French.
- Close to 15,000 ships cross annually! A considerable number when considering it started with about 1,000 ship crossings back when it opened in 1914.
- The first ship to cross the Canal was called Ancon, and it was a simple ship used to haul cement for construction.
- Over 1,000,000 vessels have gone across the Canal so far and climbing.
- The maximum dimensions for a ship to go across the Canal are 950ft (289.56m) long overall and 106 ft (32.31m) wide. The largest vessels that can cross the Panama Canal today are called Panamax. However, with the expansion even larger vessels will be able to navigate the channels.
- Each of the Canal’s lock chambers is 110 ft wide (approx. 33.5m) by 1,050 ft long (approx. 320m) and 41.2 ft deep (approx. 12.5m). The usable length of each chamber is 1,000 ft, approx. 304.8 meters. The limiting factor for a vessel’s height is determined by the Bridge of the Americas at Balboa and the exact figure depends on the water level!
- Fees are assessed according to weight by volume for cargo ships and water displacement for passenger vessels.
- The highest fee ever paid was by a Disney Cruise Ship for over $300,000 USD!
- The lowest fee was .36 cents paid by travel writer Richard Haliburton, who in 1928 swam across the canal for 10 days!
- At different points in time, the Isthmus of Panama got to be Spanish, French, Colombian and even U.S. territory!
- An alternate site in Nicaragua was originally considered before the Isthmus of Panama was chosen.
- The U.S. spent 10 years and around $382 million USD to complete the canal and the locks system.
- Panama regained full control of the Canal at noon December 31st, 1999.
- The Panama Canal opened on August 15th, 1914, just two weeks after the start of World War I.
- The Panama Canal Expansion Project is set to open the 3rd and widest lane of locks in honor of its 100th anniversary.
- Sadly, building the Panama Canal took the lives of over 35,000 people who died mainly from diseases such as Yellow Fever as well as water and food shortages.
As we mentioned, Panama Canal is an important part of our history and this is only a few facts. For more fun facts about the Panama Canal, visit the Canal de Panama FAQ’s section.
If you are planning to visit Panama, the Panama Canal and Miraflores Locks are an absolute must do activity. If you would like more information or assistance booking a guided tour, our Activities Specialists are happy to help find the right Panama Canal Tour for you!