As we had to transit through Panama City airport (and had transited through 4 times already) we decided on a stop over in the city and to see the famous canal.
We arrived around midday and got a taxi into town. The airport is quite far out so it took an hour or so. Our hotel was basic but did boast a pool. We went to the roof to check it out and watched the massive thunder storm over head. The rest of the day was spent grabbing a bite to eat and did some planning for our trip to the canal the following day.
Our research concluded it was best to get to the Miraflores Lock (the main lock on the canal on the Pacific side of the canal) before 9am when it opens to beat the crowds. We got an Uber there (about 30 minutes out of the main city) and discovered the crowds had already gathered. Undeterred we queued for tickets and got in about 9:20am.
First we went straight up to the viewing platform. Here we pushed our way to the front and watched the ships passing through the lock to the Atlantic. The process was quite slow as they go through two sections with tug boats and weird little trains one the side guiding them along. Before it can get to the Atlantic it has to go through another 3 locks, so 4 in total. The first two raise it to the level on the lake at the centre and the last lower it to sea level. A difference of 60m. The whole process takes 12-16 hours depending on the size and speed of the ship and costs around $150,000!
In the distance, raised up, you called also see the new Panama Canal only a year old. It had an even big ship passing through as the new canal is wider, deeper and faster. This canal has only two locks each made of three sections. The first raises it up to lake level and then it travels along an elevated canal to the lake; the second in reverse. This canal costs a whopping $500,000.
We watched ships sitting be raised up, taking pictures and marvelling at the man made wonder. After we went to a lower platform to observe and then through the museum which had been very well presented. It explained how the canal was started by the French in 1881 and the massive amounts of labour and technology that went into the undertaking. It was eventually finished by the USA in 1914 and only signed over to Panama on 31.12.99 to coincide with the millennium. The museum had interactive parts like pretending to drive a ship through the canal as well as seeing the animals that live in the rainforest around it and the life that lives in the canal.
Lastly we watched a short film about the canal, its making and how it works. Overall the whole experience was very good and worth while. It completed our second engineering wonder of the world on this trip (Itapu Dam being our first in Brazil) brining our total to 5.
Before leaving we flew the drone from a discreet spot and got some shots of the canals. But by this time the boats had finished passing through for the morning so it was just shots of the empty canal.
From here we got taxi half an hour to the old town down on the sea front. Like other countries we had visited recently it had many colonial buildings, squares and churches. It was easy to navigate and find our way around while taking pictures.
The following day we had a lay in and went for lunch in the biggest mall in the Americas. After looking around we got a taxi back to the canal just to fly the drone as the afternoon ships came through. The shots looked much more impressive as oil and gas carriers came through and one huge cargo ship in the new canal. Worth the trip out and the taxi fare.