The Panama Canal has been called one of the seven wonders of the world, as it is one of the greatest engineering feats accomplished by man. The 9- hour journey through the Panama Canal is an extraordinary experience!
The Panama Canal is 51 miles long, and was completed in 1913. The King of Spain was the first known person to commission a survey to find a shorter route between Spain and Peru. Ships today can pass between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean by being lifted and lowered 170 feet. A massive system of locks allows ships to cut through Panama instead of sailing all around South America.
Cruises through the Panama Canal are extremely popular. The Panama Canal season runs from October to April for cruises. Most of the major cruise lines offer sailings to the Canal, or through it. The longer cruise itineraries (Florida to California) transit through the canal, and the shorter cruises (Round trip Fort Lauderdale) go beside the canal. You can take an excursion to see the canal closer. There are land packages available to visit Panama as well.
Along with the famous canal, Panama offers a wealth of cultural experiences, nature-based activities, majestic creatures, magnificent native cultures, beaches, and international business activity.
Panama is a year-round destination with a wet and dry season. November to March is the drier time of the year. Canadian and US citizens do not need a visa to visit Panama, but you do require a valid passport that is good for 3 months past your date of travel. US citizens also need to purchase a tourist card that costs $5.00. The official currency in Panama is the Panamanian Balboa which was named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. US currency is widely used in Panama.
The population of Panama is just over 4 million and Spanish is widely spoken. Some people are bilingual, and speak both Spanish and English. The main religion in Panama is Roman Catholic, and the constitution of Panama states it should be taught in all public schools.
Panama City is the largest city and features a modern metropolis of skyscrapers and lots of historic sites. There are many Spanish style churches, 17th century convents, and even dungeons to visit when you take a historical tour. There is a French monument in Panama City to honor the 22,000 workers who died trying to build the canal. The Amador Causeway in Panama City is a mile-long road that connects four small islands, and has an aquarium, marina, restaurants and walkways.
Colon is the 2nd largest city and is at the Canal’s Caribbean entrance. It has the largest duty-free shopping zones in the Americas, and is only 2nd behind Hong Kong in the world as a free trade zone. Panama has more than 950 species of birds and Colon offers world-class birding adventures. You can also enjoy water sports like fishing, snorkeling and diving.
The Anton Valley is a fascinating place to visit, as it is the only place in the world with square trees! Even the rings inside the trees are square. This valley is in a dormant volcano and enjoys cool breezes from the hillsides, so it is very pleasant. There are mountain trails to hike, zip-lines to enjoy, and you can check out the El Chorro Macho Waterfall which is 35 meters high, and located in this valley. There is a big rock called the Piedra El Sapo in this valley that has carvings of toads and flowers.
Darien is another area that is fun to explore if you love nature and outdoor activities. Darien National Park is more than 500,000 hectares and is a World Heritage site in Panama. It has tropical forests, waterfalls, rocky coastlines, nice beaches, swamps and lagoons. You can go horseback riding, hiking, and canoeing. The forest offers an opportunity to see spotted paca, white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, hawks, owls, crocodiles and iguanas.
In the Darien region you can also visit Embera tribes that have a population of around 30.000 people. The Embera are sometimes called Choco or Chocoe Indians, and they live about 6 – 10 hours east of Panama City in the forest. Their language, traditional practices, culture, knowledge and lifestyle are being handed down through the generations.
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