Panama Canal History

The Canal and beyond

A journey to the Panama Canal and its surrounding regions can be so much more than you ever imagined … visit lively colonial cities … explore stunning natural beauty … wander sun-drenched beaches … and traverse one of the great man-made marvels and become a part of its fabled history.

A few of the Panama Canal locks, featuring the conde nast travler 7 Cruise Wonders of the World logo

Cruise wonder

Condé Nast Traveler and Princess Cruises® have teamed up to identify the 7 Cruise Wonders of the World. At just over 100 years old, the Panama Canal remains one of the great man-made wonders of the modern world and ranks #2 for its "engineering genius and … gateway to Latin American treasures."

Photo: Panama Canal locks

Discover the History

A monumental trail carved between the oceans

400 Years in the making

After the Isthmus of Panama was discovered by Europeans in 1513, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, ordered a 1534 survey to determine if a canal was possible. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, with a strong push from President Theodore Roosevelt, that the United States took over construction of the canal from the French, an epic job that took a decade to complete.

Photo: President Roosevelt visiting the construction site

Image of the early stages of the Panama Canal
Black and white picture of workers building the Panama Canal

A decade of construction

Carving through 51 miles of jungle and granite was no easy task. Tens of thousands of laborers worked, sacrificed and died while building the world’s largest canal. The genius lay in the concept of raising and lowering ships so they could cross Gatun Lake, a feat solely powered by gravity!

Photo: Building the Panama Canal railroad

"The Land Divided...The World United"

On August 15, 1914, the Panama Railway steamship SS Ancon, piloted by Captain John A. Constantine, made the first official transit under a banner that read "The Land Divided; The World United." After sailing from Cristobal, the ship briefly navigated into Caribbean waters, and turned into Panama's jungle, bound for the Pacific.

Photo: SS Kentuckian sailing through the Canal

A black and white picture of cargo ships and tug boats in the Panama Canal
Transiting the locks of the Panama Canal

Modern lock talk

Explore the new Agua Clara Locks on 10-day roundtrip sailings from Ft. Lauderdale into the expanded Canal on Caribbean Princess®, our largest ship to transit the canal, with exciting new amenities, to cruise the region. Even travelers who've sailed through the Canal have never seen it like this.

Photo: Transiting the locks

Fascinating Canal Facts

Image of the bodies of the lakes and oceans that make up the Panama Canal

By the Numbers

  • Up to 50,000 workers at a time helped carve through 51 miles of earth and hard granite to form the Panama Canal.
  • Each canal lock measures 110 feet across and 1,050 feet in length, with solid steel gates six feet thick!
  • About 52 million gallons of water fill each lock of the Canal.
  • Approximately 9,000 people currently depend on the Panama Canal for employment.
  • The distance saved by ships sailing from New York to San Francisco through the Panama Canal versus around Cape Horn is almost 8,000 miles.
Princess Italia, the first Princess ship to pass through the Panama Canal

Fun Facts

  • Prior to the Canal, people crossed the Isthmus of Panama by sailing boats along the Chagres River, then riding mules the rest of the way.
  • A continuous journey through the Panama Canal takes between eight to ten hours.
  • Ships are raised and lowered through the locks using water pulled from Gatun Lake by gravity alone.
  • The lowest toll paid was $0.36 US by Richard Halliburton who crossed the Canal swimming in 1928.
  • The first Princess cruise ship to pass through the Panama Canal was Princess Italia in 1967.

Panama Canal Cruise Articles and Videos

Find fascinating articles with Panama Canal cruise tips for experiencing unforgettable attractions, regional cuisine, and more on both sides of this epic man-made wonder.

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