Panama Canal History & Excursions
The Canal and beyond
Vibrant Experiences Await
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.
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."
Discover the History
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.
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!
"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.
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.
Get to Know the Region
Lifestyle & Culture
The diversity of the cultures you’ll meet in Central and South America is a wonder to behold. Travel by dugout canoe to an Embera village in the heart of Chagres National Park in Fuerte Amador. Visit Fort San Lorenzo, one of the most complete and biggest forts built in Panama. Learn how your favorite coffee arrives in your cup with a tour of one of Guatemala’s most renowned coffee farms in Puerto Quetzal.
Natural Wonders & Landscapes
Enjoy a bird's-eye-view of the world with a high-flying zipline ride in Costa Rica. Relax in a deluxe 1938 air-conditioned dome car for a different perspective on the Canal riding on the Panama Canal Railway—a Discovery™ recommended excursion. Cruise through the mangroves of Puntarenas to the sanctuary of the Scarlet Macaw. Listen carefully for chirping birds and monkey calls as you soar over Gamboa Rainforest in Colon in an open aerial tram.
Learn more about Panama Canal excursions
Experience the rainforest world of sloths, learn why they're sooo slow and why these drowsy tree-dwellers sleep up to 20 hours a day when you visit the Sloth Sanctuary, an Animal Planet™ Exclusive excursion, in Limón. Step into the "birthplace of time," when you visit the Mayan archaeological site of Izapa just outside of Puerto Chiapas.
Learn more about Panama Canal excursions
A Fiesta of Flavors
Try authentic Panamanian cuisine, celebrating the cultural influences of African, Spanish and Native American, with traditional favorites such as empanadas, bollos and torrejitas. Sample the Grand Cayman’s world famous rum cake made with local rum. Raise your glass and say “salud” as you sip tequila at Puerto Vallarta’s Viva Tequila.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Retrace the steps of 17th-century Spanish colonists with a walk through the well-preserved Old City of Cartagena. Stroll the historic quarter of Panama City, once renowned as one of the richest cities in the New World. Admire the architectural delights of Antigua in Puerto Quetzal, home to several 17th- and 18th-century landmarks.
Fascinating Canal Facts
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.
- 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.
Let Princess Get You There
Cruise Plus Hotel Packages
Add peace of mind and a sense of security to your vacation with a Cruise Plus® Hotel Package. Give yourself a few days to relax either before or after your Panama Canal cruise and take in the sights of a sensational city. Princess handles all the details – including transfers and baggage handling – with accommodations selected for their incredible locations and excellent service.