Given its importance, it is no wonder that sailing to and through the Panama Canal is one of the most popular cruise attractions.
But, what are the benefits and challenges of visiting this region? In this article, we’re going to look at the Panama Canal cruise pros and cons.
Panama Canal Cruise Pros and Cons
The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, saving ships the trouble of traveling around South America.
With its construction beginning in 1904, it took about 25,000 workers to move over 1 million cubic yards of earth a day before it was officially completed in 1914.
You can learn all about the history of the Panama Canal by visiting the museum at the Mira Flores locks during your cruise, which is just a short drive from Panama City.
The pros and cons of a Panama Canal cruise include:
1. See the Panama Canal in action
Panama Canal is a marvel of engineering that is worth a visit when you sail to Panama. In fact, many people visit Panama simply to see the Panama Canal.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that the original parts were constructed over a century ago.
2. Enjoy breathtaking views
A voyage through the Panama Canal offers spectacular views of calm waters and lush terrain.
You can steal the best views from the bow of your ship, where you will witness the revolutionary mechanism of the canal in motion as it lifts the vessel up 85 feet.
Once the ship reaches the higher elevation of the canal, it sails swiftly through its serene waters.
As your cruise ship sails between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, you will pass by Soberania National Park, a rich area of protected rainforest that houses numerous species of endangered birds.
3. See the Centennial Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas
The Bridge of the Americas (aka Puente de las Americas in Spanish) was completed in 1962 at a whopping $20 million dollars.
It is located at the Pacific locks and was the first permanent bridge across the canal. It is a cantilever bridge, extending across the canal without any supporting structures in the middle.
The Centennial Bridge, on the other hand, is a beautiful cable-stay design that resembles the Jiang-Shaoxing Sea Bridge in China and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
4. Learn about the history of the canal
Reading about the history of the canal in a book or on the internet does not really bring out the whole picture of such an accomplishment.
It is hard to understand just how much effort it took to cut and blast through up to 360 feet high of rocky terrain to construct a water bearing canal without seeing it for yourself.
Not to mention the risk of malaria and yellow fever that threatened the workforce in charge of creating this feat.
History records that about a third of the whole workforce died during the construction process.
5. Enjoy other wonderful South American destinations
One of the benefits of booking a Panama Canal cruise is that you get a little taste of the several destinations on your itinerary.
Popular ports of call for Panama Canal cruises include Jamaica, Costa Rica, Puntarenas, Mexico, Cabo San Lucas, Colombia, and Cartagena.
6. Boating, Birding, Monkeys, etc.
In addition to stunning views of the canal, there are plenty of things to explore in Panama on shore. For starters, the area is full of beautiful spots for hiking and walking.
There are also educational and historical tours of the locks, as well as small passenger boat tours where monkeys will literally climb from the tree branches hanging over the water into the seat next to you for a slice of banana.
1. Limited anchor choices
Foreign yachts are not allowed to anchor in Panama Canal waters anymore; only in The Flats on the Atlantic side. The actual options are extremely limited.
2. No berths
In addition to ships being banned from anchoring anywhere in Panama Bay, the selection of available marina/club berths for visiting is tiny.
It is extremely difficult for yachts heading from the Pacific to the Caribbean to stop just to make plans to transit the Canal, let alone handle emergencies, tour Panama, or take re-provisions.
When Is The Best Time To Take A Panama Canal Cruise?
December is generally the best time to sail to the Panama Canal. The rainy season starts from mid-April to mid-December.
Book a cruise right after this for a good chance of friendly weather while avoiding the elevated prices and high traffic of tourists on the most popular time — between January and March.
If you are planning to sail to the Panama Canal, you can expect pleasant temperatures year round (79 to 83 degrees F).
However, the rainy season from April to December can be really hectic, with large busts of rain being a common occurrence in the afternoon and early evening. Mornings and nights are normally clear.
The hurricane season runs from June to November, so expect some rough seas with the probability of cancellation or changes to itineraries if your cruise also includes the Caribbean.
The dry season in Panama is between January and March and coincides with the worst weather in Europe and the U.S.,
which is why it is such a popular escape for cruisers who want to enjoy some sun.
The quandary is that the place tends to get too crowded during this time, which in turn increases traveling cost due to the high demand.
Generally, avoid holidays like Christmas or Easter if you want to find all the places open.
Panamanians are keen on their public holidays, so you’ll likely find most restaurants, shops, and transportation services closed if you visit at the wrong time.
In particular, you should avoid going on:
- December 25th — January 1st – Christmas and New Year
- November 10th – La Villa de Los Santos
- November 5th – Colon Day
- November 3rd – Independence Day
- May 1st – May Day
- The week before Easter – Holy Week
- January 9th – Martyr’s Day
If you have to travel on these dates, then ensure that you have enough supplies so you don’t need to do any shopping and confirm that the attractions you plan to visit will be open during that time.
FAQs on Panama Canal Cruising
1. Do cruise ships go through the new Panama Canal?
Some cruise ships go through the entire Panama Canal (full transit cruises) while others only sail halfway (partial transit). Full transit cruises travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean (or vice versa),
sailing along the entire length of the canal. Partial transit cruises start from Florida and sail as far as Gatun Lake before turning around and back to Colon on the Caribbean side.
2. How long does a cruise ship take to go through the Panama Canal?
The Panama Canal is 50 miles (80 kilometers) long. A cruise ship can take approximately 8-10 hours to go through the entire Panama Canal.
Panama Canal cruise pros and cons are many and varied, but the benefits far outweigh the downsides.
The canal benefited from an expansion project in 2016 that doubled its capacity by incorporating a new traffic lane, allowing more ships to sail through.
The expanded canal has not only exceeded service expectations, but it has also reaffirmed Panama Canal’s leadership in the maritime industry.