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Panama Canal Transits

panama canal transits, transiting the panama canal

Panama Canal transit tours consist of a partial or complete transit through the Panama Canal.

Partial transits last approximately 5-6 hours and include a trip under the Bridge of the Americas, through Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, through Gaillard (Culebra) Cut, under the Centenary Bridge, and on to Gamboa, where you will disembark. For those of you participating in a full transit, your journey will continue northbound. Shortly after departing Gamboa and off to your left, you'll pass Barro Colorado Island, the largest forested island in the Panama Canal waterway. Then, you'll navigate through Gatun Lake, in the direction of Gatun Locks. After your passage through Gatun Locks concludes, you will proceed to Colon to disembark.

a commercial vessel passing the control tower in gatun locks, the panama canal
Your Transit Tour

The initial portion of your excursion is uneventful as you depart the marina and proceed towards the Bridge of the Americas. It is an opportune time to find your place, get accustomed to the vessel, and meet fellow passengers. Once you reach the bridge and for the remaining portion of your tour, you will have lots to see

After clearing the bridge, you'll proceed northbound towards Miraflores Locks, which is just 15-20 minutes away. Depending on the transit schedule and canal traffic, you could find yourself waiting for a little while upon arriving and before entering the locks. During the wait, you'll have terrific photographic opportunities of the Locks and their surroundings, transiting vessels, and tugboats.

Transit vessels are relatively small, and it's likely that you'll be sharing the lock chamber with at least one other commercial or private vessel; smaller vessels customarily enter the lock chamber last.

an early morning view of the bridge of the americas, the panama canal
a cruise ship in gatun lake with a tugboat alongside

After your vessel has been raised, a process that takes approximately 50-55 minutes to complete, you will cross Miraflores Lake, which separates Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. Immediately off to the right, you should see Miraflores Dam, despite it being the smallest of the canal's three dams.

Upon reaching Pedro Miguel Locks, you'll repeat the same process again, except this time, in just 40-45 minutes. When the chamber doors open and your vessel departs Pedro Miguel Locks, it will be at the height of Gatun Lake, 85 ft. above sea level.

Your transit tour will then proceed through the famous Gaillard (Culebra) Cut, a narrow sliver of waterway that cuts through the Continental Divide. You'll pass under the Centenary Bridge, just north of Pedro Miguel Locks. There isn't much to see in the Cut, but it is one of the Canal's most important landmarks.

The Cut stretches 8 miles (13 km) and culminates in Gamboa, where you will depart if partaking in a partial transit. Those participating in a full transit will continue northbound en route to Barro Colorado Island.

More often than not, these tours depart from Flamenco Island and transit northbound, but there are occasions when your excursion will consist of a southbound transit. In that case, you will be transported to either Gamboa or Colon, and your transit will commence in reverse order.

Currently, two companies offer such tours: Aventuras2000 and Panama Marine Adventures. Their schedules vary, depending on the time of year. The months between November–April are considered high season, during which time both companies schedule several weekly departures. Partial transits are far more common, whereas full transits are often limited to weekends. At the moment, both of these companies only offer tours through the old set of locks, not the new ones completed during the expansion period.

Throughout the tour, bilingual speakers are present to narrate your transit, offer insightful and pertinent facts, and answer any questions you may have. They're Panamanian citizens who have spent considerable time working in and around the Canal, so they know it well. Overall, they are eager to please and do an exceptional job. Both companies have onboard souvenir stands and provide snacks and refreshments throughout the transit.

I highly recommend this tour. You won't be disappointed.

panama canal transits, transiting the panama canal

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