Skip to main content

Why should a Panama Canal Cruise be on your Travel Bucket List?

Cruising the Panama Canal is on most cruise-lovers’ bucket lists. And for good reason!  As one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century, it’s something every traveller should experience at least once.

Before joining Wells Gray Tours, I worked for an international consulting company that was the Program Manager for the most recent expansion of the Panama Canal. This expansion, which was completed in 2016, doubled the capacity of the canal and allowed much larger ships to pass—approximately one and a half times the previous size. During a training course, I was lucky enough to be partnered with another employee who was working on the project. I was fascinated to learn about the remarkable history of the canal and the complexities involved in operating it. I gained a new appreciation for this incredible feat of human ingenuity and added it to my own travel bucket list.

Here are just a few reasons I think a Panama Canal Cruise is worth a spot on your bucket list too:

View a modern marvel of engineering up close

A vessel transiting the canal

If you’re at all interested in engineering or maritime technology, I’m confident you will be wowed by the operations of the Panama Canal. The canal consists of artificial lakes, several improved and artificial channels, and three sets of locks. It takes between eight and ten hours to transit the 82 km canal and during this time a system of locks raises and lowers vessels an incredible 26 metres. The American Society of Civil Engineers has even ranked the Panama Canal as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Most cruise ships offer experts on board to provide information before and during the transit, so you won’t miss a single detail of what’s happening.

If you want to learn more, the Panama Canal Authority has its own YouTube channel with videos on a number of topics. Here are a couple to get you started:

How Does the Panama Canal Work?

Watch a NeoPanamax Ship (the largest size possible) transit the Panama Canal

Learn about the history of the largest construction project ever completed

An illustration of the construction of the canal in 1885

The history of the Panama Canal is just as fascinating as the technology. Since its inception by the Spanish in the 1500s, the story of the canal has involved nine countries, 80,000 workers, and 30,000 lives lost. Dreamed up by the Spanish, the canal was debated by the English, Americans, French, Scottish, and Colombians, before the French began construction in 1881. The challenges posed by the dense jungle, debilitating climate, rampant tropical diseases, and venomous animals eventually proved too great and the money ran out in 1889. In 1904, following the independence of Panama, the United States took over the project and spent almost $500 million to complete it (this is roughly equivalent to $9 billion today). The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914. Since then Panama has been given control over the canal and numerous expansions have taken place.

If you want to learn more about the history of the Panama Canal, check out a book we recommended in a previous blog post: The Path Between the Seas – The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough

Visit some amazing destinations

The colonial city of Cartagena, Columbia is just one of the amazing destinations you might visit on a Panama Canal cruise

A full-transit Panama Canal cruise travels from one side of the continent to the other, allowing you to visit destinations on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that aren’t typically included in the same tour. This includes ports on both the Western and Eastern coasts of the United States and Canada, Mexico’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Central America, and the Caribbean. View stunning colonial architecture in Colombia, explore the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica, climb volcanoes in Nicaragua, and shop at the bustling textile markets in the mountains of Guatemala. Then visit ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico, experience surf culture in California, and enjoy high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria—all in the same trip!

Take a warm winter getaway with more

The warm, dry weather in Central America, makes it a perfect winter getaway destination

If you want to escape the snow this winter, you’re in luck. The winter months offer the warmest, driest weather in Central America, making it the best time to take a Panama Canal cruise. So, if you’re looking for a sunny holiday with the relaxation and luxury of an all-inclusive resort, but with more history, activities, and some exciting destinations, a Panama Canal cruise might be for you!

Want to experience it for yourself?

If a Panama Canal cruise sounds like your perfect adventure this winter, join Wells Gray tours as we cruise for 21 days from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver with Holland America aboard the ms Oosterdam. In addition to a full transit of the Panama Canal, where an expert is on board to explain its history and technical operations as your ship passes through the locks, we will visit 11 ports in Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, California, and British Columbia. Five shore excursions are also included with locally guided tours and activities ranging from coffee tasting to boat tours.

For more information about this tour, use the links below:

Itinerary from Interior BC

Itinerary from Victoria

Itinerary from Greater Vancouver

What do you think—is a Panama Canal cruise on your bucket list yet? Have you been on one before? We’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comment section!

Written by Pam Jensen