1) History – construction.
The PANAMA CANAL runs for 48 miles across the Isthmus of Panamá
A significant event that influenced the construction of the Panamá Canal was the discovery of gold in California around 1849, which made it very important to be able to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To serve this need to cross the isthmus, the Panamá Railway was constructed and opened in 1855.
The original construction of the Panamá Canal had innumerable problems. One of them was health-related, for which a man named William Gorgas was appointed as chief of sanitation in order to protect the tens of thousands of workers. Given that these workers were from all over the world, it set Panamá as a place of with many different ethnic groups, a status that it keeps until the present.
The building of the Canal required approximately 47,000,000 cubic yards of excavation, creating, in part, the Gatún Dam and Gatún Lake, both of great size, and which are essential for the Canal to function.
Since 1999, the Canal is fully run by Panamanian “Autoridad del Canal de Panamá” (ACP). The Canal was completed and formally opened on August 15, 1914 (which is also the date of the founding of the city of Panamá), so the country is celebrating the Canal centennial this 2014. The first ship that crossed the Canal was the “Ancón”. In different ways (primary among them the engineering necessary to complete the canal), the Panamá Canal was named by UNESCO as one of the Eight Wonders of the World. The significance of the Canal is also due to its importance for the worldwide commerce, in which Panamá has played a very important role since the 15th century, when all the gold was passed through from South América to Spain, which history tells us happened 400 years after Balboa first crossed the Isthmus of Panamá.
Today, the Panamá Railway is one of the attractions must visited by tourists, traveling from the city of Panamá to the city of Colón on a daily basis, as well as transporting thousands of tons of freight containers from the large ports of Manzanillo (Atlantic) and Panamá Ports (Pacific). This is of great importance in the world, taking freight into and from the ships going into the Panamá Canal.
The Panamá Canal has 3 pairs of locks:
Currently, these locks are 110 feet wide, but with the expansion under construction due to be completed in 2015 or maybe a bit afterwards, the Canal will have capacity for bigger ships, the "Post-Panamax", saving millions of dollars to maritime companies. Each year, 14,000 ships transit the canal. The expansion of the locks are expected to double or triple that in the future. The approximate time for a freight ship to transit by the Canal is 25 hours.
2) Visiting the Canal:
Visitors are always attracted to visit an exceptional worldwide tourist site, so in response, tour operators and cruise lines have designed several ways by which visitors can enjoy every aspect of it, from the original construction to the great ongoing expansion (which is expected to cost over $US 5 billion).
The best known are:
There is now a new way to view the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center (Centro de Observación de la Ampliación del Canal de Panamá) is open. The center overlooks the construction of the Gatun Locks on the Colon entrance to the Panama Canal from 50 feet up. A visit is a nice, comfortable way to see something unique. (You can get to it by car, Canal boat tour or the Panama Canal Railway.) Facilities include restaurants, souvenir shops, exhibits and video presentations. There are also nature trails to relax on. Nice. The Center is open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Is seeing the Panama Canal up close and personal a great experience? Bill Gates thinks so. Last year he brought his wife and family to do the half-day tour to the Miraflores Locks (near Clayton). The Panama Canal Authority even let him push the button to open the locks. Did Mr. Gates think the Canal was worthwhile? Gates wrote on his personal blog how much he enjoyed the trip and how amazing the Canal engineering is. If you are in Panama you owe yourself the pleasure of seeing the Canal.
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