Originally begun by the French in 1881, finished by the United States in 1914, and still fully operational today, the Panama Canal is one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th Century. The first waterway to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the famed canal, which celebrates its centennial this summer, has become essential to international maritime trade and remains one of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ seven wonders of the modern world.
In addition to being an engineering feat, the Panama Canal remains a popular tourist attraction where visitors can marvel at the sight of very big ships slipping through a (comparatively) very small space. The best way to see the canal up close is at the Miraflores Visitor Center, where guests can learn about how the canal’s lock gates open and close to allow vessels passage both from an observation deck, or from an exhibition hall. Visitors can also learn more about the Canal’s history. Begun under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, in 1881, the French-led canal project was put on hold after large number of French workers died of disease. The U.S. resumed the project in 1904 and the canal finally opened in 1914.
According to PBS’ American Experience, 5% of all worldwide shipping traffic was passing through the Panama Canal in 2005 and in 2007 — the year the Panamanian government began a $5.25 billion, seven-year project to update the canal — “14,721 vessels carrying a record 313 million tons of goods crossed the canal. Experts estimate that by 2025 annual demand will rise to 510 million tons,” they note.
For a true Panamanian sailing experience, guests can experience the canal while on 15-day Celebrity Cruises on the Celebrity Infinity.