Eddie Van Halen’s recent and premature demise rekindled memories of a trip to Panama in 2015 and the tune that I couldn’t get out of my head while visiting. It is the chorus from “Panama,” Van Halen’s 1984 hit song.


Panama aw


Panama oh oh oh oh oh

Can you hear that golden oldie? The song is about a car not a city or country, but I’m including the music video as an introduction to the post and as a small tribute to Mr. Van Halen.


Panama and the Panama Canal

The Republic of Panama is a Central American country located on the Isthmus of Panama, a narrow land bridge that connects North America and South America making the mainland of the Western Hemisphere a single, giant landmass.

I always imagined the Panama Canal was built east to west. It actually follows a north/south route.

Panama is a country blessed with abundant natural beauty, diverse plant and animal life, and vibrant music and culture.  Panama, however, is best known for the Panama Canal.  The Panama Canal is a 50-mile long series of manmade lakes and canals that link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The canal places Panama in the unique position of being the only place I know of that joins two great continents and two great oceans.

The United States built the canal.  Work began in 1904 and was completed in 1914.  The United States was the sole operator until 1979 when control of the canal passed to the Panama Canal Commission, a joint agency of the United States and the Republic of Panama.  Panama gained total authority over the canal on December 31, 1999.

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Wikipedia Panama Canal overview

Miraflores Visitors Center

The Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center is on Panama’s Pacific coast adjacent to Panama City. 

20160522_125642The visitors center contains four exhibition halls explaining the history of the canal and its method of operation.

Canal operations simulator in the visitors center.

The visitor’s center overlooks the canal and has three terraces and observation decks for viewing the operation of the Miraflores Locks.


Miraflores Locks

The Miraflores Locks are one of three sets of locks on the canal. The Miraflores Locks link the Pacific Ocean to Miraflores lake 52 feet above sea level. Locks have two channels allowing simultaneous passage of ships traveling in opposite directions.

Pacific bound container vessel arriving at Miraflores Locks from Miraflores Lake.

Each lock gate has two leaves, 65 feet (20 metres) wide and 6.5 feet (2 metres) thick.


Lock chambers are 1,000 feet (300 metres) long, 110 feet (33 metres) wide, and 40 feet (12 metres) deep.


Small craft pass through the locks unassisted. Larger ships are towed by electric locomotives running along rails on the lock walls.


Once a vessel is authorized to enter the canal, the average transit time is about 10 hours from ocean to ocean.


See this article for in depth information on the construction and operation of the Panama Canal.

Final Thoughts

My hat is off to the people who designed, built, operate, and maintain the Panama Canal.  It is an engineering marvel that shaves off thousands of miles and untold amounts of time and money on journeuys between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Among Panama’s many attractions, the canal is is at the top of the list.

On the next trip to Panama I would like to take the train that follows the rout of the canal across the isthmus.  Have you been to the Panama Canal or even transited it on a ship?