2 Best Sights in The Panama Canal, The Canal and Central Panama

The Panama Canal

Fodor's choice

The most interesting spot for viewing the Panama Canal is the visitor center at the Miraflores Locks.North of Miraflores the road to Gamboa heads inland but still passes a couple of spots with canal vistas, namely the Pedro Miguel Locks and the one-way bridge over the Chagres River. The bridge (and Gamboa in general) offers front-row views of the big ships as they pass though the canal. The Panama Canal Railway train to Colón continues north from Gamboa past other vantage points, which is much of that trip's draw. Two other spots with impressive views are the monument erected by the country's Chinese community on the Bridge of the Americas' western side, and the Esclusas de Gatún (Gatún Locks), 10 km (6 miles) south of Colón. Near Colón, the Panama Canal Expansion Visitor Center offers views of construction on the expanded canal (as long as that work continues) and will likely remain open after the new section is finished. But nothing matches the experience of getting out onto the water, which can be done on a canal transit tour or on a nature tour or fishing trip on Gatún Lake.

Panama Canal Railway

The one-hour trip on the Panama Canal Railway from Corozal, just north of Albrook, to the Caribbean city of Colón, offers an interesting perspective of the rain forests of Soberanía National Park and the wetlands along Gatún Lake. The railway primarily moves freight, but it has a commuter service on weekdays that departs from Panama City at 7:15 am (returning from Colón at 5:15 pm), and costs $25 each way. Tourists ride in one of six air-conditioned cars with curved windows on the roof that let you see the foliage overhead. The best views are from the left side of the train, and though the train moves too fast to see much wildlife, you may spot toucans, herons, and black snail kites flying over the lake. The downside: the trip passes a garbage dump and industrial zone near the end, and leaves you just outside the slums of Colón at 8:15 am, which is why you may want to take the trip as part of a tour that picks you up in Colón and takes you to either San Lorenzo or Portobelo. It is possible to do the trip on your own, in which case you should board one of the shuttle vans that await the train in Colón and have them take you to the Colón 2000 (pronounced coh-loan dose-mill) cruise-ship port, where you can pick up a rental car and drive to Portobelo, or hire a taxi for the day ($80–$100). The trains leave promptly, and it is complicated to pre-purchase tickets, so get to the station by 6:45 am to buy your tickets.