Is it worth it?
Something you don't even consider not to do while in Panama, right?
For me it was clear as soon as we got to Panama City we will visit the Panama Canal.
But I never thought about, is it really worth it.
So thats why I'm telling you these 3 things:
- Why we didn't booked a tour.
- Why we went to the Miraflores locks.
- Why we left during the "real action".
For those that don't know what the Panama Canal is about, here a quick Video.
Why we didn't booked a tour
First I was convinced to book a tour to go through the Panama Canal.
But after researching the prices I considered going with our rental car to the Miraflores locks by ourselves, this will cost 15$ p.P for the entry fee and not 120$ for a daylong trip where you are pretty much on a ship waiting to go in the locks, waiting while you are in the locks and this three times.
Why we went to the Miraflores locks
There are four Panama Canal Locks where the ships pass through. The Gatun Locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks , Agua Clara Lock (new) and the most famous Miraflores Locks.
We decided to go to the Miraflores Locks because it's the only place where there is a museum and a terrace and mostly it was the closest to out apartment in Panama City.
Why we left early.
For this one I have to tell you my story so you can decide for yourself if you want to go or not.
When To Go?
After a little researching I found out that there will not be any ships in the gates from 10:30AM to 2:00PM.
So we arrived at the Miraflores locks around 2:15PM.
We go in a small line to purchase our tickets.
At the ticket counter we saw a sign that stated that the first ships came in around 3:30PM, so we prepared ourselves to wait for another hour until the "action" begun.
So after passing time while visiting the quite interesting museum, we got to the terrace to get in a strategically clever spot to see a ship. After standing there for 30min, we got a message from the speakers that the first ship will come through in one hour. So that meant 4:30PM. Ok so we didn't want to lose our great spot especially with more and more people coming.
So we stood there for another 30min.
Tugging Boat Is First
Suddenly a tugging boat appeared in the canal and the locks filled with water.
Finally the first action in two hours. After about 10min filling time the locks opened and the small tugging boat went through, yeahhhhh. The gate closed and that was it.
Of course the main attraction was the big cruise ship waiting in the sight of the locks since 3h.
But just to see big gates being opened and closed, and a huge "bathtub" getting filled with water, wasn't worth spending about 3h and certainly wasn't worth 15$ entry fee.
But wait, that's not the end of the story
just to give you a picture of how uninteresting it was for us. We decided then on the spot, that ok, so now we have seen what the gates do, so waiting for just a bigger ship wasn't for us.
So we planed to go.
But we were a little hungry and went to a food counter and ordered a little Sandwich, this took so long that after we finished ordering and eating the sandwiches, the massive cruise ship was already in the Canal Locks about 300ft (100m), from our faces.
So the main attraction we waited for about 3:30 hours was finally there but, it wasn't enough for us to stay.
So we left while the cruise ship was lowered in the canal.
Reading reviews about the Canal on Trip Advisor we found out that it's hard to predict when a ship is coming.
So this naturally means in most cases a pretty long waiting time.
My guess is going around 3:30 to the gates in Miraflores.
The pretty slow moving gates and massive ships, don't make the attraction more exciting.
And make no mistake, I'm pretty much the target audience for that kind of stuff, as a former mechanic and as a technic freak who can watch Megastructures documentaries on Youtube for hours. But even I have to say, meeeh wasn't worth it.
If you have 3-4 hours to spare in Panama City and you really, really like technical stuff, go check out the Miraflores Locks. But otherwise there are more exciting things to do in Panama City.
Insider Tip To Save Money
Pedro Miguel Locks
If you just want to see the big ships passing by. You can go to the Pedro Miguel Locks (see my Map).
There is a parking lot right on the canal, where you have a good look at the passing ships who will go to the locks FOR FREE. See my Map where excactly to go.