Panama Canal and the New Locks Expansion Tour: Experience the Old and the New

Panama Canal Expansion Status - August 2014
Panama Canal Expansion Status – August 2014

Panama, officially known as the Republic of Panama, is known for much more than its famous Canal. It is located in Central America and sits between North and South America. Panama is bordered by Costa Rica, Colombia, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. Panama City, the capital of Panama, hosts nearly half of the country’s population of 3.9 million people.

Panama’s geography features a mountain and hill region that forms what is known as the continental divide. The actual spine that forms this divide comes from an uplift that rose from the bottom of the sea. This range of mountains is known as the Cordillera de Talamanca close to Costa Rica. To the east this range is known as the Serrania de Tabasará. Finally, closer to the Panama Canal, the range is known as Sierra de Veraguas.

Besides a large human population, Panama is home to more species of trees, plants, birds and animals than throughout the North American continent. Specifically, 10,000 varieties of plants and more than 1,500 varieties of animals call Panama home. That is a staggering fact considering that Panama is smaller than the state of South Carolina. For example, in the plant category, twenty species of orchid are located between the rain forests and the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range. In the jungles, marmosets and two-toe sloths can be found. In addition, abundant tropical fish populations, humpback and sperm whales and reef sharks are in Panama’s protected reefs. Finally, pumas and jaguars run through the Panamanian jungles. This is just a snapshot of the many species of plants, birds and animals that live and thrive throughout Panama.

Panama is a tourist’s paradise as it is home to many beautiful beaches and islands like Playa Las Lajas, a beautiful eight mile beach, and Isla Taboga, a favorite island among visitors. Both of these places are popular for boaters, jet skiers and sunbathers alike.

Without question, one of the main events in Panama is the Panama Canal. Condor Tours and Travel will be offering a tour package in April 2016 to view the expansion project and the Canal’s new locks. The expansion project is slated to be done by the end of 2016, but the project is far enough along where you can see not only the modern improvements to the Canal but appreciate the history of how the Canal was originally built.

During its eight-day duration, this travel package also includes visits to the new Locks and Gatun Locks area, Miraflores Locks, Panama City, Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and the Gatun Lake. You will also get the opportunity to go on a tour of the Embera Indians, one of seven indigenous tribes in Panama. Throughout this tour, you will also get to partake of authentic, flavorful Panamanian meals and shop for unique merchandise.

Condor Tours and Travel also offers 21 other Panama trip packages depending on what you would like to see and what your individual budget is. Some examples of the different trips include the following:

  • Indigenous People and Ruins Tour;
  • Luxury Travel Panama; and
  • Panama on a Budget

Lori Snow will be personally leading the Panama Canal and the New Locks Expansion Tour in April. She has been leading tours for 15 years, speaks Spanish fluently and was the fourth generation in her family born in Panama. Her personal connection to Panama will make this tour even more meaningful. For more information, visit Condor Tours and Travel’s website.

Explore The Beauty of Panama

       The Isthmus of Panama has been a part of human civilization for approximately 10,000 years with indigenous groups such as the Ngöbe-Buglé, Naso, Wounaan, and Embera nations as its earliest inhabitants. In the sixteenth century was when the country began to change due to Spain’s conquest, but, fortunately, many of the indigenous languages have survived and the peoples of the Embera nation have endured and are accessible to tourists and other visitors. Furthermore, the Central American country sits between Costa Rica and Colombia and borders the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. In this tropical region, the climate supports lush vegetation and extravagant biodiversity that has become part of the booming industry of ecotourism.

        The country became famous, especially to the Western world, in the 20th century with the completion of the Panama Canal. Many tours are available that highlight the canal and surrounding sites such as Old Panama, Casco Viejo, and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Condor Tours & Travel is offering such tours for 2015 & 2016 with accommodations at the Radisson Summit Hotel, Melia Panama Canal, and Country Inn and Suites Amador. There is one date left in December and there are dates available in January, February, April, June, and August next year.  The tour will showcase the Chagres River and national park, the Embera nation, Madden Lake, Soberania National Park, and the city of Portobelo.

        The Chagres River has historically been a trade route for commodities such as jewels, gold, and rare metals and is the only river on Earth that flows into two different oceans. What is most amazing about this river is, the amount of gold that has been transported through its waterways is greater than the amount of gold that has passed through every other river on Earth, combined. Furthermore, during the construction of the Panama Canal, the Chagres was flooded in order to create Gatun Lake and several small islands that were once the tops of rolling hills. Its surrounding tropical forest is home to hundreds of bird species such as blue and green Heron, the Great Egret, neo-tropical Cormorant, Red-Lored Amazon Parrot, and the Keel-billed Toucan.

        Along the river and inside Chagres National Park you will find the people of the Embera Nation. This indigenous population is comprised of several groups and the largest of these is located in the province of Darien, which is situated between Panama and Columbia. Approximately 750 Embera peoples live along the Chagres River and provide visitors with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, river tours, and hiking tours to see waterfalls and their country’s lush vegetation. Their communities primarily operate as port-style towns where they are situated along the river’s banks and have relied upon the river as a trade and travel route. This tradition continues today where their community achieves commercial attention from the many tourists who wish to explore their culture and lifestyles.

        Another port city, to where visitors often travel, is Portobelo. This port city of approximately 3,000 inhabitants is located in the Cólon Province and was established during the Spanish colonial period. Today, fortifications from that era remain as well as Fort San Lorenzo, which is located nearby. The fortifications at Portobelo and San Lorenzo were created in order to defend trade ships and other cargo transport vessels. These sites are frequented by tourists and history buffs alike where these travelers get a glimpse of the country’s history and how people once lived and maintained their livelihoods.

The Panama Canal: History & Tours

      Built in 1914, the Panama Canal has experienced numerous renovations over the years and more than a million ships have crossed it since the first ocean-liner made the journey in August 1914. The latest addition has been named the Panama Canal Expansion and is the largest construction project to date. Based upon years of research and countless studies, the project has been assessed and evaluated for the economic demand for a larger canal, total construction costs and economic benefits, environmental impact, and the best engineering solution for the expansion. Construction started in 2007 and with a total cost of $5.2 billion, once completed, the Panama Canal will have wider and deeper waterways, a greater water supply, and a third set of locks for larger ships.

        Though these new additions are expected to increase the economic viability of the canal, we cannot forget that the canal has also been an attraction for many tourists. On guided tours, visitors learn about the canal’s history, see the Gatun Lake and the engineering prowess of the canal and its Gatun Locks. What are also available to tourists are surrounding cities such as Gamboa and tourist attractions such as the Panama Canal Railway, and Chagres National Park. Most guided tours accommodate for breakfast and lunch and bilingual guides are always available for visitors to have the best possible experience. A visit to the Miraflores Locks, Colonial area of the city, and Panama Canal Museum is generally a part of guided land tours.

        Specific vacation packages that are available are the Panama Canal Centennial, Historical Panama Canal Expansion Tour, and a guided tour of the Panama Canal and New Locks Expansion.  The Panama Canal Centennial is an eight day and seven night vacation package with a canoe expedition through the Chagres National Park, walking tour through the Soberania National Park, a voyage across the Gatun Lake, a visit to the Gatun Locks, forts Geronimo and Santiago and the city of Portobelo, and other activities such as a tour of Panama City and the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

       The Historical Panama Canal Expansion Tour is a seven day and six night tour that includes a trip to the ruins of Portobelo, Old Panama, Casco Viejo, the Miraflores Locks, and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort with the option to take a Jungle Boat Tour on Gatun Lake or a day trip to Chagres River and visit the people of the Embera Nation. Breakfast, lunch, and lodging accommodations are provided for most of the trip.

      The guided tour of the Panama Canal and New Locks Expansion is an eight day and 7 night vacation package. Visitors will be located less than five minutes away from the City of Knowledge and Panama Canal. The vacation package starts with a bus ride across the Isthmus of Panama that is destined for the new locks and Gatun Locks. Later, travelers will see the Miraflores Locks, Goethals Monument, new Church Towers and fortress, an aerial view of the Gamboa Rainforest, and a tour to see the people and culture of the Embera Nation.