A Panama Canal cruise will allow you to see and understand how this marvel of human engineering impacted shipping and global trade. The idea of connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans has been born since the 16th century. Its construction was punctuated by political conflicts, human tragedies and failures. But in the end the human ingenuity made this idea come true and the Panama Canal was finally inaugurated in 1914.
The canal is composed of two series of locks, one on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic side. In the middle is the Gatun Lake. New, wider locks to allow larger vessels (Neopanamax) were inaugurated in 2016. Your cruise ship will use either the historic locks, where it is interesting to see the mechanisms at work to move the ship through them, or the new, wider locks.
There are different itineraries for cruises in the Panama Canal. Some make round trips from Florida and visit the Caribbean islands, enter the Panama Canal and make a U-turn in Gatun Lake to exit through the same locks.
Itineraries that make the full transit usually travel between Florida and California and visit Costa Rica and Mexico or Florida and South America (Chile) and visit Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
When to take a Panama Canal cruise
The ideal time is the dry season between December and April. There are many departures for full transit itineraries when ships are repositioned between Alaska and Caribbean or between South America and the Caribbean in spring and fall.
For partial transit, with round trips from Florida, departures are mainly in winter during the peak Caribbean cruise season.
Departure ports for Panama Canal cruises
On the Pacific side, for itineraries between Florida and California, the ports of departure and arrival are those of San Diego and Los Angeles in California. Some voyages are also combined with the California coast and go to Seattle or Vancouver.
Ports of call
On the Pacific Ocean side, Cabo San Lucas, Manzanillo, Mazatlán, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Chiapas and Huatulco in Mexico, Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, Puntarenas in Costa Rica are regularly part of the itineraries to the American west coast.
For voyages to Chile, Manta in Ecuador, Lima and Pisco in Peru are the most frequent stopovers.
Cruise lines who visit the Panama Canal
The majority of major cruise lines and luxury cruise lines offer itineraries to the Panama Canal.
Princess and NCL offer partial transit. NCL also offers cruises that depart or end in Panama City.
Discover the history of the Panama Canal on Wikipedia.