Pacific Side Locks
Miraflores Locks, completed in May of 1913, stand at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. They link the Pacific Ocean with the manmade Miraflores Lake, raising and lowering ships 54 feet (16.5 meters) in two impressive steps. Of the canal’s three sets of locks, these are the easiest to reach from Panama City and the best equipped to handle visitors. Note: Recently, guards have become strict about not letting visitors onto the grounds until the visitors center opens at 9 a.m.
The massive Centro de Visitantes de Miraflores (Miraflores Visitors Center, tel. 276-8325, www.pancanal.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, including holidays) is an out-of-place monolith from the outside, but inside it’s rather impressive. It contains a four-story museum, an observation deck, a theater that shows documentaries on the canal in English and Spanish, and a restaurant with good views of the locks. Hold on to your ticket to be admitted to the museum and theater.
The 1st floor of the museum contains a history of the canal, starting with the failed French effort and continuing through completion by the United States. The 2nd floor is an ecological exhibit that stresses the importance of the Panama Canal watershed and contains displays on the flora and fauna found within it. The 3rd floor shows the operation of the canal and includes a full-scale pilot-training simulator and a topographical canal map. The 4th floor is the least interesting, with route maps that stress the importance of the canal to world commerce.
The restaurant has a terrace right on the edge of the locks, making it a great place to come for lunch or dinner. There’s also an outdoor snack bar on the ground floor.
Admission to the entire complex is US$8, US$5 for kids ages 5–17, free for children younger than five. Admission just to the ground terrace and shops is US$5, US$3 for kids.
Pedro Miguel Locks and Gaillard Cut
The Pedro Miguel Locks, about a 10-minute drive farther down Gaillard Highway from Miraflores, raise and lower ships in one 31-foot (9.5-meter) step, linking Miraflores Lake and Gaillard Cut. These locks are not open to the public, but a little rest stop just beyond them gives a good view of the action. You can also see the beginning of Gaillard Cut (also called Culebra Cut), where the canal was dug right through the Continental Divide.
It’s a dramatic sight, though the widening of the cut has made it a bit less so by pushing back and lowering the rocky peaks through which the waterway runs. Farther up the road is the Puente Centenario, a dramatic suspension bridge over the canal that was inaugurated in 2004. There are good, if quick, views of the cut from the bridge.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition