The agency that runs the Panama Canal , now known as the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (Panama Canal Authority), is headquartered in an imposing building perched on a small hill on the side of Cerro Ancón. Known simply as the Administration Building (Edificio de Administración), it’s worth visiting for a couple of reasons.
First, there are dramatic murals inside the building’s rotunda that depict the construction of the canal. These were painted by William B. Van Ingen, a New York artist who also created murals for the Library of Congress and the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
They were installed in January 1915 and underwent a restoration in 1993. The four major panels of the mural show excavation at Gaillard Cut  and the construction of Miraflores Locks , the Gatún Dam  spillway, and a set of lock gates. They give a sense of what a staggering task the building of the canal was.
Second, there’s a sweeping view of part of the former Canal Zone , especially the townsite of Balboa , from the back of the building. Walk through the doors at the back of the rotunda, but note they may lock behind you; in that case just walk around the outside of the building to get back to the front entrance.
In the foreground are what were once Balboa Elementary School (on the left) and Balboa High School (on the right). The marble monolith between them is the Goethals Monument . The long, palm-lined promenade is the Prado.
Each section of the Prado has the exact dimensions of a lock chamber: 1000 by 110 feet. In the distance is the Bridge of the Americas and Cerro Sosa (Sosa Hill). Those feeling energetic can walk down the long flight of stairs and explore the townsite of Balboa.
Note the large bronze plaque at the foot of the steps. It’s dedicated to David D. Gaillard, who led the excavation of Gaillard Cut. The plaque was moved here from the side of a mountain that was leveled during Cut-widening work. It was designed by the sculptor James Earle Fraser, who also designed the Buffalo nickel and is best known for his moving sculpture End of the Trail. There’s a replica of the plaque at the Miraflores Visitors Center.
Visitors are free to explore the rotunda any time of the day or night, but other parts of the building are off-limits without an appointment. Sign in with the guard at the door.
The Administrator’s House, a wooden mansion set in a well-tended garden, is a short drive or an easy, pleasant walk farther up the road from the Administration Building. When the road forks, head left. During construction days this was the home of the canal’s chief engineer. It originally sat overlooking what is now Gaillard Cut , allowing the chief engineers (first John F. Stevens, then George W. Goethals) to keep an eye on the excavation even when they were home. In 1914 it was taken apart and moved by train to its present location.
It has been the home of the canal’s chief executive ever since. Visitors are not allowed in the house, but they can walk around the front entrance. It’s also pleasant to walk down Lion Hill Road, the winding, jungle-shrouded road to the right as one faces the house. Unfortunately, the grounds are now enclosed by an ugly green chain-link fence for security. (Pointless personal detail: I lived near the bottom of this road when I was in high school.) The large, nondescript house between this house and the Administration Building is the home of the canal’s deputy administrator.
There’s an impressive view from the top of Cerro Ancón (Ancón Hill) of Casco Viejo , Panama Bay, and the modern city skyline. Walk behind the communications tower to get a look at the entrance to the Panama Canal , the bridge of the Americas, Miraflores Locks , and the townsite of Balboa . It’s also possible to walk up to the giant Panamanian flag, which was one of the first things to go up in the former Canal Zone  after the ratification of the treaties that turned the canal over to Panama.
This spot has the best view of the Panama City  skyline. Historical footnote: The U.S. military dug a tunnel into the heart of the hill, the entrance to which still stands in Quarry Heights, as a secure command post during times of crisis.
The road to the top starts at the entrance to Quarry Heights, once the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command. Those driving should head up the road that goes past the Administration Building, then take a right when the road forks at the Administrator’s House.
Go past the guard house (if there’s actually a guard there he will probably just wave you in), then make a left past the headquarters of the environmental nonprofit ANCON. Access from this point on is by a one-way road. Guards at either end of the road tell you when it’s safe to go, but honk the horn around curves anyway. The top of Cerro Ancón is two kilometers up from the Quarry Heights gate.