Not all of it really.
But you can stay next to the canal and drive along parts of it which is what we did.
We really didn't have time for a Panama Canal cruise, but we wanted to see Panama...
The sign directing you to the locks creeps up on you from the two lane road, so be on the lookout for it... Or you can always turn around and go back like we did.
Panama Canal Day Trips By Boat or Train
You can see one of the day trip boats in this photo.
Once a week they have an ocean to ocean day trip through the canal.
At Gamboa, the canal opens up into Gatun Lake which was formed when they dammed the Chagres River to build the canal. Cruise ships cross the lake to reach more locks on the Caribbean side.
On the one-lane bridge into Gamboa, cars, trains and Panamax container ships travel side by side. Now that's a Panama Canal drive!
The Resort offers boat rides up the Chagres River and also on the lake, and you're in a perfect location to explore the jungle surrounding Pipeline Road.
What’s Pipeline Road you ask?
In Gamboa and at the Resort you can also see historic Canal Zone housing. The Gamboa Rainforest Resort even offers a few renovated Historic Apartments for rent.
We drove across the isthmus... although this really couldn't be a Panama Canal drive. The road leaves the canal for most of the drive. On the Caribbean side, we bypassed the city of Colon and the Gatun Locks at that end of the canal. With enough time, this would definitely be worth a visit.
With only a week for our visit, there were hard choices to make. We opted to visit the pretty little historic town of Portobelo...
There are Spanish Forts there and a historic Customs House where gold left the New World for Spain.
Christopher Columbus discovered the bay and named the area... There are all kinds of stories of pirates and explorers tied to this little town.
It was an hour and a half drive on a two lane road to get there when we visited, but a new toll road will soon be finished. That will make the drive shorter and open up the whole Caribbean coast.
While the Caribbean coast was sleepy and undeveloped when we were there, with easier access, it is sure to be developed.
Across the Canal to Explore the West
The rest of our Panama birdwatching adventure was a great success. We went in spring hoping to see the Resplendent Quetzals. For that our Panama Canal drive took us across the canal on the Bridge of the Americas onto the Via Panamericana for a drive to the west to Volcan Baru National Park nearly on the Costa Rican border.
Driving in Panama is not hard, but we sometimes found that the signs were not as clear as they could have been. Especially in and around Panama City, signs didn't seem to give us enough warning... but then, driving in big cities is always a challenge.
Because we were there to explore the jungles, we avoided all three of the biggest cities in Panama.... We did drive around the edges of Panama City to get to Gamboa and across the Bridge of the Americas... that was a bit of a nerve wracking experience. When we went to the Caribbean side of the country, we skirted Colon... turning off to Portobelo before we encountered too much congestion. Heading west, we cruised by the edge of David on the Pan Americana on the way to Volcan Baru to look for quetzals.
Outside of the big cities, the roads were mostly two lanes, but they were in pretty good condition. There are toll roads near Panama City. We made our drive from Gamboa, through Panama City and all the way to Volcan Baru in nine hours. There are plenty of places to stop for food along the Panamerican Highway. There are hotels along the way too if you wanted to break up the drive and explore some of the other towns along the way.
OK... so we didn't cruise the whole Panama Canal. That was OK for us. We felt like our Panama Canal drive showed us enough of the historic canal... and our drive through other parts of the country showed us a well rounded picture of what Panama is like.
Happy travels... even if you don't travel the world... just remember that life is a journey... embrace and enjoy it! Judy and Mark
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