Panama Canal Cruises

Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

If you have ever visited the Panama Canal, you know that it is one of the most beautiful man-made wonders. But when it comes to cruising it, you need to make sure that you have the proper information. You need to know the ports of call, destinations, costs, and whether or not you want to do a partial transit.

Ports of call

Panama Canal Cruises

Panama Canal cruises offer the opportunity to visit the most scenic and historic ports in two continents. Panama City and Puerto Limon are two of the many ports that offer a chance to see the canal in its entirety. Cruise ships have also called at the charming seaside town of Half Moon Cay in Costa Rica, and the Grand Caymans. Each port offers a unique experience.

The full transit of the canal can last fourteen days, but some travelers prefer to cut back on this time, allowing for more time in Central America. Some ships even bring on lecturers to speak on canal history. And, if you’re a history buff, you might want to take advantage of a special excursion that features the canal’s locks.

Many cruise lines offer Panama Canal cruises throughout the year, but some offer more ports than others. For instance, Norwegian and Princess offer cruises year-round. Some even offer the full 48-mile-long canal transit.


Traveling by canal cruise along the Panama Canal is a wonderful way to see the sights and experience the culture of Panama. You can explore the Panamanian rainforest, admire exotic plants, and observe the diverse wildlife. The best time to visit Panama is from January to mid-April, when it is not too hot, and the climate is pleasant. While the weather is ideal, any time of year is a great time to visit, especially during festivals.

Some cruise lines have itineraries that include many different ports before and after the Canal visit. You can also visit popular destinations along the Caribbean coast, the western coast of Mexico, and even remote ports not usually visited by cruise ships. Most Panama Canal cruises feature a combination of developed and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

The Canal is an engineering marvel and a must-see destination. It is the link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. If you’re looking for a cruise, consider one of the many luxury cruise ships that offer the Panama Canal. Celebrity, for example, has three different ships dedicated to this journey. The ships also visit many other tropical destinations including Cabo San Lucas, colorful colonial architecture in Cartagena, and thriving jungles in Costa Rica.


The cost of Panama Canal cruises varies from ship to ship and depends on the size and type of boat. Small boats pay around $165 per day to transit the canal. Larger ships pay up to $5000. There is also a security deposit of $165 for small boats. A full transit of the canal can take fourteen or fifteen days.

Cruises operate during two seasons. The rainy season occurs from mid-April to mid-December. This season is usually less expensive than the dry season. Cruises that travel to the Caribbean during this time have choppy seas. However, the dry season is from November to April and can be quite busy.

Cruises along the Panama Canal make several stops in the region. Some of these stopovers include Costa Rica and Mexico. Some cruises also include excursions to destinations on land, such as Colon. In Colon, you can visit the idyllic Maria Chiquita beach or take a hike through the Portobelo National Park. You can also visit the 17th-century San Lorenzo Fort and the city of Panama City.

Partial transits

Partial transits on Panama Canal cruises offer a unique opportunity to experience the canal in a different way. These cruises typically leave from Florida and sail through the canal twice. During one pass through the canal, the ship will turn around in the Gatun Lake, exiting the canal the same way it entered.

A full transit of the canal usually takes two weeks, but it’s possible to get a shorter cruise with partial transits. A full transit is a full trip through the Canal, and it will usually be done during daylight hours. Partial transits are faster but can be congested. A full transit cruise will also take passengers through all six locks in the canal. The reason for these locks is to protect the land and prevent flooding and erosion from the two seas.

Partial transits are often part of larger cruises through the western and southern Caribbean. Partial transits are a great opportunity to see the canal in a different way, and can also be an opportunity to enjoy the sights of the region. Most partial transit cruises take place during early morning hours, so it’s best to get up early to secure a good viewing spot.

Embera people

One of the highlights of Panama Canal cruises is the chance to learn about the indigenous Embera people. You can visit their villages and learn about their culture and traditions by embarking on a canoe excursion or a hike through the Chagres National Forest. On these excursions, you can also learn about their traditional way of life and buy their handicrafts. There are also opportunities to dance with the locals and get temporary tattoos. There are also over 16,000 species of butterflies in the area. Other attractions include sloths, monkeys, and crocodiles.

For a truly authentic experience, consider visiting an Embera Native village, deep in the rainforest. A 45-minute journey by dugout canoe powered by an outboard motor takes you there. Your knowledgeable guide will share the history of the Embera tribe and their traditions with you.

Miraflores locks

Visiting the Miraflores Locks on a Panama Canal cruise will provide passengers with a unique view of the canal. The locks are 82 feet high and 65 feet wide, and are operated by a locomotive that is powered by an electric motor. The locks are so steep that even small boats must be tethered three at a time.

The Miraflores locks are located near the Atlantic & Pacific Co. restaurant, which has a balcony from where you can watch the boats pass. If you’re traveling during the week, you can visit the locks for lunch at five PM or 8 PM. The price of this excursion is US$15 for an adult; however, lower rates are available for children and senior citizens. Panamanian citizens can also visit the locks for just $3. Afterwards, you can purchase a souvenir at the gift shop.

The Miraflores Locks are most likely to be used in the morning, and they’re used for both north and south-bound traffic. North-bound traffic will pass through the locks first, while south-bound traffic will go through them around 14:00. They are divided into two chambers and have two lanes. One of the chambers is located beneath the first one, and the other one is above.

Gatun locks

A visit to Gatun Locks, located near Lake Gatun, is a must for Panama Canal cruises. Large ships transit through the locks from time to time. You’ll get to see giant tankers, container ships, and more. And the new locks are even bigger – they’re 40 percent longer and 60 percent wider than the old locks.

Until the Hoover Dam was completed, Lake Gatun was the largest man-made lake in the world. The Panama Canal expansion, which was a five-billion-dollar undertaking, was inaugurated on June 26, 2016. Visitors will learn about the locks at a visitor center, then take a bus to Gamboa where they board a boat for a voyage on Gatun Lake.

After crossing Lake Gatun, cruisers will enter another set of locks, which will raise the ship nine meters above sea level. The ship will then continue its journey to the Pacific.

Land-and-cruise tours

There are many reasons why you should experience a Panama Canal land-and-cruise tour. These tours give you the opportunity to learn about the local culture and experience life in the rainforest. For example, you can learn about the Embera tribe, which has been in the region since before Spanish colonization. You will be able to view their unique handicrafts, including tightly woven palm fiber baskets and carvings from the cocobolo tree.

Tour companies offering tours of the Panama Canal include Panama Marine Adventures, Gamboa Tours, and Adventures Panama. These companies offer cruises that include land excursions and include meals. Tours are narrated by bilingual guides and include viewing the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest portion of the Canal. Originally, it was 92 meters wide, but it has since been doubled so that Panamax ships can pass.

Another option for a land-and-cruise tour is to visit the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, which elaborates on the canal’s lock system. You can also visit the Biodiversity Museum, which is designed by architect Frank Gehry and highlights the ecological significance of the region’s exotic species. While you’re there, you can also spend time exploring the historic district of Casco Antiguo, which is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage. The area boasts cobblestone streets, architecturally significant historical edifices, including the cathedral built in the 16th century.

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