Jay & Nicole's Trip to Panama - Nov. 2006 

(click any small picture to get enlargement)

Our Venezuela-to-Panama trip began with an expensive 2-hour flight around Colombia.

Panama City, the capital, is located on the Pacific in the mid-southern part of the country.

Since Panama is a narrow piece of land between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, it is logical that someone decided to link the big bodies of water.

From Caracas, we flew over the Caribbean Sea, past Colombia and then over some small Panamanian islands.  

Since Panama is only 60km wide (40 miles), we had already begun descending as we crossed over the lush and largely un-inhabited Caribbean coast of Panama.

In central Panama we saw a lot of water.  Dams and locks were built on both sides of the country to raise the water level in the center. The newly created lakes and rivers became part of the canal ... without having to dig!

As we got closer to Panama City we finally started to see farmland and cities; the country doesn't have many people (3-4m) and most of the land is too mountainous to be used for agriculture.

Panama City then came into sight.  The buildings in the city-center looked more modern than we had expected.

This isn't a fleet of warships in the Pacific ... the ships are queuing up to enter the canal for the one-day trip to the Caribbean Sea. The coast in this part of Panama was muddy & full of mangroves.

We landed and passed through the extensive security.  We picked up a rental car and 
then got lost in the middle of town... which was kind of scary ... but we found our hotel.

Our hotel was on a quiet bay next to a marina; the sun had a nice setting for us as we unpacked.

The next morning I took some pictures of our room, which was nothing special, except for ...

... the very unique view! ==>

It turned out that Nicole picked this hotel since it was located at the beginning of the Panama Canal.

The famous "Bridge of the Americas" became visible when we walked along the nice boardwalk.

Looking out to sea we could see the ships lining up to make the passage through the canal.  

A ship will need a canal transit reservation way in advance.
The ships arrive early to ensure the paperwork is completed before their transit time comes.

Our Visit to the Panama Canal:

- Completed by USA in 1914. 

- Pacific side can be 19 feet higher than the Caribbean side

- Dams were built to raise the water level up in the  central part of the country; there it can get 85 feet higher than sea level!

- A series of locks on either side raise/lower the ships from the level of the middle water

- The total trip across the canal is 51 miles and take 9 hours

- The canal handles 13,000 ships per year and is the major source of income for the country

For a separate canal page with more details, click here

We visited the Miraflores locks, which is only a short distance from Panama City.  

The ship pictured is coming in from the Pacific Ocean. The Captain was replaced by a canal worker and the engines were shut down beforehand.

The ships are usually heavily loaded and weigh a lot.  This ship was connected to 2 train cars on each side of the canal.  The front trains pull the ship along and the back trains act as brakes to stop it.

Once in place, the gates behind the ship close and water is pumped into the lock, thus raising the ship.  The gates in front of the ship are then opened up and it can move to the next lock for another rise.

The process is reversed for ships coming from the canal.  The ships enter the lock and water is removed, lowering it to sea level.

In order to conserve water, they try to transfer 2 ships going in opposite directions at one time. The newly approved lock system will conserve even more water.

We then traveled a little further north and found a neat bridge and patriotic government buildings.

We came to an expensive looking gate and decided to have a look ... wow, what a resort!
This place was developed when the canal was being built; it housed the management and 
high-level workers.   It then became a resort and offers golf, fishing, canoeing, water-skiing, etc.

We then visited a botanical garden and zoo... which had a variety of things ... like this ant trail.

We tracked the leaf-cutter ants and found the plants they were ravaging.  We then followed them down a tree and to the ground... I guess the leaves are chewed and used to fertilize their food 'crops'.

The land was jungle-like and had much of the same flowers as we found in other South American countries ... but hardly any birds!

In the zoo area we had a few good sightings of endangered animals from South America.

We arrived at the eagle enclosure as they were feeding the birds pieces of chicken; this eagle had nice feathers!


The Tapir benefits the rain forest by aerating the ground; he was cute and acted like a small hippo.

This jaguar looks a lot like a leopard, but had a sturdier build ... what an amazing looking animal!

Panama City:   Our hotel was a few miles out of town, so we had to traverse a number of different highways and streets to get to the downtown area.  We had read about some shopping centers that offered cheap goods from the passing ships ... but we could never find them. 

The Panama City skyline was fantastic and showcased a very modern commercial center.

Upon closer look though, there were many run down apartment buildings.  The people were poor and spoke little English, but we never saw any poverty and no one ever begged from us. 

In the downtown area there were many high-rise buildings, malls, and a Hard-Rock cafe, of course!


We played tourist for a little while before we decided to visit the old-town area.

In the old part of town, the streets were dark & narrow; with some refurbishment going on.

The patriotic people put the balconies to good use ... sometimes strangely so.

A highlight was the colorful clothes the local women wore and sold on the street.

The indigenous people are probably a Mayan-Incan mix with dark-brown skin and lots of smiles.

The buses were the major attraction, though.  Each one was brightly painted and adorned with all kinds of lights & horns.  I think they were the used school buses from the United States!

As we returned to the hotel, we got a good view of the mountainous areas beyond the canal.  
We will explore those areas during the rest of our trip ... but that will require a new page.  

To continue the Panama adventure, click here!    Note: the menu below can also be used to navigate. 

    Panama City & Canal      Southern Beach      Boquete Mtn      Bocas Del Toro     Islands     Trinidad Mtn & Return
           this page                            next