For over a century, the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal has been a physical and figurative right of passage for seafarers. Before its creation, ships transiting between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans had but one course to take: the long way south around the entire continent of South America. Today, cargo and cruise ships alike can pass almost effortlessly from ocean to ocean through the canal’s nearly 50-mile shortcut.
There’s a common misconception that the United States built the Panama Canal. It’s more accurate to say that the United States finished the canal. European explorers began proposing a route across the Isthmus of Panama as early as the 16th century, but work on an actual canal began only when the French broke ground in 1881. A little over two decades later, the project was stalled largely because of high worker mortality rates. Up to that point, French work had been in collaboration with Colombia as the area at the time was part of Colombia, not Panama.
The United States saw an opportunity to flex its new international influence, having just won wars against Spain and the Philippines. In exchange for military and political support of Panamanian separatists, both the country of Panama was born and the United States’ resumed work on the canal, which would ultimately be opened in 1914 and which the United States would control until December 31st, 1999, when control was ceded back to Panama on the condition that the canal be permanently neutral.
All the history and engineering of the Panama Canal aside, the rare opportunity to cruise both the Atlantic and the Pacific and to glide through the (truly) tropical canal is worthy of the Panama Canal Transit certificates many cruise lines still award their passengers. A few cruises transit the canal purposefully, just for the bragging rights (fewer still pass through and turn around and go right back through). But most–and the best–opportunities for experiencing the canal are on seasonal repositioning cruises going to or from the Pacific coast of Mexico and the United States and the Caribbean, often in the fall. You can also find good deals on repositioning cruises between the Caribbean and South America and on world cruise segments that pass through the canal.
If you need help finding the perfect Panama Canal cruise for your next sea escape, give us a call at (877) 585-SHIP.