20 Facts to Know About the Panama Canal

Last Updated on March 1, 2020 by Retire in Panama

Panama Canal opened for business 100 years ago, but even after all this time, it remains to be one of the greatest engineering marvels of the modern world. While it is what the country is best known for worldwide, the Canal continues to represent a significant portion of Panama’s history and the lives of Panamanians. No matter you want to visit in person or just want to appreciate the Canal from afar, listed here are the 20 facts you must know about the Panama Canal.

FACT #1. France was ultimately the first country to attempt building a canal through Panama in 1881. However, because of numerous incidents of deaths and many other issues, the project was abandoned in 1889. The United States took over the project in 1904 and completed the Canal in 1914.

FACT #2. The U.S. began negotiating with the South American nation of Colombia to build a canal when Panama was under Colombian rule. When the negotiation was unanimously rejected by the Colombian government, the US Government and President Theodore Roosevelt assisted Panamanians to revolt and declare its independence from Colombia. The separation of Panama from Colombia was formalized on November 1903, and sent the USS Nashville to prevent Colombian forces from interfering with their independence.

FACT #3. After declaring independence, Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was made between the United States and Panama granting exclusive canal rights to the United States across the Isthmus of Panama in exchange of a one-time sum of $10 million for the rights, and a yearly lease.

FACT #4. More than 25,000 people died during the construction, mostly from disease. About 20,000 died during the French time, and more than 5,000 died during the US build.

FACT #5. On Aug. 15, 2014, Panama celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Canal.

FACT #6. From its opening in 1914, the Panama Canal was controlled by the US until 1977 the Torrijos-Carter Treaty provided for handover to Panama on December 31, 1999. Panamanians were given increasing responsibility for the canal operations before complete US withdrawal in 1999.

FACT #7. The Panama Water Lock System consists of a total of three sets of locks. To cross from the Atlantic to Pacific, ships are lifted approximately 85 feet, to the level of Gatun Lake that lies beyond the locks.

FACT #8. The 3 locks are Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks (Pacific Side), and the Gatun Locks (Atlantic side).

FACT #9. These locks raise or lower a ship, approximately 28 feet. The Miraflores Locks: 2 chambers, Pedro Miguel Locks: 1 chamber, Gatun Locks: 3 chambers.

FACT #10. Ships can travel around 8-10 hours in the Panama Canal. In comparison, ships can take 2 weeks to travel around South America bypassing the canal.

FACT #11. Each lock consists of two lanes allowing multiple ships to pass through at a time, however, they can’t handle large ships traversing in opposite directions. During the day, the direction of the locks are switched every six hours and priority is larger ships to complete the travel in an 8-10 hour time frame. In the night time, two way traffic handles smaller ships.

FACT #12. Ships are charged depending on their weight. The average toll for a ship is around $150,000, but it can get higher for the bigger ships, plus the additional surcharges.

FACT #13. The smallest ever toll is 36 cents, paid by Richard Halliburton who swam the length of the canal in 1928.


FACT #14. One of the highest canal tolls was held by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in April 14, 2010, which paid US$375,600. The new highest record is held by the MOL Benefactor, a 10,000 TEU cargo ship which paid $829,000 to transit the new locks.

FACT #15. On average, 35 to 40 ships transit the canal each day, with 13,000 -14,000 ships each year.

FACT #16. The 1,000,000th ship to transit the canal was the Fortune Plum in September 4, 2010.

FACT #17. You can cross using your own private boat for a cost ranging from $800-3200. You will share locks transit with a bigger ship, given that it’s very expensive for the locks to be operated for this cost.

FACT #18. A new set of locks have now been built to handle bigger ships. The expanded Panama Canal locks were officially opened on June 26th, 2016.

FACT #19. Panamax ships are specifically built to the largest specifications possible to transit the current locks of the canal.

FACT #20. The canal has revenues of $2 billion plus a year, and around $800 million goes into Panama’s General Treasury every year.
It’s more than a tour . . it’s an experience.

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *