A Brief History of the Panama Canal: a World Wonder

A Brief History of the Panama Canal: a World Wonder
Andrew Jackson March 19, 2023

The Panama Canal, a modern engineering marvel, is one of the most impressive and significant waterways in the world. Located in Central America, it connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and provides a vital link for global maritime trade, making it a significant economic force. The idea of building a canal through Panama dates back to the early 16th century when Spanish explorers discovered a narrow strip of land that connected the two oceans. However, it was not until the late 19th century that construction began in earnest.

An early start from the French, and a subsequent tide change

In 1880, a French company led by Ferdinand de Lesseps started digging a canal. However, due to technical difficulties and the outbreak of malaria and yellow fever among workers, the project was abandoned in 1889, leaving a legacy of failure and bankruptcy. The United States, eager to secure a reliable transportation route between its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, stepped in and took over the project. After a decade of excavation, construction, and disease control measures, the canal was completed in 1914.

The Panama Canal is a feat of modern engineering, comprising a series of locks, artificial lakes, and channels that enable ships to traverse the 50-mile-long isthmus. The locks are massive concrete structures that lift ships up to 85 feet above sea level before lowering them back down on the other side. The canal has had a significant impact on global trade and shipping, providing a crucial shortcut for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It has also played a crucial role in military logistics, particularly during World War II.

Why the Panama Canal is growing in popularity for tourism, particularly in the cruise industry

Over the years, the canal has undergone several upgrades and modernization efforts, including the widening of its channels and the installation of larger locks to accommodate larger ships. Today, the Panama Canal is a bustling hub of global trade, with over 14,000 ships passing through it annually. However, the canal is not only a hub of commerce and trade; it has also become a popular tourist destination, drawing visitors from all over the world, particularly via cruise ships. This influx of tourism is no accident, either. More and more, travelers are venturing in the footsteps of older (and even ancient) trade routes to experience a classic and historic perspective while at sea, reminiscent of many of the world’s most iconic explorers.

Cruising through the Panama Canal is truly a unique experience, as your ship crosses oceans with seeming ease, all the while traversing one of the world’s most dynamic engineering feats of modern times. Your ship will rise and lower slowly through the canal locks, bringing you from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or in reverse, in a matter of hours. On both sides of the canal lie beautiful beaches, ports, and waterway access to either South America or the Caribbean. To see this firsthand, and to experience this on a luxury cruise for yourself, look no further than Vantage. We have several great new itineraries that include Panama, Costa Rica, South America, and crossings of the Panama Canal. Contact us today for more info on how to reserve your spot for 2023 or 2024!

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