Just over a hundred years ago the Americans finished what the French couldn’t with the start of the Panama Canal. Creating a 77 kilometer lane between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean had its difficulties. The early history proved the difficulty of creating a canal through dense jungle full of dangerous animals, disease (yellow fever and malaria), under estimations in finances and weather, and the use of primitive equipment. Thousands died but years later lives saved from treacherous voyages that would be cut in time and distance because of the canal. Today the canal serves over 10,000 ships annually and receives nearly $2,000,000,000 in toll fees. To get these ships through operations are in full service 365 days a year, 24 hours a day which you can witness!
When visiting the canal from Panama City you end up at the Miraflores Visitor Center. The visitors center consists of 4 floors. The first displays historical photos, videos, and artifacts of the canal. There are tons of facts and a huge history behind this and a Discovery Channel Megastructures episode couldn’t cover half of it. Go up the escalators to the 2nd floor and you end up in a mini aquarium displaying fish in the area as well as some insects. On the 3rd floor there are explanations of the megastructure with video simulations of the process of moving ships through. The last floor provides additional fun facts about the canal. When you exit the fourth floor you go out into a big balcony/observation deck which provides a perfect viewpoint for the boats coming in.
When a boat is approaching you are advised of how long it will be til they arrive thus giving you time to prepare your visit. The experience of watching boats go in and out of the locks takes about 30 minutes. Before or after you can go into the theater which gives you a 10 minute video in either Spanish or English. The guides in the visitor center are good at providing you information about planning your visit. Give yourself about 1.5-2 hours total visiting the 4 floors, watching the 3d video, and observing a boat going through.
This tour can easily be a do-it-yourself tour and you shouldn’t have to pay the $50-100 to go through a tour company.
Taxi- $5 from most places in the city. Taxi drivers will be waiting downstairs to try to charge you $8-20 to leave but wait for a taxi that’s just dropped someone off and you should only pay $5
Bus- $0.25 from Albrook. This leaves every hour (1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, etc). You want to catch the bus that says MIRAFLORES. It will take you straight to the center and is the last stop. This bus will also take you back if you can wait.
Entrance ticket is $15 per adult (foreigner) and I think $3 for locals.
Food- there’s a Duran Coffee shop there as well as a restaurant. Alternatively you could bring your own snacks.