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The Panama Canal

panama pictures

What is so exciting about a canal??

Bridge of Americas in Panama City Many refer to the Panama Canal as the 8th wonder of the world! A canal??

In 1998, Disney cruse Lines paid $30,000 just to cruise through it! Amazing, a canal? There is a reason though. The Panama Canal has to be one of the incredible feats of human engineering and determination and has a fascinating history leading right up to today.

David McCullough in his book "The Path Between the Seas," wrote: "The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of over four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished. Primarily the canal is an expression of that old and noble desire to bridge the divide, to bring people together. It is a work of civilization."

The 8th Wonder of the World

According to Wikipedia‘The Panama Canal is a man-made canal in Panama which joins the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, it had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.

A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 miles), well under half the route around Cape Horn. Although the concept of a canal near Panama dates back to the early 16th century, the first attempt to construct a canal began in 1880 under French leadership. After this attempt failed and saw 21,900 workers die, the project of building a canal was attempted and completed by the United States in the early 1900s, with the canal opening in 1914. The building of the canal was plagued by problems, including disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides.

Time lapse video of passing through the Panama Canal


By the time the 48 mile canal was completed, a total of 27,500 workmen are estimated to have died in the French and American efforts.The Panama Canal cost Americans around $375,000,000, including the $10,000,000 paid to Panama and the $40,000,000 paid to the French company. It was the most expensive construction project in United States history to that time. Fortifications cost about $12,000,000. Amazingly, unlike any other such project on record, the American canal had cost less in dollars than estimated, with the final figure some $23,000,000 below the 1907 estimate, in spite of landslides and a design change to a wider canal.

Even more amazing is that this huge, complex and unprecedented project was carried out without any of the scandal or corruption that often plagues such efforts, nor has any hint of scandal ever come to light in subsequent years.

Since opening, the canal has been enormously successful, and continues to be a key conduit for international naval trade. The canal can accommodate vessels from small private yachts up to large commercial vessels. The maximum size of vessel that can use the canal is known as Panamax; an increasing number of modern ships exceed this limit, and are known as post-Panamax vessels. A typical passage through the canal by a cargo ship takes around nine hours. 14,011 vessels passed through in 2005, with a total capacity of 278.8 million tons, making an average of almost 40 vessels per day’.

The New Panama Canal Project

A new project is underway for two additional flights of docks on the Panama Canal. The estimated cost of the project is US$5.25 billion.

The project is designed to allow for an anticipated growth in traffic from 280 million PC/UMS tons in 2005 to nearly 510 million PC/UMS tons in 2025; the expanded canal will have a maximum sustainable capacity of approximately 600 million PC/UMS tons per year. Tolls will continue to be calculated based on vessel tonnage, and will not depend on the locks used. The project is due to be completed in 2015.

Take a cruise down the Panama Canal

Traversing the locks of the Panama Canal takes about nine hours leaving plenty of time on Panama Canal cruises to explore Caribbean and South American ports. The man-made wonder of the canal followed by the natural beauty of Caribbean beaches and the ancient wonders of the Inca world on the way.

The biggest decision you'll need to make on a Panama Canal cruise is whether to opt for the traditional trans-canal experience, which means you spend a day on the Canal, crossing from ocean to ocean. The majority of cruises still follow this option. But, Princess and Holland America also offer "partial crossings," in which the ship doesn't actually cross the entire Canal. Rather, the ship crosses through one lock, and then lets passengers off in the town of Gamboa, along the Canal. From there, passengers can enjoy a myriad of shore excursions and take in sights they otherwise wouldn't see on a day-long crossing. Some lines, such as Silversea, offer the same "partial crossing" shore excursions without entering the Canal at all. Rather, its ships dock for a day at the Pacific entrance to the Canal, at Colon.

Most of the major lines and some smaller ones offer at least a few Panama Canal sailings each season. Princess leads the pack however as far as number of departures, with 40 scheduled this season.

Disney offers a 15 day cruise which includes winding through the Panama Canal on its way from Los Angeles and back to Port Canaveral via Acapulco.

Real estate investment opportunities in the old Panama Canal Zone

After the U.S. military departed Panama at the end of 1999, they left behind a vast amount of land, buildings and residential structures. Many sharp developers have snapped up these properties and have begun transforming them into residential and commercial developments.

The residential area of Albrook (formally Albrook Airforce Base) is home to some of Panama’s most beautiful suburban homes. It features various parks and green areas, beautiful tropical gardens, and several schools (including St. Mary’s, an English speaking school). Also within Albrook one can find such amenities as restaurants including several which deliver, a bakery, banks, Blockbusters, Arrocha (local pharmacy chain) medical and vet clinics, as well as an El Rey Supermarket. Albrook is also home to a small international airport and full sized-shopping mall. Clayton has the Ciudad Del Saber (city of knowledge) which is a former military base converted to a tax free zone for anyEducation oriented businesses. ILISA, a famous Spanish Language school in Costa Rica, recently made the move to this zone

We like this area for investment for two reasons:

Location: it's close to everything. Panama City is just 5 minutes away, the bridge heading to the beaches is 5 minutes, and the Casco Viejo is 5 minutes. Yet this area feels very lush and residential despite being so close to the city.Suburban Living: The Former Canal Zone is the first true U.S. style suburb in Panama as it was built by North Americans FOR North Americans. Although it is very near the city it is an oasis of green yards, winding roads and parks. There is more spacing between homes and houses in this area are generally built to U.S. standards. Click for more on Real Estate in Panama

Threat to the Panama Canal?

According to TED, the Trade and Environment Database:

The Panama Canal could be threatened by the depletion of the rain forests surrounding the canal. The canal is run on freshwater which only comes from Lake Gatun in the middle of the canal. The rain forests supply a continuous source of fresh water to the lake. The Canal Zone is the area surrounding the canal and which has been protected from depletion for many years by the fact that the area was under United States control in the form of military bases. A treaty signed between the United States and Panama is gradually reverting the Canal Zone into the hands of the Panamanian government.

The government has so far been ineffective at preserving the areas they control as squatters and basic neglect are damaging the rain forests. The issue is: can the Panamanian government preserve the forests and what are the consequences to Panama and the canal if the rainforest are destroyed.

In 1947, more than 70 % of Panama was forests, whereas now, less than 30 percent remains forests and expectations are that the figure will be 15% by the end of the century. Farmers, loggers and industry have over 2,000 acres of land being cleared each week. Loss of any rainforest have become a major issue in terms of possible global warming and ozone depletion but loss of the rainforests in Panama will have a direct impact on the people in the country. Should the watershed area be depleted and Lake Gatun could no longer provide enough water to run the locks, the economy of Panama would be devastated.