The Panama Canal

A Panama Canal writeup. Read – learn – take the quiz. Marvel at this Central American wonder

The Panama Canal – one of the seven wonders of the modern world

The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. It is 77.1-kilometre (48 mi) long and cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key shortcut for international maritime trade between the two oceans.

Panama City

The skyline of Panama City from Ancon Hill. Photo by Brian Gratwicke, License: CC-BY-SA-2.0. Click image for larger view.

There are locks at each end of the canal to lift ships up to Gatun Lake. It is an artificial lake which was created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, which is 85 feet above sea level. Currently the locks are 110 feet wide. A third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open next year in 2015.

The Canal was started in the late 1800s

It was started by France in 1881, but because of engineering problems and high mortality due to disease it had to stop being worked on. After this attempt failed and 21,900 workers died, the project of building a canal was attempted and completed by the United States in 1904. After a decade of work the canal was completed. It was officially opened on August 15, 1914.

Panama Canal panorama

Panorama of Pacific entrance of the canal. Left: Pacific Ocean and Puente de las Americas (Bridge of Pan-American Highway); far right: Miraflores locks. Photo by Brian Gratwicke, License: CC-BY-SA-2.0. Click image for larger view.

Panama Canal Map

Map of the Panama Canal

Building the canal had been plagued by many problems, including disease, particularly malaria and yellow fever, and landslides. By the time the canal was completed, a total of 27,500 workmen are estimated to have died in the French and American efforts.

Building the canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. This great shortcut, the Panama Canal, greatly reduced the amount of time taken for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It connected the two oceans, thus enabling them to avoid the lengthy and hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America, the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan. The shorter, faster, and safer route to the U.S. West Coast and to nations in and around the Pacific Ocean allowed those places to become more integrated with the world economy.

Panama  Map

Location of Panama between Pacific (bottom) and Caribbean (top), with canal at top center

Ownership of the Canal

While the canal was being designed and constructed, ownership of the territory that is now the Panama Canal was first Colombian, then French, and then American. After it was finished the US continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until 1977.

Length of Vessel Charge

Length of Vessel Charge

Then in that year Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, the canal was in 1999 taken over by the Panamanian government. The canal is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency.

Canal Traffic

Annual traffic through the Panama Canal has risen from about 1,000 ships when the canal opened in 1914, to 14,702 vessels in 2008. By 2008, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal.

Panama Canal Diagram

Today the largest ships that can transit the canal are called Panamax. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Example Costs to use the Canal

The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged to the cruise ship Norwegian Pearlon April 14, 2010. The ship paid US$375,600 to cross the canal. The average toll is around US$54,000. The highest fee for priority passage charged through the Transit Slot Auction System was US$220,300, paid on August 24, 2006, by the Panamax tanker Erikoussa. That fee allowed the ship to bypass a 90-ship queue waiting for the end of maintenance works on the Gatun locks. By bypassing all those ships a seven-day delay was avoided. The normal fee would have been just US$13,430.

A Boost to International Maritime Trade

Since opening, the canal has been enormously successful, and continues to be a key conduit for international maritime 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. However, an increasing number of modern ships now exceed this limit, and are known as post-Panamax or super-Panamax vessels.

Now a typical passage through the canal by a cargo ship takes approximately 8–10 hours. Because of improvements made during the 100 years since the canal opened, over 14 times more ships pass through the canal locks each year than did originally when the canal opened. The Panama Canal has made a huge difference in commerce between countries since its opening. This year 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of it being open.

View the pictures and read article above BEFORE taking quiz.

Take this quiz about the Panama Canal and see how much you’ve learned or remember.


Quiz #6 Panama Canal

TtravelersThis Travel Quiz is about the Panama Canal. There are 4 – 6 clues to help guess some of the answers. This test has both multiple choice and true false answers. The level of this test is medium.

Answer all questions. The multiple choice question answers are worth about 10 points each and the true false answers are worth 8 points each. If you don’t know the answer it is better to guess (unless you want a guaranteed zero for the answer).

This test is timed (4 min) so be aware of that.

If you ever go to Central America or Panama you might want to visit the Panama Canal. This engineering masterpiece took about thirty-four years in total to build counting the time no work was done on it. Don’t miss the canal if you are ever in the area.


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