The Trans-Isthmian Route
You will be picked up at your Panama City hotel lobby by your guide for an approximately 90-minute overland transfer to the Atlantic side of the isthmus of Panama. You will start the tour at the Panama Canal Visitors’ Center at Agua Clara Locks. Opened in 2016, these locks are part of the Panama Canal Expansion Project.
The US$5.25B expansion project included, among other tasks, dredging work on both ends of the canal and on the route itself in order to increase water depth and the straightening of bends along the route that allow larger ships to transit through the canal. The most important aspect of the project, however, was the building of two new sets of locks, one at each end of the canal, which increased the waterway’s capacity to move cargo from one ocean to the other by 50% and allowed the passage of bigger ships, called Neopanamax. These ships are almost three times the size of the largest vessels that can cross the original locks and can carry up to 14,000 containers. A ship of this size pays an average of US$850,000.00 in toll fees to cross the Panama Canal.
After the Agua Clara Locks, you will drive west over the Panama Canal to San Lorenzo National Park, where you will have the opportunity to spot some wildlife like howler monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, coatimundi, and keel-billed and chestnut-mandibled toucans.
Later, you will visit the Castle of San Lorenzo, located at the mouth of the Chagres River. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Spanish colonial bastion was built in 1601 and served to fortify and protect the river entrance to the Las Cruces Trail that led to Panama City. This area was later used as the port of entry for gold diggers on their way to California during the second half of the 19th century.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant at the Shelter Bay Marina, located on the old site of Fort Sherman, a former US military base. It was constructed in 1910 to provide robust defensive batteries for protecting the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. En route back to Colon, cross over the Atlantic Bridge. If interested, ask your guide to pass by the former military grounds of Fuerte Espinar (former Fort Gulick), Fuerte Davis (former Fort Davis), and the residential area of Margarita, once home to military personnel and their families. Drop back at your hotel in Panama City late afternoon.