The Amazing Panama Canal Surrounded by a Goreous Rainforest

By Fran Zak

A trip to the Panama Canal would not be complete without a hike through the serene, lush rainforest that surrounds the canal. Nor, would a trip to the Panama rainforests be complete without a trip to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the amazing Panama Canal.

Here are some facts that I learned while visiting the Panama Canal:

  • The French worked on building the Panama Canal from 1881-1898, but gave up since they could not overcome all of the hardships of the tropical rainforest-climatic conditions, disease, geographic conditions, mudslides, etc.
  • The U.S. worked on the canal for 10 years, using 75,000 laborers
  • It cost almost $400,000 to complete the Panama Canal
  • The Panama Canal opened in 1914
  • In 1999, the U.S. turned over operation of the canal to Panama
  • The canal is about 80 km long, uniting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at one of the narrowest points of the Isthmus of Panama
  • Over 800,000 ships have gone through the canal
  • Each set of 3 locks in the canal has 2 lanes so ships can pass through in both directions simultaneously
  • The Atlantic locks raise or lower ships 26 meters (about 85 feet) relative to sea level. If a ship goes up on the Atlantic side, then Pacific locks lower the ship back down to sea level, and vice versa
  • The locks are necessary to get the ships over the Panama mountains, which are part of the great Continental Divide, separating two watersheds that drain into the oceans
  • All of the water needed for operation of the canal comes from the Chagres River. It is fresh water, not salt water
  • Approximately 197 million liters of fresh water are used for each lockage and this water is ultimately flushed into the ocean
  • 13 million gallons (49 million liters) of water are removed from the lock per minute
  • The conduit pipes, built into the canal locks, that fill and drain water, are 18 feet in diameter
  • An average of 40 ships pass through the canal every day
  • The average toll to pass through the canal is $48,000
  • It would be approximately 10 times more expensive to go around South America rather than going through the canal
  • Ships go through the canal under their own power, but they are guided through the locks by up to 8 canal locomotives and a canal pilot who boards the ship at the beginning of the locks
  • It takes an average of 13 years for a person to become a canal pilot
  • The Panama Canal crosses the Continental Divide
  • Each lock is 33.5 meters (110 feet) wide and 305 meters (1000 feet) long
  • Maximum ship dimensions are: 32.312 meters (106 feet) wide and 294.13 meters (965 feet) long. Some of today's larger ships are too large to fit through the Panama Canal
  • Each lock gate on the Pacific side of the canal weighs 730 tons and is 25 meters (80 feet) high
  • If you put all of the material that was removed during digging of the canal in railroad flatcars, it would circle the Earth 4 times at the Equator
  • In 1928, Richard Halliburton swam through the canal. It took him 10 days and he paid a $0.36 toll
  • The Panama Canal started 24 hour operations in 1963 with the addition of lighting
  • At least 18 lighthouses help guide ships through the canal 
  • For more information on the Panama Canal click on
  • barge passing through the panama canal
  • watching a barge pass through the Panama Canal
  • view of the barge from the side
  • truck on the dock at the Panama Canal
  • Cementerio Frances
  • view from the dock of a barge in the distance

Written by:
Fran Zak
Pascack Valley HS
Hillsdale, NJ

This information was taken bibliography from:
Panama Canal Authority
P.O. Box 5413
Miami, FL. 33102-5413