Cruising through the Panama Canal: an unforgettable experience

Ben Gibson

Cruising through the Panama Canal consistently makes the top 10 when asking Saga customers for their favourite cruise experience. But why?



Every year Saga holds an online survey to discover customers’ favourite cruising experiences, and the Panama Canal consistently makes the Top 10. But why? Ben Gibson takes a look at this marvel of human ingenuity…

The history of the Panama Canal

First begun by the French in 1880, then later completed by American labourers, the 50-mile long Panama Canal connects the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans. One of the most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, its completion meant that ships no longer had to make the journey around Cape Horn – the headland at the tip of South America.

But it’s so much more than just a sailing shortcut. Cruising along this huge expanse of water is a spectacular experience for those on board. The scenery from either side of the waterway is a slideshow of changing scenes – from the industrial to beautiful mountains, serene lakes and even sandy beaches. But the standout sight has to be passing by mile after mile lush-green rainforests, where the sound of capuchin and howler monkeys can often be heard, while glimpses of the other inhabitants such as sloths and toucans are also common as you sail by.

Amazing engineering

As part of the journey, every ship will negotiate three locks at either end of the canal – on a crossing that usually takes around nine hours. Ships will be gradually lifted and lowered a total of 170 feet as they pass from the Caribbean to the Pacific – which even by today’s standards is a truly remarkable feat of engineering. Even more so when you consider this has been happening every day for over a century.

At the time of writing, Saga Pearl II has just sailed through the canal, taking some 400 excited passengers on a cruise down to Chile and the Falklands. But next year it will be Saga Sapphire’s turn to make a similar journey, on her Central American Discovery voyage, as she sails out of Southampton on January 11, 2017.

A Central American adventure

This incredible, 66-night adventure will take Saga guests to 18 new ports of call across the Caribbean islands including Cuba and Barbados, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Experiences Saga guests can look forward to include exploring Mayan ruins at Tazumal, relaxing on the stylish beaches of Acapulco, heading into the canopy of the Costa Rican rainforests and exploring the unique culture of Havana.

Best of all, Saga Sapphire will actually make the journey along the Panama Canal twice – in both directions – sure to double the excitement!

Panama Canal facts

  • The first trench was dug on New Year’s Day 1880 – taking another 34 years until the canal was complete.
  • Approximately 30,000,000lbs of explosives were used to help clear the way for the canal.
  • A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.
  • Each lock can hold up an astonishing 52 million gallons of water!
  • Around 40 ships make the crossing each and every day.

Find out what other experiences Saga customers put in their top 10.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.