This incredible feat of engineering was one of the most important man-made contributions to the 20th century. Today is allows an insight in modern Panama, with a surprising abundance of exotic birds.

Despite being originally slated for Nicaragua, the canal was completed by the United States and opened in 1914, providing a 48 mile waterway that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and thus avoiding the need to sail around the entire Southern Cone of South America (an unfortunate by-product of which was the devastation of Chile’s port industry through the redirection of ships through the canal, a journey time of around 6 to 8 hours).

It was eventually handed over to Panama at the end of 1999 and for most Panamanians it is a source of pride and a symbol of the country’s modernity and progression (supposedly in contrast to their traditional and conservative neighbouring countries). It is responsible for around 40% of Panama’s GDP, a figure that is set to increase with the new lane that has just been added in 2016, doubling the capacity at cost of around $5.5 billion.

Lago Gatún is one of the most crucial elements of the canal; an artificial lake of approximately 164 square miles, which was formed by the flooding of a wooded valley back in the early 20th century. Despite such large scale interference in the area, the lake is home to an incredible array of wildlife and plant species and is in fact one of the best places to observe these in the region.

The best ways to see the canal are to either journey down the waterways itself on a Panama Canal excursion, or ride the rails alongside it on the Interoceanic Rail.

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