Panama Canal

The Panama Canal isn’t just the quickest link between the Atlantic and the Pacific; it’s also the most beautiful. On a Panama Canal cruise you’ll visit or sail through this amazing engineering achievement, watch the famous cliff divers in Acapulco, or even take an exciting raft trip through the jungles of Costa Rica.

Whether you cross from Atlantic to Pacific or vice-versa, you’ll encounter experiences that lifelong explorers like Magellan could only dream of, when your ship enters the canal, it will rise 85 feet in one of the legendary Gatun Locks. As you cross the Continental Divide – a journey that took mariners of long ago years to complete – a new world of wonder and amazement awaits you on the other side.

Cruise Lines Visiting the Panama Canal

Cunard Line Cruises
Oceania Cruises
Regent-Seven-Seas Cruises
SeaBourn Cruises
Windstar Cruises
Crystal Cruises

Best Time to Go

The “best time” to travel to the Panama Canal depends on how you’ll spend your time,
Hike during the dry season from mid-December until May and bring warm clothes if you’re going to high altitudes in Boquete, El Valle or Cerro Punta.
December to May is also a great time for surfing big waves and diving in clear waters.
November to April is the most popular season for canal cruising.
During off-season from May to December, you’ll find the best whitewater rafting in the Chiriquí Province.
January brings the Flower and Coffee Festival in Boquete and the Jazz Festival in Panama City. Lonely Planet recommends structuring your travel around Carnaval Mardi Gras parties the four days before Ash Wednesday in February for town parades, dancing and music. March Holy Week is a big event full of processions and parades. Forty days after Easter, the quaint Festival Corpus Christi in La Villa de Los Santos is a two-week religious event marked by devil-mask-wearing dancers. Independence day celebrations come in November.

Entry Requirements

U.S. citizens need proof of citizenship and a passport. Canadians also need a passport. If leaving the country from Tocumen Airport, expect to pay a US$20 departure tax.
All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.

Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda. Reconfirm travel-document requirements with your carrier prior to departure.


US dollars. Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its national currency, but calls it the balboa (written as B/). The bills, however, are exactly the same as those in the U.S.; Panama has simply given them a different name. The country does mint its own coins, called centavos, which are exactly the same size, denomination and value as U.S. coins. U.S. currency can be used, but no other currency is accepted in Panama.

Do’s & Don’ts

In Panama City, as in most large cities, visitors should take normal precautions against theft: Stick to well-traveled areas and keep alert for pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves, especially along the pedestrian-only Central Avenue and in Casco de Viejo. Tourists have also been attacked in isolated areas adjoining Panama la Vieja.

The Panamanian government has established a special tourism police force to help protect visitors in Panama City. Stick to the central core of Casco de Viejo and ask a licensed tourist guide to accompany you to sights on the fringe. Avoid the adjoining poverty-ridden district of El Churrillo, where it is too dangerous to walk unaccompanied.

Do learn a little Spanish. It goes a long way.

In Panama City, don’t go wandering into the El Churrillo district adjoining Casco de Viejo—their impoverished streets invite muggings.

Do take a boat excursion through the Panama Canal—it’s the best way to appreciate the phenomenal scale and achievement.

Do take time to visit an Embera Indian village to learn about indigenous culture and engage with these gracious and fascinating people. And do get a jagua-juice tattoo while there (don’t worry—it will wash off after about two weeks).

Don’t be tempted to explore Darien National Park beyond established safe zones. To do so invites the potential of being kidnapped or worse.

Do take a boat excursion through the Panama Canal—it’s the best way to appreciate the phenomenal scale and achievement.

Do respect Kuna cultural mores when visiting the autonomous San Blas Islands. Women should cover up as much as possible and avoid wandering through villages in swimwear or skimpy clothing. If you want to photograph the people, be aware that you’ll be expected to pay US$1 per photograph per person—if you don’t want to pay, don’t take the photograph.