02/18/15

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The 77-kilometer long Panama Canal is an engineering marvel. About 15,000 ships per year pass through.

 

We transited the Canal in the Islamorada, (a twin of the African Queen), a 100-year old wooden ship which was once owned by Al Capone to smuggle liquour. 
 

The Visitor Center at Miraflores Locks has a museum and movie about the canal's construction and an observation deck for watching the ships.

Gatun Locks is the third of the locks that raise ships to the level of Gatun Lake. A new set of locks is under construction, set to open in 2016, which will accommodate larger ships.
 

The canal widens into Gatun Lake, a large freshwater reservoir surrounded by undisturbed rainforest rich with wildlife. Our boat tour included "monkey island."

The Chagres River, dammed twice to form Gatun Lake, is the source of most of the water feeding the canal system. Game fishing is popular here.

 

Emberá and Wounaan indigenous communities migrated from their ancestral home in the Darien region to the banks of the Chagres River in the 1950s. While both groups have modernized, they still retain rich cultural traditions.
 

Large areas of Panama are covered with mountains and inpenetrable forest. There are 16 national parks in Panama protecting the habitat of diverse species.

Farmers markets are set up along roadways throughout the country.

About two hours from Panama City are the Pacific coast beach resort areas and retirement communities such as Playa Bonita, Coronado, and Playa Blanca.
 

El Valle is a refreshing mountain village in the caldera of an ancient volcano. It has hot springs, a butterfly garden, an amphibian conservatory and a number of eco-tourism activities.
 

Panama's natural beauty is reflected in the arts and crafts of the indigenous Kuna, Guaymi and Embera.

 

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