Operator offers full canal transit

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PANAMA CITY, Panama -- While the Panama Tourism Institute has based advertising campaigns around the theme: "Panama, It's More Than a Canal," getting a look at or a ride along the famous "Big Ditch" remains an essential component of the destination experience.

There are several ways to see the 50-mile waterway that traverses Panama at the narrowest point between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

For example, cruise ships make hundreds of sailings a year through the Panama Canal on itineraries featuring Central American and Caribbean ports of call.

For canal viewing up close, Panama City-based tour operator Panama Jones operates complete canal transits one Saturday a month (usually the latter half of each month) and partial transits on the other Saturdays.

On the complete route, the vessel departs from Balboa at 7:30 a.m., making its way up to the Miraflores locks, the first of the Panama Canal's three sets of locks.

Once through the locks, the boat cruises through the Gaillard Cut, a nine-mile excavation channel that leads into Gatun Lake, known for its jungle scenery and wildlife as well as the research facility of the Smithsonian Institution, set on the lake's Barro Colorado Island.

The vessel arrives at Cristobal on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side of the canal at about 3:30 p.m., and passengers board an air-conditioned bus for the return to Balboa and Panama City around 6:30 p.m.

Partial Panama Canal transits take passengers into the Bay of Panama, a bird sanctuary on Flamenco Island, then up the Balboa Reach to pass through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks, continuing into the Gaillard Cut and then on to Gamboa, if time permits.

The canal transit, partial or full, is incorporated into a three-night package called Panama at a Glance.

Operating each Thursday to Sunday, the package's other features are transfers; a half-day morning city tour and an afternoon tour of the Panama Canal Zone with lunch; buffet lunch during the canal transit; and three nights' accommodations, with breakfast, in Panama City.

Using superior hotels, the cost per person, double, is $721. With standard accommodations, the rate is $607, and with economy rooms, $492.

For additional information, contact Panama Jones at (888) PANAMA-1; e-mail [email protected]; or visit www.panamacanal.com.

To contact reporter Carla Hunt, send e-mail to [email protected].

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