Although Panama is known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests and rich culture, it is primarily famous for the Panama Canal. Sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, this man-made canal cuts 48 miles across the Isthmus of Panama to form a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This remarkable feat of engineering provides a faster, safer route for cruise ships, freighters and other marine traffic.
France began construction of the Panama Canal in 1881, and the United States took over in 1904. The American effort involved the excavation of more than 170 million cubic yards of material. The canal opened to traffic on August 15, 1914, allowing trading ships to avoid the treacherous route around the southern tip of South American for trips between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. From the Atlantic side of the canal at the Port of Colon to the Pacific side at the Port of Balboa, ships travel through artificial lakes, channels and a series of locks designed to control water volume and lift and lower vessels for passage into the next stage of the canal. The sheer scope of the project, the engineering genius, and the importance to maritime travel and international trade have made the canal and Panama world famous.