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Panama Canal

Following a disastrous attempt by the French in the early 1890’s, the Canal was redesigned and built between 1904 and 1914 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It transformed the world shipping trade and it is one of the most iconic and influential engineering achievements on the planet. Ships using the canal avoided the lengthy and costly Cape Horn route round the southern end of South America. This amazing 48-mile phenomenon has been named one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
 
This really is a canal with a difference. It comprises massive locks 1,000 feet long, immense man-made dams that have trapped lakes 27 metres above sea level and a spectacular cutting though the mountainous backbone of the country. One way to appreciate it is to take a journey along its entire length. In the centre is the Gatun Lake, at 180 square miles, once the largest man-made lake. Locks take you up to the lake – and down again when you have sailed across.
 
The lake is surrounded by dense tropical rainforest – the Soberania National Park. Take a canoe and explore the backwaters that teem with animal, reptile and extraordinary bird life and visit an Embera village.
 
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At the northern, Caribbean end of the canal you will find the former Spanish forts of Portobello and San Lorenzo. The forts were repeatedly plundered by pirates looking for the Inca gold that was shipped from here to Spain. In the south, near Panama City the Miraflores Locks Visitor Centre is an essential visit. In this 100 year old but well equipped facility you can have fun learning about the Canal’s history and operation. You can also watch huge ocean-going ships beginning or ending their journeys across Central America.  
 
If you enjoy trains, take the only railway linking the Pacific and the Caribbean, from Panama City to Colón. Enjoy a leisurely look at the Canal on one side and the forest on the other and imagine what it took to wrench this incredible route from the jungle.  If retail therapy is your thing, stop off in Colón and visit the world’s second largest tax-free shopping zone.
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