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8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama's beaches are drawing more and more resort travelers, and itineraries that take cruise passengers through the Panama Canal are growing in popularity. But how much do you know about this Man-Made Wonder of the World?

1. It's a short cut for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America.  It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.   Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal.  In 1999, control passed back to Panama.  In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality.  The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD.

3. It also cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal.  Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague.  Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts. After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive anti-mosquito initiatives.  Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet  (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side. 

The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

5. Over 1 Million vessels have crossed the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships transit the Isthmus of Panama through the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.

In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.

6. $2 Billion in tolls are collected annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds).  The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal.  But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal.  In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

8. Tourists can visit the Panama Canal by land or water. 

There are 2 options.  Cruise lines offer actual Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean.  But you don't have to sail through the canal.  Whether you're in Panama City, or on a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action. 

The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily.  The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 

(Photo credit)

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5 Tips for riding a motor bike in Thailand If you are learning to ride a bike, don't do it in Thailand. Learn this from our home country. read more

Travelling doesn't always have to be a drag. In fact, sometimes flying can be downright fun, when you're lucky enough to fly into a terminal that values aesthetic and pleasure. 

Uplisting Arrivals by Sascha Segan of Frommers.com is a list of the World's 10 Most Beautiful Airport Terminals.

These beautiful spaces are guaranteed to melt your travel stress away and put a smile on your face. Definitely check out the full article

Another way to save yourself stress is to travel with Preston Travel. Our experience means we know all of the best spots for you visit and that we have the know-how to plan and book your trip according to your budget.

Just contact us for more info!

(Image by Evan Henshaw-Plath)

recent Frommer’s article raised this question, about whether small children should be banned from flying in Business or First class, if not from flying entirely.

The latter is impractical, for many reasons, but the former raises some interesting issues. If you’re paying for a business class seat, should you be subjected to the disturbance caused by someone else’s child?

And they do disturb. Pretty much anyone who’s flown has endured the crying or kicking or sneezing of a rambunctious kid. Even those who have children admit that their tolerance only extends as far their own; other people’s monsters are just unbearable.

Arguments for the ban used in the article go along the lines of:

“I pay a premium to sit in first or business class and I don’t want my to be disturbed by a crying, screaming or misbehaving child.”

“While I understand the parent pays as much as I do, I don’t disturb them by screaming or crying or misbehaving and I should not have to deal with their child if they are screaming or crying or carrying on.”

“Some children are absolute angels and some act like they are the spawn of Satan. While I understand a child’s or baby’s reaction to the change in environment is unpredictable, that doesn’t mean anyone should be subjected to it either. A person’s choice to have children and fly with said children does not take precedence over or trump my choice to not have children.”

All of these arguments are fair and valid, which is why Malaysia Airlines have banned young passengers on some of its larger jets, Ryanair announced it would begin offering child-free flights earlier this year, and other airlines are expected to follow suit.

It is important to note however, that often disturbances on planes are not caused by the youngest passengers, but by the most inconsiderate of adults.

I’ve had just as many flights with crying babies as I have had sitting next to loud, terrible music blasting from someone’s iPod, Chatty-Cathys forcing me into a conversation, fighting couples, loud teenagers, and plenty others. Should they be banned too?

What do you think?

How much better would travel be if everyone was just a little more courteous?

Here's how you can do your part.

Between all of the stress of getting there on time, getting through security and successfully boarding, it's easy to forget common courtesy that make the whole experience so much more pleasant. 

Photo: dprevite

As Anne Merritt of MatadorNetwork.com points out, "Manners still count, even if you're jetlagged."

In her article, How to NOT be a jerk at the airport, she makes a lot of salient points about airport behavior. Like "Don't bogart the outlets" - sure, you want to charge up everything you own the instant you an outlet opens up. But holding it hostage for the hour before your flight leaves means other passengers might not be able to change anything

Check out her full article! It's a good read.