bridge of americas

The Bridge of Americas Panama Canal (or Puente de las Américas in Spanish) was built along the Pan-American Highway in 1962. This four lane Panama land bridge offered a more efficient way for vehicle traffic to travel between land masses on the North and South of the Panama Canal.

The United States initiated and funded this first Panama Canal Bridge, which cost 20 million U.S. dollars at the time (equivalent to 161 million in 2017).

Up until its completion, the only way for vehicle traffic to cross the Panama Canal was by a small swinging road bridge at the Gatun Locks, or a swinging road and rail bridge at Miraflores Locks. Both of these swinging Panama bridges had a very limited capacity. The United States hoped to make it much easier to cross the Panama Canal and to reconnect Colon and Panama City, which were cut off from the rest of their republic by the building of the Panama Canal.

Construction of the Bridge of Americas

When the Panama Canal was first built in the early 20th century it was recognized that it would create a physical barrier between the two major cities, Colon and Panama City, and the rest of the country. Up until 1942 (and 1962), two ferries shuttled vehicles from one side of the canal to the other. Two swinging bridges with limited capacity were eventually added to help move vehicle traffic to either side of the Panama Canal.

Even back in 1923, the need for a permanent Panama land bridge spanning the canal was given priority. Finally in 1955, the Remon-Eisenhower Treaty commissioned the United States to initiate and fund the Panama Bridge of the Americas building project.

At 5,425 feet long (just over a mile wide) the Bridge of Americas Panama Canal took three years to build and upon completion stood 384 feet above sea level, leaving a clearance of 200 feet (61 meters) for ships passing below during high tide.

At first, the Bridge of Americas Panama Canal was actually called the Thatcher Ferry Bridge in honor of the original ferry that helped vehicles cross the Panama Canal. Just a decade after the Americas Bridge was officially commissioned, it was unofficially renamed as “The Bridge of the Americas,” which was much preferred by the Panamanian government. Only in 1979 was the name, “The Bridge of the Americas” officially recognized.

More Bridges Over the Panama Canal

Up until 2004, The Bridge of Americas Panama Canal was the primary method of crossing the Panama Canal by car. The Americas Bridge eventually experienced high levels of congestion and bottleneck as vehicle traffic increased into the 21st century.

Panama Centennial Bridge – In 2004 the new six-lane Panama Centennial Bridge was opened as the second bridge across the Panama Canal. Located just 25 Km inland from the Americas Bridge, the Centennial Bridge did much to ease vehicle traffic congestion. Spanning 1,380 feet and at 262 feet high, the new Panama Centennial Bridge now gives residents and Panama visitors a second option for crossing the Panama Canal by car.

Atlantic Bridge Panama – In 2013, construction began on the third bridge over the Panama Canal. The new four-lane Panama Atlantic Bridge, which is being built on the Atlantic side of Panama near Colon, will have a span of 1740 feet and will be completed by the summer of 2018.

About Caravan Panama Canal Tours

Since 1952, Caravan Tours has been offering all inclusive, fully guided vacation packages throughout North and Central America.

As part of your Panama vacation with Caravan, you will enjoy a guided Panama Canal cruise that passes beneath Bridge of Americas Panama Canal as you cruise through locks and across the Continental Divide. Later on in the tour, you will also be crossing the Panama Canal via the Panama Centennial Bridge and The Bridge of the Americas.

Caravan offers fully escorted, all inclusive Panama Canal vacations that are exceptionally priced and include all meals, accommodations, activities, and gratuities. See our Panama Tour FAQs here.

Visit our Panama Canal Tour page for more information about this tour or to book your Panama vacation call us today at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826).

More and more travelers from around the globe are discovering the beauty and impressive man made landmarks of Panama. You now have a lot of options for fully guided all inclusive Panama tour companies.

And, while many people vacation in Panama to explore this country’s Spanish colonial heritage or to enjoy world-class resorts, white sandy beaches and rainforest tours, Panama offers so much more.

Caravan Tours wants to show you the amazing man made landmarks in Panama. Explore the Panama Canal and Gatun Lake, both of which remain the most popular tourist attractions in Panama.

On your fully guided Caravan Panama tour, you will have a chance to explore many of these exceptional man-made wonders.

#1 – Gatun Lake Panama – 164 sq. miles

Completed in 1913, it took engineers six years to build the Gatun Dam across the valley floor. Gatun Dam is just six miles inland from the Caribbean Sea on the Atlantic side of Panama. At the time, Gatun Dam was the world’s largest dam, blocking off the Chagres River to create what was then the world’s largest man-made lake, Gatun Lake.

Water from Gatun Lake is integral to the operation of Gatun Locks,  a major part of the Panama Canal project.

Ships passing through the Panama Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans travel approximately 15 miles across Gatun Lake. Canal ships must traverse around man-made islands; remnants of the flooded surrounding hilltops. One of these islands is home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research, a privately funded institute.

#2 – 48 mile Panama Canal Connects Atlantic & Pacific Oceans

Gatun Lake is a man-made lake and part of the Panama Canal. It is one of the largest man made landmarks of Panama and nothing short of an engineering marvel. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. Cargo ships and pleasure craft (15,000+ annually) that want to travel between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean no longer have to journey for weeks and over 5,000 miles around the tip of South America. Instead, they can traverse approximately 50 miles in a matter of hours across Gatun Lake and through the Panama Canal’s three sets of locks.

#3 – Gamboa & Pipeline Road Trail Panama

The Gamboa Panama area was once a key stop on the gold trail during Spanish occupation. The town of Gamboa was established in 1911 as part of the Panama Canal project and is located in the original Canal Zone. Gamboa’s first inhabitants were employees of the Panama Canal construction.

Hidden by lush rainforests, Gamboa Panama is now a popular destination for biologists, zoologists and bird-watchers because of its thriving animal and plant populations. In fact, Pipeline Road is widely known for its bird species. The Pipeline Road Trail is used for guided tours that take visitors into some of the most highly regarded bird-watching locations in the world.

Gamboa has also become a favorite starting point for avid fishermen who want to try their luck on Gatun Lake. The Rainforest Resort offers excellent accommodations in this beautiful region.

#4 – 5,425 Ft. Bridge of the Americas Panama

Our Caravan Panama Canal tour also includes a canal cruise beneath the Bridge of the Americas, another one of the amazing man made landmarks of Panama. This is a “must see” man-made bridge for vehicle traffic. The Americas Bridge name is derived from the fact that it connects the North American landmass with the South American landmass. Bridge of the Americas took three years to build, is over a mile wide, and was completed in 1962. In fact, it actually crosses part of the Pacific Ocean at the Panama Canal entrance near Panama City, the capital.

#5 – 3,451 Ft. Panama Centennial Bridge

Completed in 2004, Panama’s Centennial Bridge is another one of the impressive man made landmarks of Panama. This structure spans nearly 3,500 feet. Earlier Panama bridges across the Chagres River were built to swing out of the way of the large ships that passed through the canal. Both the Bridge of the Americas and the Centennial Bridge are elevated, non-swinging bridge designs. The Centennial Bridge addressed the need for a new companion bridge to ease the volume of traffic across the Bridge of the Americas.

Panama Canal Tour by Caravan

Family owned and operated Caravan Tours has been conducting North and Central American fully guided tours since 1952.

As part of your all inclusive Panama vacation, Caravan includes a guided Panama Canal cruise across Gatun Lake plus a chance to witness some of the other Panama man-made wonders mentioned in this article. These are some of Central America’s most impressive man-made structures and major Panama tourist attractions!

Caravan Panama tours are exceptionally priced, fully escorted vacations that also include all ground transportation, tour activities, meals, and hotel accommodations. Visit Caravan’s Panama tour reservations page to check tour availability or visit our Panama Canal Tour page

Call us today toll free at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to reserve the best dates for your all inclusive Caravan Panama Canal tour!

This Caravan Tours’ blog will explore some interesting Vasco Nunez de Balboa facts.

The Port of Balboa Panama is Central America’s busiest port and is located on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal in the Balboa District, which is part of Panama City. Both the town of Balboa and the Port of Balboa were named after the Spanish Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa.

But who was Vasco Nunez de Balboa?

Vasco Balboa – Discovered the Pacific Ocean

Panama City is full of rich heritage that dates all the way back to 1513 when Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first to cross the Isthmus of Panama. To his delight Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean. He was the very first explorer to make it to the Pacific coast after traveling the Atlantic Ocean and exploring the New World, then crossing by land to the Pacific side of Central America.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa Facts

Born in 1475 in Badajoz, Spain, Spanish explorer Vasco Balboa was one of four brothers. Most of his childhood is unrecorded, although he was the descendent of Lord Mason of the Balboa Castle.

Perhaps Balboa was inspired by Christopher Columbus’s successful voyages the ‘New World’ in the early 1500s when he decided to begin his own journey to find out what the New World had to offer. Balboa joined Rodrigo de Bastidas’ expedition, which was licensed to discover and bring back New World treasures for Spain’s king and queen. In 1501, only 9 years after Columbus discovered America, Balboa sailed across the Caribbean Sea and along the east coast of Panama in exploration of South America.

The crew eventually ended up sailing to Hispaniola (the large island we now know as Haiti and the Dominican Republic) because Balboa’s ship was too small to return to Spain. Balboa settled in Hispaniola as a pig farmer and planter. When debt overcame his livelihood, Balboa needed to escape and did this as a stowaway on one of Martin Fernandez’s expeditions. When he was discovered on the ship, Balboa’s knowledge of the area he traveled 8 years earlier kept the crew from getting rid of him.

With much adversity, trials, and attempts to settle in the area, Vasco Nunez de Balboa set out in 1513 to “discover the South Sea.” He had a few men to support the expedition who had a little information about the Isthmus of Panama. When he started out, Balboa had only 190 Spaniards, a couple Native guides, a small brigantine, and ten canoes. The crew grew in size as they traveled across Panama and just 25 days after starting the expedition, Balboa stood in the mountain range along Chucunaque River, where he could see the South Pacific Sea from the summit point.

Traveling more than 68 miles, Balboa and his team reached the South Sea waters on September 29th, 1513. The purpose of the Balboa expedition was more than just reaching the Pacific Ocean; the main purpose was to find gold-rich kingdoms and to conquer the gold and pearls it contained. And this Balboa did.

Panama’s Vasco Balboa Statue

The significance of Vasco Balboa to the people of Panama is huge.

Today along Panama City’s bay front, visitors can see the statue of Vasco Balboa. In this bronze monument, donated by the King of Spain, Balboa is standing on top of the world holding a sword in his right hand and a large Spanish flag in his left. The statue pays tribute to Balboa as he is claiming the Pacific Ocean for the Kingdom of Spain. Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens in Vasco Núñez de Balboa Park, along Balboa Avenue, beautifully surround the Balboa statue.

In addition to the Balboa statue:

  • Panama’s currency is called the Balboa, and his image appears on many of Panama’s coins.
  • Panama City’s main port is called the Port of Balboa, which is the main entrance to the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean.
  • Finally, there are numerous streets and public parks throughout Panama that are named after Balboa.

Caravan All Inclusive Panama Vacations

As a locally owned and family operated all inclusive tour company in Chicago, Caravan Tours has been offering fully guided tours of North and Central America since 1952. All of Caravan’s Central America tours are conducted by local, knowledgeable tour guides.

Although Caravan offers a fully escorted all inclusive Panama Tour, the package no longer includes an official visit to Balboa Park. While in Panama City, Caravan travelers are encouraged to make their own visit to the Balboa monument before or after their tour ends!

Call our Caravan toll free line today at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to book your next Panama vacation!

Caravan Central America vacations are all inclusive and our most popular tours. Caravan Tours is locally owned and family operated and has been offering fully guided, all inclusive tours since 1952.

Below you will find answers to a few of the questions we get asked about our Caravan Central America vacations.

How big is Central America?

With the warmer weather and tropical climate, each year millions of tourists from around the world are attracted to Central America, which is only about 200,000 square miles in size.

What countries make up Central America?

Central America includes the following countries:

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama

The cultures in Central America are so uniquely different that Caravan Tours only uses very knowledgeable, highly experienced local tour guides to accommodate our all inclusive Central American vacations.

What Central American countries do Caravan offer tours for?

Caravan offers affordable all inclusive Central America vacations in Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala.

Costa Rica Tours – Famous for its lush rainforests, exotic birds and animals, active volcanoes, and eco-tourism activities, Caravan’s Costa Rica vacations are ideal for travellers of all ages. Activities include tree top adventures, rainforest hikes, Poas and Arenal volcanoes, plus turtle nesting beaches.

Panama Tours – Come take a cruise of Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal, the most important waterway in the world. Caravan’s all inclusive Panama Canal vacations also includes other wonderful destinations in Panama such as Panama City, Playa Bonita, Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and a visit to an authentic Embera Indian village. Click here to find more Panama Canal tour information.

Guatemala Tours – Guatemala is traditionally known as the “Land of the Eternal Spring” and attracts vacationers with its ancient Tikal ruins, Quirigua ruins, Antigua, majestic volcanoes, and the near perfect climate.

All Caravan Central America vacations features a well thought out itinerary that allows vacationers to get the most out of their trip while finding time to relax and enjoy all there is to experience in Central America.

Who are Caravan Central America tours designed for?

All Caravan Tours to Central America are designed to be fully guided, all inclusive vacations specifically for travelers who:

  • Are cost-conscious
  • Feel safer traveling with a local tour guide
  • Do not want to plan all the details of their vacation
  • Enjoy meeting new people

What do Caravan Central America vacations cost?

Caravan vacation packages to Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala are incredibly priced, at least 30% less than our major competitors. Each tour includes all itinerary accommodations, as well as food and purified drinking water, ground transportation, activity entrance fees, and in most cases, gratuities.

What hotel accommodations are included?

Caravan all inclusive Central America vacations are designed to be the most cost-effective way to travel Central America. Wherever possible, Caravan hotel accommodations include four and five star hotels plus fine dining and all the best local amenities and activities. Each tour offers significant savings over travelling on your own, particularly for seniors, groups, and families that travel together.

Book Your Central America Vacation with Caravan

Travel GuatemalaCosta Rica, or Panama fully escorted with Caravan Tours. Come experience the very best that all inclusive Central America vacations has to offer.

Every Caravan tour guest returns home with their own unique memories and experience of Central America.

Call Caravan today, toll free at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to book the Central America vacation of your dreams with Caravan Tours!

Click here to request a brochure.

panama canal cruise tour

This post includes additional Panama Canal tour information to help you plan your next Central America vacation.

Panama is a tourist friendly Latin American country that keeps a rather low profile despite its natural beauty. The country is referred to as a traveler’s paradise, although most people only recognize this destination for the Panama Canal.

In more recent years, Panama Canal tour companies like Caravan Tours, have successfully provided Panama tourists with all inclusive, fully guided tours through the Panama Canal.

Caravan’s Panama Canal tours are escorted by experienced local tour guides who are familiar with Panama and its local people and culture. Caravan offers the best Panama Canal sightseeing tours that also include visits to other exotic Panama destination points including, Colon, the Gamboa Rainforest, and a visit to an authentic Embera Indian village.

Family, Senior & Group Tours

Other Panama Canal tour companies have trouble matching the value of Caravan Tours’ All Inclusive Panama Canal Tours. Caravan is North America’s leading all inclusive, fully escorted travel company. These tours are led by a trained Panama tour guides who are eager to share their Panama Canal tour information. As well, all guided tours also include all itinerary activities, meals and accommodations for one affordable, low tour price.

These Panama Canal tour packages are designed to accommodate special travel groups for anyone interested in:

  • Family Panama Tours
  • Senior Panama Tour Groups
  • Panama Tours for Large Groups (schools, clubs, etc.)

Call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to book your family, senior or group Panama Canal tour today.

Panama Tours & Tourism

Did you know that Panama was recently named the #1 place to visit in 2012 by the New York Times?

Despite its small size (approximately the same size as Southern Carolina) Panama is an exotic destination filled with tropical rainforests, mountain ranges, volcanoes and two ocean coastlines including the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Coast.

Panama City is the capital of Panama and has a well-developed international flavor with a vibrant nightlife and world class amenities. In contrast, rural Panama supports seven separate Indian cultures that live in remote reservations.

Some tourists choose to stay in Panama’s modern hot spots while others choose to venture off the beaten path. Caravan Tours’ fully guided Panama Tour does it all and features popular Panama activities such as a Panama Canal Cruise tour as well as a visit to an Embera Indian village in the tropical rainforests of Panama.

For additional Panama Canal tour information, statistics and rankings check out this post by US News.

Panama Canal Tour Highlights

Panama City, the capital of Panama, is the core of the country and where most Panama Canal tours begin and end. Upon landing at the Tocumen Panama International Airport, visiting tourists become acquainted with Panama’s fresh Central American air.

Caravan’s all inclusive Panama Canal tour includes two nights in Panama City while exploring the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. Here tourists have the opportunity to explore the Canal’s locks system along with visiting Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo.

From here the excitement continues as the Panama Canal tour from Panama City then travels the canal through Gatun Locks, past Monkey Island and into the Gamboa Rainforest. Before Caravan’s Panama Canal guided tours end, the tour group will travel back south to the Pacific Coast to enjoy two nights at Playa Blanca beach resort’s white sandy beaches.

Affordable Panama Canal Tours

Caravan’s fully escorted Panama Canal tours are unrivaled, starting at just $1,295 per person for an 8-day all inclusive Panama Canal vacation.

Visit Caravan’s Panama Tour Reviews page to read what other travelers have to say about this well-liked and extremely popular Central American tour.

For additional Panama Canal tour information or to make a booking, please call our Caravan office toll free at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826).

Close to El Valle Panama is Grand Playa Blanca Panama, a four-star resort and spa located in a tropical setting on the Pacific coast, less than an hour and a half from Panama City.

Translated, Playa Blanca means “white beach” and the area boasts what could arguably be the best unspoiled beaches in the country.

This is a fabulous beachfront hotel resort with 220 guest rooms, gorgeous suites and all the amenities including a swim-up bar, a quiet pool, several Jacuzzis, mini-golf, and a games area.

Many travellers to Playa Blanca Panama choose this resort for its wonderful accommodations, natural beauty and outdoor activities. On the priority list for many tourists is a hike to the nearby waterfall or participation in a canopy tour or rainforest jungle trail hike (paved for easier walking).

Playa Blanca Panama resort offers refreshing drinks, a swimming pool in a beautiful setting and a handy snack bar for those who aren’t ready for a formal meal. Watch out for the “friendly” native birds. They seem to have a knack for finding the visitor with accessible snacks. Even toucans are known for coming right to the outdoor tables.

The Pacific coast beach at Playa Blanca Panama is a favorite among visitors. Because it is so close to Panama City and equally close to the virgin rainforests of El Valle, the beach is attracting more visitors each year. This stretch of sand is recommended in many tourist guidebooks, for good reason, according to reports from satisfied visitors.

At times the surf is good for body surfing or surfboards, though the waves can be a bit inconsistent. Most people come to simply relax and enjoy the natural surroundings.

El Valle Panama

Although Panama is a small country the landscape is quite diverse. Within Panama’s borders you will find Caribbean and Pacific beaches, cloud forests, lush rainforests, cosmopolitan cities, historic ruins and unique canals and waterways.

The El Valle area of Panama is another unique destination. Just two hours from Panama City, El Valle de Anton, as it is formally called, is very picturesque. It is situated in a large (15 square mile) 5 million year old, dormant volcanic crater.

Visitors come to El Valle to enjoy the town’s beautiful homes, the panoramic views and the local open air marketplace where Indian artisans display their handicrafts including hand decorated wood and soap stone carvings plus handmade indigenous clothing and hats.

Nearby attractions include bird watching in the cloud forests of Gaital National Monument, nearby waterfalls and thermal hot pools, pre-Colombian petroglyphs, rainforest canopy tours and a hiking trail up to the top of “Sleeping Indian Woman Mountain.”

Because El Valle is a village in the mountains, the atmosphere is a bit cooler than at lower elevations. This is a still a refreshing spot that draws many visitors .

As is the case with many locations in Panama, the Pacific coast and the El Valle area offer more than enough animal and plant life for the nature enthusiast. Add to this the beauty of the beach, the proximity of the Panama Canal and excellent weather and you might say that this side of Panama is paradise.

Whether its beach activity, water sports, fishing or nature hiking you crave, they are all available on the Pacific coast of Panama. Full-service resorts like Grand Playa Blanca Panama provide the best in dining and overnight accommodations, with an excellent golf course available for good measure.

Playa Blanca Part of Caravan Panama Tours

A visit to Playa Blanca beach is included as part of our Caravan Panama Tours. These fully escorted 8-day tours are exceptionally priced starting at just $1,295. They are also all inclusive Panama vacations and includes a two night stay at Grand Playa Blanca Resort.

Visit Panama Tours Reservations to check tour availability.

To book your tour call Caravan toll free at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826).