Panama Canal: a tale of two museums

Miraflores Locks
Miraflores Locks

Monday I went to the Miraflores locks on a Complete ticket ($8) which entitled me to watch the locks, go through the museum, and watch a video.  The museum, at least as far as I noticed, is completely bilingual Spanish and English.  All placards are bilingual and the 3D movie has Spanish showing and English showings.  I put complete pictures up on my Facebook page (to keep the blog loading faster for everyone else)

Panama Canal Museum
Panama Canal Museum

On Tuesday I went to the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Antiguo.  Admission to this one was $2 but the entire museum is only in Spanish, but for only $5 total you can upgrade to an audio tour via headset.  Since I knew I would get a lot more out of the museum and since $5 is a fair price I opted for the audio tour.  There was probably at least 25% of the information that was not part of the audio, but  still a good tour and basic ability to read Spanish can fill in the gaps.

The museum Casco Antiguo was my favorite of the two, but they each serve a purpose.

Miraflores is definitely an observation deck with a museum to help people kill time if there are no boats (as in the case of when I was there).  The bottom floor gave some basic history and showed replicas of many of the tools and technologies used.  It was definitely kid friendly with booms and the Giants floor which was a bunch of giant bugs.  Miraflores has a 10 minute 3D (no clue why it was 3D, but maybe to keep kids’ attention) movie with some very basic information about the history and how it works. If you only have 1 place to go then this is definitely the place to visit.  From the Hilton Garden Inn to the locks I shared a van cab with 5 people for $50 total.  I returned to the hotel by cab by myself and that was $15.  On the way out there you can also see the old military bases and what has become of them in modern Panama.

The Panama Canal Museum is definitely a much better museum in my opinion.  It has no non-sequiturs with bugs.  It goes through the history of the Canal including the initial architect, his vision, his successor and his vision, and then the US military’s control of the project so the architects would stop quitting.  This museum covered the political battle and many treaties and protests that occurred between the US and Panama until the canal finally reverted to Panamanian control on December 31, 1999.  It not only covers that, but also how Panama was affected by the US because of this…from telecommunications to WWII to currency.  The United States either implemented technology needed for the operations or restricted Panama’s use (as with radio).  The gift shop here, however, has little to do with the canal.  I bought souvenirs in the market a block away since they had what I needed (magnets) and they were much cheaper than at Miraflores.

The museum requested for no photos so I respected that and did not take any photos inside. That means you’ll just have to see it for yourself. All of Casco Antiguo is under restoration right now so it will be exciting with that is all done. the buildings with balconies remind me of New Orleans so it could be a good party spot if that’s what they want (but I really hope they don’t trash it up like that).


  1. For the past 11 years I have spent a long week working in Panama. I do enjoy it tremendously. Have been to the Miraflores locks on all but 2 years at varying times of day. It has always fascinated me since I was a schoolboy and my interest was piqued by my primary school headmaster. His father was one of the main project engineers on the construction there so we were regaled by tales galore when he could be sidelined. My favorite time is early evening. Watching the mules at work and the magnificent lighting of the ships, both waiting and going through, is quite a sight to behold.
    On another note I do believe that you are literally being taken for a ride on the cab fares. Anything above $10 to anywhere from downtown, old town or San Francisco is excessive. $8 is about the norm. Finally if you want an incredible spot to just people watch over a coffee and or some flatbread pizza consider going to Beirut, across from the Marriott.

    1. @Rings, that’s good to know. The cab drivers I used would usually quote me a fare after I stated where I was going. I’m not a haggler so I usually paid it. when I took cabs with other people they could usually haggle a couple bucks off.

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