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Miraflores is the first of three locks along the Panama Canal and the name of the small lake which separates the locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Miraflores Locks are where ships are lowered or lifted 16.5m in two stages so that they can move from the Port of Balboa on the Pacific Ocean to or from the Canal and the Atlantic Ocean at the other end of the Canal. Just passed the adjacent Balboa Port is the Bridge of the Americas which connects North and South America.
An amazing state-of-the-art Visitor Center stands at the Miraflores Locks overlooking not only the locks but also at a point where you have views of the Canal, the Bridge of the Americans and Balboa Port. The center is just 20 minutes from Panama City and it holds a number of different things to do and plenty of opportunity to learn about the Panama Canal.
To get an introduction to the Canal there is a 3D movie screened for visitors. The film features a fun character called Mr Canales who guides you through the history of the Panama Canal. There are several show times throughout the day in both English and Spanish and the screening is in a modern, air-conditioned cinema.
The Visitor Center has four exhibition halls which tell the story of the canal through authentic artifacts, documents, illustrations and information panels. The displays cover the history of the Canal; the function of the Canal; the impact of the Canal on international trade; the relationship of the Canal with nature and the expansion of the Panama Canal. The biodiversity of the area is covered with displays of insects and butterflies as well as aquariums with fish from Lake Gatun.
Other displays show the workings of the Canal and how it actually does its job as well as the international importance of the Panama Canal. Several dioramas bring the Canal to life as well as models which demonstrate the workings of the locks. Kids will love the locks navigation simulator, a whole room which has been turned into the bridge of a ship so kids can take the wheel and steer the ship through the Canal. There is also a time lapse video of vessels passing through the locks and an exhibit showing the different types of vessels.
Perhaps the best reason to visit the Miraflores Visitor Center is the opportunity to see the Canal and the locks up close. In fact if you are lucky you might see a vessel going through the whole transfer process through the locks. Take into account that if you have arrived at a time when a vessel is being moved in the locks the transition takes more than 30 minutes.
The Visitor Center has three levels from which you can observe the locks and the Canal operation. It is a good idea to bring binoculars if you have or to use the binoculars that are stationed on the observation decks. If possible it is recommended to come after 2pm as more vessels pass through in the afternoon.
You can call the information center on the morning of your trip to find out the vessel crossing schedules for that day or ask at the information desk when you arrive. For another unique view of the Canal you can drive over the Bridge of the Americas. On a Saturday it is possible to take a ride on a boat as it goes through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. You can arrange this through your hotel.
While at the center you can have a bite to eat at the Atlantic & Pacific Co. Restaurant on the fourth floor. From your restaurant table you can look out over the Canal. There are several other eateries and snack bars. There is a gift store which sells a wide range of merchandise relating to the Panama Canal.
While at the center you could rent bicycles and explore the surrounding rainforest. Choose the length of your tour (half-day or full day) depending on the age of your kids who might find the full day too long. Alternatively you can travel to the center independently.
Location: On the east side of the Miraflores Locks. It is possible to visit independently or with a tour which takes you from Panama City.
Open Hours: Mon-Sun 9am-5pm (ticket office closes at 4:30pm), Restaurant 12 noon to 11:30pm
Cost: Adults B/15, children (6yrs-12yrs) B/10
Contact: +507 276 8325
Duration of Visit: 2-3 hours.
Miraflores Visitor Center