For sheer drama it is difficult to top the 77 km (48 mi) passage through the Panama Canal. Built to cut sailing times between the east and west coasts of America, one twentieth of the world's shipping now passes through its locks. It is the perfect marriage of engineering efficiency and Italianate architecture that makes it a true wonder of the modern world. The locks themselves utilize the waters of the surrounding rainforest to send vessels on their way through improbably narrow passages.
The region's rivers and lakes are dammed, and, along with the locks, these dams control the release of 236 million litres (52 million gallons) of freshwater per passing vessel. Where else in the world can you lean over the side of large cruise ship and touch land?
When the ship is ready to change locks, it is mesmensmg to look down from the stem. With only 10 m (33 ft) between propellers and lock gates the commotion caused by the water is quite incredible.
The canal marks the lowest point at which you can cross the American Continental Divide as you sail through the 13 km (8 mi) of the dramatic Gaillard Cut, where the mountain was literally sliced open to allow passage. Such is the dramatic nature of the scenery that it appears to the eye that you are heading straight towards a cliff as you head through the final lock that takes you into Lake Gutan.
Here there is a chance to disembark or simply marvel at the sheer volume of shipping waiting to pass through the canal.
WHEN TO GO
The climate is pretty constant all year round.
TIME IT TAKES
Allow a full day for a round trip through the canal and onto the lake.
Marvelling at the mechanics of it all.
The evergreen tropical jungle, which adorns both sides of the canal.
The contrast between the bubbling excitement of the canal and the · tranquility of Lake Gatun.
Watching passing ships travel close by in the opposite direction on the section between Culebra cut and Lake Gutan.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The delicate eco-system that surrounds the canal is threatened by deforestation, as a result of illegal logging.