How to Visit the Panama Canal On Your Own

While Panama City is SO much more than just a canal, I knew I couldn’t visit the city without a stop to the famous landmark.

Instead of splashing out for an organized tour (Viator offers one), I decided to visit the Panama Canal on my own time and my own dime… saving money and seeing just what I wanted to see.

How to Visit the Panama Canal on Your Own

From almost anywhere in the city center, a taxi to visit the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Visitor Center (the nearest visitor center to central Panama City) will be around $10 and take around 20 minutes depending on traffic.

While the museum is open from 9AM to 5PM (the ticket office closes at 4:30PM, though), I’d recommend going in the morning or in the late afternoon. From 10AM-2PM, supposedly there’s no ships crossing the canal, so you’ll want to avoid that block of time.

I arrived shortly after 2PM, and had enough time to check out the multi-level museum and watch the little introduction movie (available in Spanish or in English) before the first boat passed through.

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

The museum has 4 levels, including The History Hall (detailing the background and innovations of the Canal), The Hall of Water (highlighting the importance of the Canal Watershed, including environmental conservation and examples of biodiversity), The Canal in Action (explaining how the Canal actually works), and The Canal in the World (examining the importance of the Canal for international trade). The exhibits include traditional style explanations, in addition to detailed 3D models of ships and the canal itself, a video simulator, and historic artifacts.

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

After checking out the museum and watching the video, you’ve got several options for watching the boats pass by. There’s a ground level observation area, and an observation area on the second floor, and a sort of cafeteria on the top level with open sides, all of which become quite crowded. You should show up early and plan on waiting a while in order to get a prime spot.

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

You can have a tasty ice cream while you wait in the bleachers on the second floor

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

the view from the top floor cafeteria

Another option for viewing is to have a meal at the overpriced $50+ buffet-only restaurant on one of the top floors – there’s an awesome outdoor patio with the best view in the whole visitor center.

As a vegetarian, I couldn’t imagine that $50 would be a good value for me (plus, I wasn’t hungry). I asked the waitress if I could just sit on the outdoor patio and have a drink (but pass on the buffet) and she happily allowed it. I snagged a prime seat right next to the balcony rail, and had the best view I could ever imagine for watching the boats pass by. While the drinks were decently pricey ($12 for a cocktail), they were delicious and definitely preferred to splurging on a buffet I didn’t need. And the view? Totally worth it!

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

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How to Visit the Panama Canal on Your Own

Necessary Details: Visit the Panama Canal On Your Own

Hours of Admission:
9AM-5PM (ticket office closed after 4:30PM)

Tuesday through Sunday, CLOSED MONDAY

Entrance Cost:

The only organized tour I might splurge for if I have the chance to do it again? The Partial Transit Tour ($144.99), which gives the opportunity to ride a boat down the Panama Canal. I had friends do it who raved about it!

Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal



A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

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  1. June 9, 2016 / 9:53 am

    Great information about exploring the area. It’s unfortunate that $50 was too expensive for your liking but the ice cream looks delicious.

  2. John
    October 19, 2016 / 10:09 am

    good notes for a solo trip in Panama Canal

  3. July 19, 2017 / 10:46 am

    Thank you so much for these tips!! I am going to Panama this Saturday and this is extremely helpful!

    • Steph
      July 19, 2017 / 12:08 pm

      I’m so glad it helped! I hope you have a great trip!

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