Built over ten years from 1904 to 1914, the Panama Canal’s 51 miles of waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean between two continents is one of mankind’s most remarkable feats of engineering!
However, along with being a milestone in trade, commerce, political borders, and technology, the Panama Canal is also a vital source of tourism and a cruise unlike any other! So when is the best time to cruise the Panama Canal?
When Is The Best Time To Cruise The Panama Canal?
While the Panama Canal is often hailed as a year-round cruise destination with mild-warm weather, certain months may be better suited depending on your family’s weather preference.
From mid-December to the beginning of May, the Panama Canal is hot and dry, with the driest months being February, March, September, and October. During this period, the temperature matched the humid, tropical climate of Central America, between 75F and 85F.
While the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal is twice as likely to have rain, which is ideal for dropping temperatures and easing the humidity, you may want to avoid this stretch of the Canal between April and July, as it’s prone to sudden afternoon thundershowers.
When Is The Panama Canal Busiest?
Although the Panama Canal is not the busiest manmade waterway in the world (that honor goes to Germany’s Kiel Canal), it did see its most active year in 2021, with over 516 million tonnes of goods passing through the Canal.
Therefore, unlike other cruise destinations that ebb and flow depending on the number of cruises in its waterways, the Panama Canal’s importance to international trade means it is always extremely busy!
However, for slightly reduced tourist numbers, you and your family should cruise the Canal between May and November.
When Are Panama Cruises The Most Affordable?
Prices of Panama Canal cruises are dependent on the cruise line you use, the method of booking, the accommodation you book on the cruise, the itinerary you organize, and the number of family members you take on your cruise.
A general rule, the best time to cruise the Panama Canal, in terms of affordability, is December.
The History Of The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal has a rich history dating back to initial French construction efforts, the actual construction of the Canal, the rich history surrounding events in the area, its importance for international trade, and the extension of the Canal.
Although it is one thing to talk about these historical events and socio-technological milestones, it is a whole other experience to learn the history firsthand and watch the operation of the Panama Canal, such as the use of locking mechanisms to lower and raise water!
Immersing yourself in this engineering feat, and experiencing the Panama Canal’s brilliance will inspire you and your family!
Are Special Events Held At The Panama Canal?
Although the Panama Canal has no events itself, Panama itself has year-long annual events for passengers to explore and enjoy while at port and during shore excursions:
- Boquete’s Flower and Coffee Festival (January)
- Panama City Jazz Festival (January)
- Carnaval Mardi Gras (February)
- March Holy Week (March)
- Festival Corpus Christi (May/June)
- Independence Day (November)
What Are The Best Panama Canal Cruises?
Most of the major cruise lines operators offer Panama Canal cruises, including but not limited to:
- Princess Cruises
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
- Carnival Cruises
- Windstar Cruises
- Holland America
- Celebrity Cruises
- Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Disney Cruise Line
Because so many major cruise lines operate multiple itinerates through the Panama Canal, you should discuss with your travel agent or cruise line operator the itineraries on offer to make sure you choose a cruise that is enjoyable for the whole family!
Furthermore, you should make sure to book a cruise that caters to families and has family cabins, as this can save you money and provide a better/more suitable family vacation for everyone!
What Items Must You Pack For A Panama Canal Cruise?
Because of the tropical climate and humid temperature in and around the Panama Canal, you should pack the following items:
- Lemon eucalyptus oil insect repellent,
- Camphor anti-itch cream/gel
- SPF 50+ sun cream (ideally waterproof)
- A wide-brimmed hat,
- Polarized sunglasses,
- Swim shirt/rash vest
- Dry bags,
- Water bottle/camel pack (for shore excursions).
Is The Panama Canal Dangerous?
Although some international trade routes are renowned for being dangerous, the history of the Panama Canal’s construction is wrought with stories of death, disease, and fighting. Current cruises down the Panama Canal are incredibly safe.
Furthermore, Panama is one of the safest countries in Central America, meaning that you should have little to fear when going on shore excursions with your family. However, there are some essential safety tips you must adhere to:
- Avoid areas with high crime rates,
- Keep your valuable possession on your person at all times,
- Remain cool and hydrated,
- Be aware of car rental scams,
- Adhere to any/all laws (especially narcotics laws.)
Several factors may determine what’s the best time to cruise the Panama Canal for your family. If you have school-age kids and are limited to school breaks, your options will be significantly limited because of the typical length of Panama Canal cruises.