blank An artificial lake that is part of the Panama Canal system, Gatún Lake has an area of 166 square miles. Gatún Lake is positioned between the two sets of locks that make up the Panama Canal. Gatún Lake is a short stopover that serves to disembark passengers who are going on excursions. The lake also serves as a “holding area” for ships that are waiting for permission to pass through the locks. There is no docking pier on the lake, passengers are tendered to the shore. Larger cruise ship lines that offer Caribbean itineraries, will have “Panama Canal” themed voyages. These trips don’t transit the entire canal, but only navigate Gatún Lake. Many of these cruises will depart from Florida. [caption id="attachment_19258" align="alignleft" width="850"]Drawn map of Panama Canal with Caribbean Sea in top left corner, Gatun Lake in the Middle with the Pacific Ocean in the bottom right. A black line represents the navigational channel for ships. Credit: ResearchGate[/caption]  

Check out these Panama Canal excursions.

Good To Know
The best time to go on a cruise of the canal is after the rainy season ends in November. If you want to learn more about the incredible and fascinating story behind the making of the Panama Canal, a great read is Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by Pulitzer Prize winner, David Mccullough. Here is the Tourism Board website: Visit Canal de Panamá
Fun To Watch
It can be hard to comprehend just what a marvel of engineering the Panama Canal is. And it is 108 years old! Truly a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of its builders. Here are two YouTube videos that are fun to watch. The first one takes you on a ride through the canals, and the second one explains the canal in a manner that helps you comprehend the engineering marvel they are. Panama Canal - Full Transit- Time Lapse How Panama Canal Works Animation


In Gatún, the wet season, from the end of April to the beginning of December, is warm and overcast. The dry season, from December to April,  is hot, windy, and partly cloudy. The climate is oppressive year round. Throughout  the year, the temperature typically varies from 76°F to 86°F and is rarely below 74°F or above 89°F.

The Panama Canal zone has a tropical climate with high humidity year-round. The Caribbean side of the canal gets twice the rain that Panama City gets. It is not unusual for there to be numerous short, and sudden afternoon thunderstorms from April through July.


The official currency of Panama is the Panamanian balboa. However, Panama accepts the U.S. dollar “at par”, or a rate of 1:1 exchange. Panama does not print its own paper currency, instead using US currency as legal tender. They do strike their own coins that are the same size, weight and color as US coins.

Major credit cards are accepted in most cities in Panama and ATMs are readily available. Traveler’s checks are rarely, if ever, accepted by businesses in Panama. ATMs are located in many supermarkets and dispense US dollars.

Wireless Internet:

You will need to rely on the WiFi on the cruise ship. We have heard that the internet can be spotty when going through the canal.


The official language is Panamanian Spanish. This version is similar to the Spanish spoken in the seaside areas around the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic.

Where You Dock in Gatun Lake – Panama

There is no docking pier on the lake, passengers are tendered to the shore. Only passengers on an excursion can disembark at Gatún Lake.

Things To Do in Gatun Lake – Panama

There will be various excursions on offer, and these will come from the cruise ship itself. Some cruise lines will offer excursion for:

Panama City: Located at the opposite sdie of the lock from Gatún Lake, this city is both old and new. There is a modern part of town and the old part has colonial architecture.

Miraflores Locks: There is an observation center here that allows you to see the operation of the Panama Canal and learn its history.

Embera Tribe Village: See how the Embera tribes that lived near the Panama-Columbia border 600 years ago sustained themselves. You will learn their history and folklore.

Kayaking: Not many can say that they have kayaked the Panama Canal. Definitely not to be missed, and it will give you bragging rights!

Boat tours: Visit the locks and see all of nature, both animal, marine and flora that surrounds Gatún Lake.

Train Ride: There is a train that connects Gatún Lake and the town of Colon. You will pass through small villages and around the canal.

Colon: If you are interested in Colon, read this article that will tell you everything you need to know:  Colon Panama