Can anyone give me any info on the following tours at the canal? We are looking at the Motor coach trip to Panama city, the Two Oceans Railroad or the Ferry trip thru the Canal starting near Panama City. Any info you have would be most helpful.
My wife and I took the Two Ocean Train Tour two weeks ago (1/25). The tour was excellent and I highly recommend it!
The train tour was approximately 4 ½ hours; two of these hours are for a bus tour at the Pacific side of the trip. There are two versions of this tour: standard, and the “Dome Car.” The obvious difference is that the second tour uses a (there is only one) dome-type passenger train car, where the others use standard railroad passenger cars. But, based on my experience, there are more differences between these tours than what is obvious.
My wife and I took the Dome Car Tour and we were very glad we did. First, our guide was excellent. He has set the gold standard for me for all future tour guides. His name was “Marty.” He was raised in Panama, and Costa Rica, by US parents, and was educated in the US. He was very knowledgeable about Panama, the railroad, and the Canal. He was very easy to understand; I don’t think I missed a word the entire trip.
Of coarse the other cars probably had excellent guides also, but when it came time for the two-hour bus trip, the difference between the two tours became more apparent. The bus tour has two destinations; A) Mira Flores Locks, and B) a tour of the extreme most Pacific entrance to the Canal, which has great views of Panama City, and the “Bridge of the Americas.” When we departed the train station, our Dome Car group got in one bus and went first to location B, then to A. All the other passengers (~250) boarded six other busses and went as a group, first to location A, and then to B. It seemed to me that our Dome Car group got the best of this arrangement.
Let me finish by saying that Panama is considered by many to be “Third World County,” but this tour was first class in my opinion. Great guide, the train was in excellent condition, and the bus tour was very interesting and informative. I would do again in a heartbeat.
Thanks so much for the info. My DH is very interested in seeing the Gaillard Cut. Can you see this part of the Canal from the train? Can you see alot of the Canal or are you riding in the jungle and only see the canal every now and then?
Did you hear any feedback from other passangers about the bus trip or the ferry trip?
Again, thanks for the info.
From the train you can see the canal briefly several different times. I cannot remember if you could see Gaillard Cut or not. The train crosses over Gatun Lake, and then more-or-less follows next to the canal. The train does spend a fewminutes in the rain forest. The entire train ride is approximately 50-60 minutes each way, but the time flys by. The train station on the Pacific end is a couple miles from the land entrance into Mira Flores Locks, which is still some distance from downtown Panama City. The bus tour does not go into Panama City, but stays in the Canal Zone area.
Two of our dinner table companions took the all day bus tour to Panama City. They said they enjoyed it, but I think it would be a long day. I didn't hear any other comments about other tours.
Yes, you do see the Canal a number of times during the train ride. I agree with Sp Trout that the extra $20 for the dome car is well worth it because of bus perks and not being in the throng of 259. If you take this excursion do take advantage of the open area between the dome car and the regular passenger cars. It has safety rails but is nice to hear the sounds and sensations of the railroad. It is basically part of the passenger car except the sides have railings and a wall on the bottom half.
You do see the Galliard Cut along the way if you are paying attention. Look for the hillsides that are heavily terraced - that's the Cut. The majority of the trip is in jungle but you do see the Canal a number of times and we saw 3-4 freighters along the way as well as a look back at our cruise ship while it was still anchored in Lake Gatun. If you are quick you'll be able to get a photo of it from the open platform area that I mentioned.
During the Two Ocean Train Tour (bus portion) our guide pointed out several buildings that were originally parts of the US Bases in Panama. I don't recall any tours that are specifically designed to visit former US Bases.
The bus tour takes quite a bit longer , but you get to see MUCH more. The first part of the tour is a ride accross the country, not very interesting, but the guide will lay out the rest of the day. First stop, the ruins of colonial Panama City. There is a Mueseum, tour of ruins, a brief shopping stop.
Next stop on the way into Panama City a stop at a famous monument, great photo ops.
Next stop a famous church in the old part of Panama City with a solid gold altar.
Next stop in the "reviving" section of old Panama, the National Theatre.
Then you do ride through the old canal zone and facilities on you way to lunch on one of the islands that were part of the old base, and now a tourist spot. You pass through much of the old American base facilities . Then there is a souvenir shopping stop at a great market that used to be a gymnasium on the old army base.
Then on to Mira Flores locks (again drive through much of the old US facilities).
Complete tour of the locks including a video presentation and if you are lucky, ships entering the locks.
Ride back to the ship via a slightly different route.
The tour is all day, but there is nothing to really see in Colon, so why not see as much as you can in one day?
I Highly recommend the bus tour. ( by the way, the buses stay together and are escorted at all times by Police assigned to the Department of Tourism).
Thanks everyone for all your input on the different excursions. We still have not completey decided, but the info you all provided will help us in making our decison.
I still have not heard from anyone who might have done the ferry trip or maybe heard something about it. Anyone?