Eighty-five feet over sea level lies a synthetic prodigy that nature: Gatún Lake. Extending 168 square miles, the lake was developed to store the water essential for pearl to pass from one s to another and also to fill the aqueducts in the region.

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By Margarita de los RíosPhotos: Demian Colman

There’s a fantasy lake in Panama, a 168 square mile water mirror surrounding by forest, lived in by wildlife, and also silent, except for the cacophonous lament the the howler monkeys and the onrush the birdsong from part 564 types of birds.

Whether you board a boat at the Gamboa windy dock, travel at peak speed ~ above the train that the cross the lake from phibìc to south, or fly over its waters on the La Granja’s zip line at the northern tip, you’ll enjoy the watercolor views follow me the forest banks. Palm trees in front, bushes additional back, branches and also vines tangled in between, and also majestic trees all along the horizon create the hundreds of masterpieces the parade by, one after ~ another, delighting the eye and spirit.

The watercraft sets off from the exact point where the waters that the Chagres River circulation into this fabricated lake constructed in the at an early stage 20th century. And also here the magic begins; it’s difficult to tell if the river contributes the waters or steals those that the lake to feeding the circulation that continues twenty miles further north, come the various other side the the country and also into the Caribbean Sea. In truth, the Chagres flow flows into both ends.

The sunlight is radiant due to the fact that the dried season has just begun. The lake has currently received eight month of the manna the is the rasion d’etre that this enormous synthetic dam and also the pressure that moves the nationwide economy: rain. Blessed rain, i beg your pardon in the middle of this tropic forest drops in abundance, intermittently but constantly.

The lake was built to save the rain and administer enough water to operate the canal, which flows 85 feet above sea level, allowing ships to cross from one side of the isthmus to the other.

The lake is therefore the beating heart of an incomparable geographical landmark: the place where mankind reunited the seas the were separated three million years earlier, when the land emerged from ocean.

The Panama Canal was developed thanks come a number of engineering feats: the Culebra cut mountain selection was split in two to enable water to circulation through; the locks were created on either finish to lift boats up come lake level and lower them back down to the sea; and the dam was developed to dominate the river v 600 cubic feet the water and fourteen gates. In 1913, U.S. Chairman Woodrow Wilson sent out a telegraph indigenous Washington D.C. Activating the fee that damaged the dike holding back the waters the the Chagres River offered to to fill Gatún Lake.

Nowhere rather in the human being could this have actually been possible; only here were there just fifty miles in between one ocean and also another, simply one mountain variety to cross, and also a lot of rain every year ring to keep the level of the lake.

But Panama is much more than a commercial canal. 3 million years ago, when the seas separated, the land was thrust together to develop an tremendous bridge of life across which countless species crossed native north and also south. The plants propelled the boundaries of their regions from one next the isthmus come another, finding fertile ground in which to settle, and the animals that crossed the bridge provoked phenomenal aftermath as however unmeasured through science. In truth, prefer a huge Noah’s Ark, this small country filled through traces of all creates of life ended up being one that the planet’s most biodiverse regions.

From a watercraft on the lake one have the right to feel the biodiversity pulsating. Vast lizards live below, sometimes raising their snouts out right into the sunlight. The iguanas move amongst the thickets, previous the primates –white-headed capuchins, marmosets, spiders, or howlers– lifting their noses, curious, when the boat approaches your territories. The tropical forest that surrounding the lake, constituting what is recognized as the Panama Canal watershed, is residence to 2,650 species of flora, 159 different mammals, 98 different reptiles, and 65 amphibian species: one 3rd of the biodiversity in Panama, which is among the world’s many biodiverse regions.

Visitors can strategy the lake from several necessary landmarks. Coming from Panama City, the very first landmark is the town of Gamboa, 18 miles from the capital. The public dock is here, and the Hotel Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which offers daily excursions come the lake. You can also collection off from below to Barro Colorado Island, the most studied tropical forest on the planet, through a laboratory collection up over one hundreds years ago by the Smithsonian Tropical research study Institute. The island forest, having actually seen a minimum of human intervention, display screens its distinctive dynamics come the researchers from roughly the world who come simply to observe and also take notes.

Thanks come this study we currently know, for example, the leaf-cutter ants take it down more than 15% of every the leaves created in the forest to fertilize the fungi they grow as food in their underground nests; fig wasps will take trip up to eight mile to pollinate fig fruits; and also the wild cashew (Anacardium excelsum) pumps around 14 gallons of water the end of the ground and also into its leaves every day. Lot of what is known about the natural human being has been observed here on this tiny island, i beg your pardon is component of the Barro Colorado natural Monument. The Institute offers guided access time to this living laboratory.

On the various other side the the watershed –the Caribbean side– tourists can technique the lake native the Hotel Meliá Panamá Colón, which sits on a peninsula dealing with the wilder region. The Meliá Panama is famed for operating in what was as soon as the school of the Americas, which served as a controversial cultivate ground for Latin American army personnel and also acted together a symbol of the U.S. Existence in Panama during the nearly one hundred years that the northern country administered the canal. When the canal and surrounding locations were returned to Panamanian control, what was when a symbol of U.S. Presence became an engine of tourism development.

Also in Colón, travellers can try a range of too much sports and other activities at La Granja. You can acquire an aerial check out from the zip line, visit the butterfly garden, and also tour the region’s common farm animals.

At the finish of the tour, visitors space treated come a fabulous view of the lake at the exact point where that meets the new locks the the expanded channel, known as Agua Clara. There is likewise a magnificent tourism of the new Panama Canal, an unparalleled view the Gatún Lake, and a wonderful ar to have actually lunch.

To visit Gatún Lake:

Gamboa Rainforest Resort: Located eighteen miles external the city in the middle of the tropical forest, the resort provides excursions and also extreme adventures.

Meliá Panama Canal: In the Colón Province, just minutes native the Colon free Zone along a road through the jungle.

Barro Colorado Island: Visitors can publication a visit to the island with the Smithsonian Tropical study Institute (STRI) in ~ www.stri.si.edu.

La Granja: This recreation and extreme sports facility offers one more perspective on the lake.


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Agua Clara Locks: The recently remodeled Panama Canal functions a visitor center on the Caribbean side whereby visitors deserve to learn about the new locks.