The Agua Clara Visitor Center, on the Atlantic, has a never-before-seen perspective of the Canal.
From its location, 50 meters above sea level, you can see the majesty of Gatun Lake, lush vegetation, the locks of Agua Clara and, beyond, the imposing Atlantic Bridge.
Since its inauguration in August 2012, the Agua Clara Visitor Center (also known as COA) became the ideal place to watch the construction of the new locks and, since 2016, to appreciate the passage of the huge Neopanamax ships.
The Center is a park-like concept with terraces and open, roofed and stepped platforms, located in a four-hectare area that facilitates viewing in an environment surrounded by nature.
In March 2020, following safety measures to prevent infection due to the pandemic, the Canal administration suspended operations at the visitor centers.
However, thanks to the staggered reopening of activities in the country, since last May 15, the COA reopened its doors to the public, complying with the biosecurity measures dictated by the Ministry of Health (Minsa).
For the time being, only groups with reservations made through the portal www.visitcanaldepanama.com are attended. To enter, select “Reservations“, register an e-mail address, and create an account. Each reservation can include a maximum of eight people.
The schedule has also been adjusted: Wednesday through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. The last group can enter until 3:00 p.m. while the facility closes at 4:00 p.m.
For the comfort and safety of visitors, the Center has set up alcohol gel dispensers at strategic points and signs at different points to maintain distance. For the time being, no exhibits or theater are available. The tour has been adjusted to give each visitor a period of 1 hour and 15 minutes in the facility. Circulation is staggered and distances are kept.
First to arrive
On Saturday, May 15, a few minutes after 8:00 a.m., the first group of four people arrived, took their temperature, and received instructions from the Canal guides. Filled with palpable excitement, they immediately went to the terraces.
Monica Santoyo Garcia came all the way from Mexico. She already knew the Canal, but according to her, there was nothing like seeing it again.
“I was here two and a half years ago. And well, yes, there were many more people and you could move more, but now that we are with the healthwise distance, they only let us stay for short periods of time; but that’s good,” she added with a smile.
Her companion, Marlene Moroni, also Mexican, was admiring the Canal for the first time.
“It’s good that my companions brought me and it’s good that it’s open. It is very impressive to see how the ships pass, the whole process of leveling the water, and well… a marvel,” she said.
According to Antonio Andrade, a tourist from Spain, the expanded Canal “is a marvel of engineering and if there is anything that can represent internationalism and globalism, it is this construction site; and the capacity of human beings to overcome the difficulties imposed by nature. I think it is a marvel and it is well worth observing and seeing how it works”.
Luiggi Forestieri is a Panamanian living in Mexico. For him, the opening of the Visitor Center “gives a sense of respite and encouragement because you can see how this engineering marvel, made by Panamanians, operates.”
A breath of hope
For the vice-president of the Tourism Commission of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE), Aldo Ríos, “the reopening for us in the tourism sector means to continue strengthening our value proposition, our tourism offer, to continue promoting our country”.
He explained that for the tourism sector, the pandemic has been particularly difficult.
Tourism, he said, “is one of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic and to date, has not achieved recovery levels, not even close. So this reopening is a breath of hope, that we are going to return to normality, that tourism is going to regain the relevance it has in the country; because before the pandemic, it represented about 14 % of the gross domestic product”.
“The tourism industry is extremely relevant and these are the enablers, Agua Clara, to mention an example, that allow us to continue developing tourism”, he added.
The Panama Canal thus offers local and foreign tourists the opportunity to enjoy a privileged view of the interoceanic waterway after more than a year of suspension of operations at this Center due to the pandemic.