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panama travel and tourism

Miraflores Locks Visitor Center

miraflores locks visitor center, the panama canal

Inaugurated in 2004, the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center is a beautiful, towering edifice that lies only 150-200 ft. from the canal and provides unparalleled views of Miraflores Locks and the surrounding area, including Miraflores Lake, Miraflores Dam, and Pedro Miguel Locks.

If you want a close-up view of the Panama Canal, there is no better place than the Miraflores Visitor Center.

a cruise ship transiting northbound at miraflores locks, as seen from the miraflores visitor center

Unlike the Agua Clara Visitor Center, with its open, sprawling landscape, the visitor center at Miraflores consists of two large buildings. The larger of the two, and the one directly in front of you when exiting the elevator, is the official visitor center. The smaller building to the left is a 3D IMAX movie theater, which opened in 2018 and reportedly has one of the world's larger cinema screens. Visitors enjoy a 45 minute-long documentary about the Panama Canal, narrated by Morgan Freeman.

a view of the entrance to the miraflores locks visitor center

Before reaching the entrance, you’ll pass in front of Miraflores Dam, the smallest of the canal's three dams; the dam resides off to the right side. If you miss it on the way in, you will have another opportunity when departing.

a view of a cruiseship passing the miraflores locks visitor center

At the roadside entrance, a fully enclosed elevator will bring you up to the visitor center's main entrance, which is perched high atop a hill. The 3D IMAX movie theater is to the left of the visitor center and encased in glass.

When entering the visitor center, there is a large open atrium with tall glass windows and doors along the back wall. Illustrations and photographs relating to the canal decorate the walls and pillars. Immediately to the right, you will find a gift shop, public bathrooms, and two elevators. Behind the elevators is a staircase that provides access to all four floors. Further back, behind and to the left of the gift shop, is the museum entrance. Along the left wall is a presentation room for short video productions.

Two Viewing Platforms

The rear doors lead to the first observation deck, which resides on the second floor. The bleacher seats are padded and spacious and give you clear ground-level views of the locks. Around the seating area, there is ample space to walk around and view the setting. Along the edge is a waist-high handrail that at no time obstructs your view.

The second viewing platform, which resides on the fourth floor, or rooftop, can be accessed using the staircase or elevators. Like the second-floor viewing platform, there is a roof overhead. The additional elevation delivers a more panoramic view of the locks and their environs. Weather permitting, Miraflores Lake, Pedro Miguel Locks, Centenary Bridge, and even parts of Cocoli Locks—the new set of locks— can be seen. The control tower, chambers, electric mules, and tug boats—they are all right in front of you. You can watch as the vessels are lifted and lowered, as the chamber doors open and close, and as each ship moves from one chamber into another with the assistance of electric locomotives.

a view from the second platform of the miraflores visitor center at the panama canal
a northbound transit vessel entering into the first set of locks at miraflores
a cruise ship passing the control tower at miraflores locks, heading northbound
a view of the control tower and visitor center from inside miraflores locks
a view of a southbound vessel from the miraflores visitor center

It is important to note that Miraflores Locks was built during the initial construction era over 100 years ago, whereas Agua Clara Locks are only five years old. They are two completely different designs and, therefore, their respective visitor centers deliver different experiences. Each is unique with something special to offer. Electric locomotives, for example, are not utilized in the new set of locks, so you will only see them in Miraflores.

Panama Canal Museum

The museum consists of four exhibits or galleries, each assigned a separate floor; an elevator along the back wall takes you from one to another. All of the exhibitions display descriptive text in both English and Spanish.

The first floor is devoted to the canal's history and initial construction era. Black and white historical pictures canvas the walls, and there is an abundance of artifacts and mini-exhibits relating to that period. The second floor is more open and focuses exclusively on the animal and plant life endemic to the Panama Canal watershed. The third floor revisits the canal and includes a reproduction of one of its lock chambers. Finally, the fourth floor takes a deeper look into the canal's operating procedures and the recent expansion that culminated in 2016.

There is an abundance of intricate miniature models encased in glass enclosures throughout the museum. Most of them represent commercial ships and maintenance/construction vessels that operate in the canal. Their attention to detail is just breathtaking, and you could spend half a day looking at them.

The museum is a must-see for anyone visiting the visitor center. It is well-thought-out, and the presentation is first-rate.

The combination of elevators and staircase should allow you to move quickly and easily between floors. Unless it is overly crowded, getting around should not be a problem. If you need a refreshment, there is a small snack store outside on the ground level, beneath the lower observation deck.

Due to its proximity to the locks, museum, 3D IMAX movie presentation, and open viewing platforms, I prefer the Miraflores Visitor Center to its sibling at Agua Clara Locks. Overall, it is a more comprehensive presentation, and it feels more connected to the canal.

For more information, we recommend you visit their website.

Getting to Miraflores Locks

Google Map - Miraflores Locks Google Map - Albrook Bus Terminal

Buses to Miraflores Locks depart regularly from the Albrook Bus Terminal and take only 15-20 minutes. Buses that read "Miraflores" will take you to the visitor center's entrance, whereas buses that read "Forestal" and "Summit Gardens" will drop you off along the main road passing in front of the locks.

If you take the latter, you will need to walk 5-10 minutes to the visitor's center. From the roadside, walk along the right side of the entrance road; there is a yellow metal railing.

After passing through the entrance gate, continue walking until you cross over the newly built cement bridge; you will see the Miraflores Dam off to your right. Depending on the ocean tide, you may see crocodiles basking in the sun in the shallow water under or near the bridge.

After crossing the bridge, follow the walking path to the left, and proceed until you reach the large staircase/elevator that leads to the main entrance. Do not follow the asphalt road up the hill.

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