Traveling by Train in Panama
Although much older than the famous canal, the Panama Rail Road never enjoyed the same recognition. The maiden voyage across the Isthumus of Panama in 1855 was the first train to run from ocean to ocean. Its significance was lost, however, just four decades later when the U.S. opened a route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Today a train ride along the old line is a treat for tourists.
Ever since it opened for commercial operations in 1914, the Panama Canal has been greatly beneficial to the economy in Central America. Eighty-two kilometers long, it meant goods could be shipped from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast much faster; a single journey could be reduced by a good three weeks. From 1914 until 1979 the canal was under the control of the United States. For two decades it was then jointly controlled by the US and Panama and in 1999 full control was given to Panama. This incredible feat of engineering is the pride and joy of its citizens and generates around 40% of the national income. But before the canal, the Panama railway was the first to affectively connect the Atlantic with the Pacific. Today, 77-kilometre route between Balboa harbor in Panama City and the port of Cristóbal on the Atlantic is used to transport both freight and passengers. The panorama cars offer tourists a unique view of the canal. On the small islands off the Caribbean coast, they can also visit the Kuna, an indigenous people with a unique way of life. The Casco Viejo, the historic quarter of Panama City, is also well-worth a stopover.