The Traveling Steve's

Train Excursion on The Panama Canal Railway!

This post continues from the last one about the Panama Canal transit we took in March 2022 on the Caribbean Princess. This post begins the day after the Canal transit, with a shore excursion train ride on The Panama Canal Railway.

The next day we were docked off the coast of Panama City, and had a fun shore excursion planned on the Panama Canal Railroad. As this was a tender port, we had breakfast around 9am, and took the 10am tender to the port of Panama.

Once on the dock, we then boarded a shipboard-chartered tour bus with our group of fellow passengers taking the tour.

We rode the bus across the width of the country of Panama, which was approximately 50 miles across, and took about an hour. Basically we rode the bus over to the Atlantic site of the Panama Canal, near Colón City, and returned to the Pacific side in Panama City via the train. The bus tour guide pointed a few things out along the way, and passed some large informational charts of the Panama Canal around the bus out as we rode along.

The bus ride took us across the width of Panama to the Atlantic side, in some areas more or less paralleling the tracks we would transit on the train ride back to the Pacific side. The ride from the Pacific side of Panama City to the Atlantic side of Colón City took approximately an hour by tour bus.

Tour bus ride from the Pacific side of the Panama Canal to the Atlantic.
Panama City is in the distance across from the water.

The Panama Canal Administration Building, shown below, was built by the United States, and opened one month before the Panama Canal did in 1914. While we didn’t tour it, our guide offered us some interesting trivia, such as the building sits 87 feet high on the hill, which is the elevation of the highest point in the Panama Canal at Gatun Lake. Here’s a link for more information on the Administration Building, which includes photos of the beautiful murals inside.

Continuing on to Colón City went thru several automated tollways on the well paved freeway.

Before reaching the train station, we made a stop at the Agua Clara Welcome Center, (named as it overlooks the new Agua Clara locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal).

Our shipboard lecturer pointed out the new Welcome Center, while we were transiting the Panama Canal the day before. She even made a note of warning to people not to be hanging out naked on their balconies, because all sorts of tourists with zoom lenses will be taking photos of the ship, and you may not want your photo taken in “your birthday suit!” ?LOL!

The new Welcome Center is still under construction in some area, and/or some indoor portions such as the theater are temporarily closed due to COVID, restrictions. The outdoor grounds, however, offer spectacular views of the new locks and the surrounding area, including the observation look-out area we passed by while on the ship shown above. Here we are standing on that observation area looking down at a cargo ship transiting the new Agua Clara Locks.

There is also a playground for children and a nice walkway around the hilltop observation area. There wasn’t (at least not open in March 2022) a deli, restaurant or beverage station, but there were a couple snack and soda vending machines available. There were several informational plaques along the outdoor walkway, showing various phases on the new lock construction, as well as the wildlife that inhabits the Panama Canal property.

Here we are posing for a photo by the Agua Clara sign with our new shipboard friends, Beth and Zoe.

There is also a gift shop (of course) where we got a couple Panama Canal item souvenirs before heading back to the bus.

After the 45 minute stop at the Agua Clara Welcome Center, we drove onward a bit before reaching the train station in Colón, Panama. 

Once we arrived in Colón, Panama, we boarded the Panama Canal Railway in the Dome Car for our return train ride back to Panama City. The train tracks (and train) were not the original ones that were built in 1855, as our guide explained those are now covered by Gatun Lake when that was created. Still, the original train was essential to the building of the Panama Canal, and even taking this newer train allowed you to imagine what it was like over a hundred years ago riding thru the jungles and swamp lands as the Panama Canal was being built. Of course way back then they didn’t have the luxury train of today with a Dome car, and snacks and drinks available.

Bar section of the Dome Car on the lower level of the train.

We really enjoyed the hour train ride back to Panama, and it was interesting getting yet a third perspective on the Panama Canal, first by transiting it in on the Caribbean Princess, second by bus, and finally by the train, each offering different views from different areas, such as these two red-and-white checkered water towers we had spotted from the ship the day before on the sailing transit, as well as on the Emerald Princes transit.

DOS experimenting with our new GoPRO 10 Camera as the train
goes by the two checkered water towers.

DOS and I were in the Dome Car of the train, which only held around 40 people, and offers fantastic views out the windows and even overhead thru the glassed enclosure. Our bus tour guide traveled with us, and narrated the sites along the way from the bar car up front. We started out sitting in the main and larger section of the Dome car as it was a few steps higher up than the bar car and offered better views. The only problem for us was the leg room was a bit tight due to the table arrangement, so we later moved up front to the bar car which had larger but only four tables in it.

Before we moved to the bar car, we were served a snack, and there was an inexpensive cash bar (I mean $2 local beer cheap!), and I had a local brewski with my snack. The snack was served in a cute Panama Canal paper lunch box, which we saved as a souvenir as it had a map of our train route on it. In the diagram you can see in red the railway path we took, while in blue is the actual Panama Canal Route we had sailed. I wish it showed the cross Panama bus route we took in the morning, but we went from Panama City to Colon City, and then railroaded back to Panama City, so somewhere near the train tracks I would imagine. So anyway, between yesterday’s Panama Canal transit, and today’s bus and train excursion, we saw the Panama Canal by ship, bus, and train!

Our lunchbox snack served aboard the train, showing the Panama Canal and Railway routes.

DOS and I later went outside and stood on the platform between the Dome and the regular coach to take some photos. While we had to stand in the small area, it was actually a much better viewing point as there was no reflection in the windows when taking photos.

Later I moved up to the bar section of the Dome Car, and sat with our new shipboard friends Kim and Zoe for the rest of the train trip, while DOS joined us a bit later. We had a couple $2 Panama Lagers along the way and some fun conversation as the train took an hour to return to the station back on the Pacific Side at Panama City.

Well I guess we had too much fun as we got “sssshhhhh’d” (think library voice for be quiet) from the Canadian man in front of us, and telling us to be quiet! Gee, we were sitting in the bar car where conversation is expected (there was a separate and much larger section of the train in the adjacent Dome Car where most people sat with better views) and we were not talking that loudly. The narrator guide was standing mere steps away from him and his wife, with a microphone blaring out mostly repetitive talk from the bus ride to the whole train over loud speakers.

After a few moments we realized this was the same couple that was late for our morning excursion as they missed the earlier tender, holding the entire tour bus tour up for nearly 1/2 an hour.? Without making a confrontation about their earlier tardiness, I made a smirky face selfie to myself and the ladies and I had a good laugh. We continued to talk, but now in an intentional irritating whisper. ? A few moments later, a couple sitting across from us were talking loudly and I nodded my head towards the man in front of us, with a sssshhhh hand held up over my mouth?which made them smile as they knew who I was talking about! ?.

Little things that keep your sanity with the occasional fellow passengers! ?
We’re now whispering quietly so the couple in front of us (who was 1/2 hour late meeting the group this morning) can hear the guide blaring on the microphone five feet away from them in the bar car, while every one else is having fun! ?

Back at the train station, there was a gift shop (of course) which actually had nice and good quality T-shirts among other things at very reasonable prices. DOS bought us each a Panama Canal Railway T-shirt and cap, while I snapped a smiling selfie in front of the train we had just taken.

Debarking the train back in Panama City, and heading back to the bus
via the gift shop entrance. (but of course!)
Gift shop in the large Panama Canal Railway Station, which also held some exhibits and memorabilia.

We then bussed a short distance back to the dock area, where we had to tender one last time back to the Caribbean Princess.

Yes there’s a McDonald’s in Panama City! No we didn’t stop there, but it actually sits adjacent to the original train station terminal there from the 1800s.
Closer view of the McDonald’s by the original train station.
Back at the dock in Panama City, we now had a 15 minute tender ride back to the Caribbean Princess.

I put my camera away when we got back on the ship, but I did manage to take one distant and panoramic photo of Panama City as we sailed away later that afternoon. The last two days we have seen the Panama Canal three different ways: By the full transit on the Caribbean Princess, by busing over from one side of Panama to the other, and finally by train on The Panama Canal Railway. Pretty amazing way to go and see “from Sea to Shining Sea”!

Distant panoramic photo of Panama City as we sail away on the Caribbean Princess.

2 thoughts on “Train Excursion on The Panama Canal Railway!

  1. Roger R.

    When traveling from Colon to Panama City is there a preferred side of the train to sit on. Also when traveling by bus to Colon is there a preferred side of the bus to sit on?

    1. Steve Uno Post author

      Hi Roger, sorry for the delay in responding. We just got back from our first MSC cruise this afternoon, and stayed in the Yacht Club which was amazing. Will write that up this week. As far as the bus train/question, we did the opposite way from Panama City to Colon. We were seated on the bus on the right hand side, and had decent views on the ride to Colon. At least on the bus, we made a couple stops, so we could get off the bus and tour the Aqua Clara Visitor Center, which looks over the New Locks. Highly recommended! On the return trip to Panama (again this will be opposite for you), we sat on the left side, however I would have preferred the right side on the train ride for the better views from Colon to Panama City. The bus ride didn’t see to make as much a difference as we had a couple stops, but the train was nonstop back. The nice thing on the train though is you can wonder throughout the car (there’s a small sitting area in the front by the bar), and towards the back of the car there is an outdoor platform (between the cars) you can stand on for an great view without being blocked by the windows or glare. Either way you go, it’s really a great excursion.

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