By: Victoria

Panama with kids: the extension locks at Agua Clara Visitor Centre

The Agua Clara Visitor Centre



What is the Agua Clara Visitor Centre?

Panama with kids: Agua Clara Visitor Centre kids playground

The kids’ playground at The Agua Clara Visitor Centre


Located in Colón province at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal, the Agua Clara Visitor Centre offers visitors an unobstructed view of the new extension locks and Gatun Lake. The centre is spread over four hectares and includes covered observation decks, a projection room (screening a film on the history of the canal), a restaurant, a coffee shop, a gift shop, a kids’ playground and a short nature trail.


What are the extension locks?

Panama with kids: construction of the extension locks

The construction of the extension locks


Also known as the Third Set of Locks, the extension locks form part of a new lane of traffic that allow larger vessels to transit through the locks. In theory they also allow smaller boats to pass in opposite directions simultaneously.

We visited the centre when the locks were still under construction and stood on on the observation decks with our jaws hanging. The Herculean size of the site made the workers and cranes look like pieces of lego. Controversially behind schedule and 1 billion dollars over budget, the locks were originally scheduled to open in 2014 to coincide with the existing canal’s 100th anniversary. The locks were eventually opened in June 2016. When put into perspective, a two year delay on a nine year project pales in comparison with the problems the original construction faced.



What are Panamax and Neo-Panamax ships?

Panama with kids: the extension locks at Agua Clara Visitor Centre

Spying on all the canal’s construction workers


Each lock has a set of dimensions that limit the length, width and depth of a ship transiting through it. A Panamax ship can safely pass through the original locks and a Neo-Panamax can pass through the newly widened expansion locks. Ships that were previously too big to pass through the original locks were referred to as Post-Panamax.



What’s in it for kids?

Ours (aged 6 & 7 years at the time) simply enjoyed the freedom of running around in a large grassy complex. They also had fun spying on all the construction workers via the large binoculars on the observation decks. Now that the locks are in action with ships passing through, I expect it’s a great way for kids to learn about the concept of a ‘water staircase’. There is also a small kids’ playground perfectly position next to the cafe. Regrettably we didn’t have time to do the short rainforest trail but I expect that would be worth exploring too if visiting the centre with kids.



5 Fun Facts about the Expansion Locks for Kids 

Panama with kids: the agua clara visitor centre. Views of Gatun Lake

Views of Gatun Lake to the south of the locks


  1. The locks were built using 4.4 million cubic metres of concrete. That’s the equivalent of filling 1760 Olympic sized swimming pools!
  2. 192,000 tons of steel was used in the construction. That’s enough to build 19 Eiffel Towers!
  3. The locks’ chambers measure 1400ft / 427m in length. That’s a little taller than the Empire State Building in New York!
  4. The overall project cost USD 5.25 billion. You could buy over six-and-a-half million iPads with that!
  5. The gates for the locks were built in Italy and each weigh approximately 3200 tons. That’s the equivalent in weight of 400 large African elephants!


Panama with kids: One of the new lock gates being transported up the canal

One of the new lock gates being transported up the canal


One afternoon when I was picking up the children from school I spotted one of the new gates floating down the canal and ran to snap a photo. Admittedly the kids were less impressed!


Panama Canal: On 21 June 2016 the first ship transits through the new locks and down the canal towards the Pacific

On 21 June 2016 the first ship transits through the new locks and down the canal towards the Pacific


The Chinese ship named ‘Cosco Shipping Panama’ with a container carrying capacity of 9472 containers was the first Neo-Panamax to transit through the locks on 26 June 2016. My husband took this photo of the ship (top right corner) from the top of Ancon Hill at the Pacific end of the canal.


Agua Clara Visitor Centre Opening hours

Agua Clara Visitor Centre
8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Tickets available from 8:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Snack bar and gift shop
8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Open from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Nationals & Residents

Adults B/.5.00
Students with ID from monday to wednesday B/.2.00
Retirees – Show ID B/.2.50
Children (between 6 and 12) B/.2.00

Non Residents

Adults B/.15.00
Children (between 6 and 12) B/.10.00

We combined our visit with a tour of San Lorenzo fort and lunch in Hotel Marina at Shelter Bay.



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