One of the biggest engineering challenges during the construction of the Panama Canal was digging through the mountain ridge at ‘The Culebra Cut’ (The Snake Cut), a curvy stretch of waterway in the middle of the isthmus.
Formerly referred to as the Gaillard Cut (named after Major David du Bose Gaillard who led the excavation), the ground along this 9-mile stretch was extremely unstable. Huge landslides were not uncommon and men lost their lives in dynamite blasts. These setbacks did little to deter Gaillard and his team, however. Their persistence (sheer bloody mindedness!) even attracted American tourists who would come to view the progress from the top of the mountain ridge.
Today, one of the best places for tourists to admire the Culebra Cut is from the top of a 100-foot (30m) high observatory tower in Gamboa.
We decided to check it out when we were staying in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Part of the fun was just in accessing the tower.
The tour starts in an aerial tram, which takes passengers up a 280 foot (85m) hill. As we glided over treetops and through the rainforest canopy our guide pointed out monkeys and toucans. If we were quiet (always hard with kids in tow!) we could even hear the distant beating of drums from one of the nearby Embera indigenous villages.
At the end of the line we were guided along a short jungle path to the foot of the ten-storey Observation Tower. The spiral ramp made it a surprisingly effortless climb, even for our youngest (5-years-old at the time), and from the top we were rewarded with a magnificent Toucan’s eye view of the Corte Culebra.
Culebra Cut Trivia!
Amazingly, more than 100 million cubic yards of soil were removed from the Culebra. The dug out soil was used to build the Gatun dam and also Amador Causeway (for more information, see our post on the BioMuseo)
In 1913 President Wilson detonated the dynamite that would join Gatun Lake with the Culebra Cut, by pushing a button at his desk in Washington DC!
You can book this tour through Gamboa Rainforest Resort, or Viator. The aerial tram is within the grounds of the Gamboa resort.
This tour is guided and can be combined with a number of other tours in Gamboa.
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