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“Short though sweet step back in time.” 4 of 5 stars
Review of Panama Canal Railway

Panama Canal Railway
Panama City, Panama
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Ranked #14 of 59 Attractions in Panama City
Type: Scenic Railroads, Outdoors
Activities: Group tours/train
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Attraction details
Fee: Yes
Recommended length of visit: 2-3 hours
Owner description: This tour on the newly restored Panama Canal Railway, the western hemisphere's first transcontinental railroad, follows the east bank of the canal that offers excellent views of the waterway and rainforests along its shoreline.
Panama City, Panama
12 reviews 12 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 7 cities Reviews in 7 cities
10 helpful votes 10 helpful votes
“Short though sweet step back in time.”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed April 14, 2013

This was an expensive treat -$25 for a one-way, one hour ride. Being a train freak, not one I could resist. Plus, I didn't know in advance how short in would be - literature on the trip being sparse. (There is a scant website, if memory serves.)
Traveling just twice a day, once at some ridiculously early hour in the a.m., the train traverses from Panama City to Colon and returns as day turns into night. There were as many working folk as tourists, and not too many of either, on the sunset run I took back from Colon to P.C. The passenger car is added to a true working train involved in the enlargement of the canal.
At some point this special car was beautifully renovated in wood with brass details, new carpeting and a dome roof for those who want extra light. I visited the dome, but stayed in the bar car. (Warning: if you really want a drink, you might want to bring your own. They had three airline size bottles for me to choose from and some beers. I don't mean three samples, I mean that was all that was on board, along with coffee.)
Another tour were dubious and nervous for me as they dropped me off at the Colon station since I had about a 45 min wait, but as long as you stay right there - zero facilities - you will be fine. It's a bad part of town to go aroaming, especially on one's own. We left the depot directly on time at 5 p.m.. I was the only English speaker, so the universal language of the smile was my fall back. The two young gals tending bar, though mostly just there to look pretty, spoke enough to get me a rum & coke and that was that.
The journey is a mere 50 miles and in the back of my mind I thought we'd be mirroring the canal, but after leaving risky Colon we headed away towards land, river and lakes, at one point with water on both sides of the train. Most of the way was through jungle and rain forest and it was no surprise when the sky darkened and the rains poured down. I did get chilly, having forgotten a thicker jacket for this section of my day. Amazingly, this is nearly all artificially created, an attempt to make up for the deforestation caused by the impact of the canal and urban sprawl I would guess.
As the train chugs along at exactly the right rhythm and speed with lakes, hillside terrain and occasional construction work increasing as we neared P.C. I was so comfortable I could have easily gone a couple more hours despite the drizzle and at times the misty cover that made visibility impossible. However in that tropical fashion, it was pitch black by the time we were back in the City, so would not have been much point anyway.
I went to the bathroom in the station, which was an error as most of the little stalls were shut up tight by the time I exited a few minutes later. So if you must go, go after you've done any shopping that is train related!
A couple of taxis were waiting outside in the dark as they locked the building up tight. I argued price with one of the drivers and finally found one to take me back for a reasonable sum. Probably not such a good idea when that sort of isolation sets in. Learn from my errors, especially if you're a woman alone!

Visited May 2012
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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271 reviews from our community

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English first
Senior Contributor
39 reviews 39 reviews
12 attraction reviews
Reviews in 15 cities Reviews in 15 cities
18 helpful votes 18 helpful votes
“Absolute waste of time”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed March 21, 2013

You don't even get a good look at the canal or the Culebra Cut or anything really. I might as well have been traveling on the Vermonter to New York City...just another trip on a train. Nothing special even though the history of the Panama Canal Railway is interesting.

Visited March 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Calgary, Canada
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
4 attraction reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
“Nice Scenery”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 16, 2013

We took the ride from Panama City to Colon. The tickets go on sale about an hour before the train leaves. Everyone gets their ticket and rushes to get in the observation car. We had trouble getting a seat in there as it was reserved for a group, but we insisted, and were given two seats, Coffee is served almost immediately but eat before you get there. Passengers are given a snack box but not until you get off in Colon.I don't know if they sell tickets in advance but get them of you want to browse the gift shop. They have some cool stuff but you may not get the seat you want if you stop to shop. There are bathrooms on board. Be sure to have a plan when you arrive in Colon. It is not a place you want to wander around on your own. We took Rudy's Tours. He dropped us off at the train station in Panama, drove ahead to Colon, picked is up there, took us to the Gatun Locks and San Lorenzo, and drove us back to Panama City. It was great.The train from Colon doesn't return until dinner time.

Visited March 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Fredonia, Ny
Senior Contributor
45 reviews 45 reviews
31 attraction reviews
Reviews in 13 cities Reviews in 13 cities
16 helpful votes 16 helpful votes
“Panama Canal Railway”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 15, 2013

Very neat experience to be on the Atlantic Ocean in the morning and the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon of the same day!

Visited March 2013
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Contadora Island, Panama
Senior Contributor
44 reviews 44 reviews
12 attraction reviews
Reviews in 14 cities Reviews in 14 cities
48 helpful votes 48 helpful votes
“Crossing the Isthmus”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 12, 2013

We have lived in Panama for 9 years and crossing the Isthmus on the train has been on our bucket list since we got here. It took having visitors who also wanted to do this to get us on the train. The ride was beautiful and very comfortable. The viewing car was fully taken up with a tour group and that did not matter because they have large clean windows in every car so you see the same view. Once we got to Colon we hired a driver - checked 2 out and preferred one over the other - and hired him for the day for $130 to take us to Portobello because our company wanted to see the ruins. We enjoyed that and then returned to Colon. I would not recommend spending time in Colon - it has obviously been a boom and bust city too many times and right now it is in a bust. I read that there are plans to upgrade it soon. Puzzles me that they have not already because cruise ships arrive and depart from Colon. They could gentrify it relatively easy in some areas by starting with the parks and center of town where it would not take too much to return the previous avenues to attractive with healthy gardens and provide sufficient security. There is no train station buidling in Colon - the train just ends there so do not let your driver drop you off until 4.30 pm when they open the gates to let you onto the train. The area felt too unsafe to be standing around looking like tourists. This is something that the town of Colon could also change very easily. The guard on the gate should be able to let people traveling on the train in and there should be benches on the platform for them to sit and to wait out of the sun. We enjoyed the ride back and another option would have been to plan ahead and have a bus trip back.

Visited February 2013
Was this review helpful? Yes 4
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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