The tree-lined shores, tiny islets, and blue-green waters of Gatún Lake (Lago Gatún) cover what was once the fertile Chagres River Valley. When it was created in 1913, Gatún Lake was the largest man-made lake, buttressed by the biggest dam, in the world. Today, it forms an integral part of the famous Panama Canal.
Gatún Lake eco cruises explore islands and lakeside villages before continuing along the Chagres River or the Panama Canal. Zip around the lake on a motorboat, take a small-boat tour to Monkey Island, or kayak around the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. A full-day Gatún Lake tour from Panama City may also include a hike through Chagres National Park, a stop at the Miraflores Locks or the Gatún Locks Visitor Center, or a visit to the indigenous villages of Soberanía National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Outdoor activities on the lake include freshwater fishing, waterskiing, and even scuba diving.
- Wear layered clothing—even when it’s hot on land, it can get chilly out on the water.
- Some boat cruises are wheelchair accessible, but it’s best to check in advance.
How to Get There
The main gateway to Gatún Lake is Colón on the Atlantic coast, from which regular buses and taxis make the short trip to the Gatún Locks. Most tours set out from Panama City on the Pacific coast, an hour away by road.
When to Get There
Gatún Lake cruises run all year round, but the main cruise season is October to April. For the best views of the Panama Canal, avoid visiting between midday and 2pm, when the canal changes direction and no boats pass through the locks.
Wildlife Watching on Gatún Lake
The Panama rainforest that surrounds Gatún Lake is renowned for its biodiversity. Common sightings include capuchin, tamarin, and howler monkeys; iguanas; and a huge variety of exotic birds. As you cruise around the islands, look out for three-toed sloths hanging in the trees, crocodiles lounging by the lakeside, colorful toucans swooping overhead, and perhaps even coati and agouti darting along the shores.