SUP in the Panama Canal: the Lower Chagres River to the Caribbean Sea – October 12, 2014
I was up before the rooster started crowing this morning so I could be at Joe’s house in La Boca by 5 am. We were going to be meeting with 5 other SUP aficionados to paddle the lower Chagres River. Everyone had arrived by 6 am and we loaded the ‘Super Deportes’ van with 7 SUP’s.
The trip across the isthmus was smooth as we headed for the Gatun Locks. On the way to the Gatun locks we passed a strange sight off in the distance. It was the new lock gates for the Panama Canal expansion, which were standing proudly in a field like great monoliths of the 21st Century.
The bridge on the Atlantic / Caribbean / Other side of Panama is located within the Gatun Locks at sea level. When crossing at this site you can almost be guaranteed that you will have to wait to cross. The wait can be troublesome if you are in a hurry but we had time and it was early. We only had to wait a few minutes as the large ocean going vessels passed through the locks either headed towards Gatun Lake and the Pacific or exiting the canal and moving into the Caribbean.
The green light flashed to indicate the bridge was open and the horns started honking as the train of cars/vans/buses/taxis moved forward and into the locks of the Panama Canal. We crossed over, hung a left and headed for the Spillway that sits at the top of the lower Chagres River. We unloaded all the boards, attached fins, Go Pros, water bottles and a waterproof stereo and we were off down the river.
The paddling was smooth and the conditions were ideal. The jungle was all around us and the sights and sounds were omnipresent. The howling of the monkeys and the chatter of any number of bird species was spectacular. The first part or 7/8 km of the river winds like a serpent through the jungle. The last 4 km or so is a very straight river bed that allows you to see the Caribbean Sea and Fort San Lorenzo on the cliffs as you approach the mouth of the river. You can paddle across a small bay and cruise under the cliffs which are topped by Fort San Lorenzo. You can imagine the history that this area holds.