Lonely Planet review
The Gatún Dam, which was constructed in 1908 to shore up the Río Chagres and to create Lago Gatún, was the world’s largest earthen dam at the time. Before Lake Mead was formed by the 1936 completion of the Hoover Dam on the Nevada–Arizona (USA) border, Lago Gatún was the world’s largest artificial body of water.
In fact, when Lago Gatún was created, it submerged 262 sq km of jungle, entire villages (which were relocated) and large sections of the Panama Railroad. Today, power generated by the dam drives all the electrical equipment involved in the operation of the Panama Canal, including the locomotives that tow ships through the locks.
Although the sight of the dam is impressive enough, if the spillway is open you can watch millions of gallons of water rushing out. Before going, ask the guard at the entrance to the Gatún Locks if the spillway is open.
If you arrive at the Gatún Locks by bus, then it’s a leisurely 30-minute walk to the dam. To get there, cross over the bridge spanning the Gatún Locks, turn left and follow the road for approximately 2km.