Think of the Panama Canal, and the image that may come to mind is of the world’s huge tankers and cruise ships passing through a series of locks. That, however, reflects only one aspect of this part of the world. As ships travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic, they also pass colonial towns, historic fortresses and manmade lakes that are today home to sanctuaries for hundreds of different animal and plant species. At the canal’s Pacific entrance, Panama City's glittering skyline of office towers and condominiums reflects the country’s dynamic present and future. Some 77 kilometers (48 miles) to the north, at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, Colón evokes the old Panama of yesteryear, with its historic buildings gradually being restored. Traveling between these two cities, an epic tale unfolds before you—an old-school feat of engineering, ambition and courage. As David McCullough recounts in his sweeping history The Path Between the Seas, it was a combination of sheer human might and engineering prowess that today allows ships to cross the Panama isthmus, saving sailors from making the dangerous, almost 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) journey around the tip of South America.