Crystal clear water beaches, colonial forts and good people who always welcome you with a smile
It is a province rich in history and has an incomparable landscape. It has a warm weather with temperatures between 24º and 30º C throughout the year.
Colon Province has generated enormous wealth since the times of the Spanish Colony. Today it continues to do so with the Colon Free Zone, international ports (among the largest on the continent) and natural wonders that are increasingly being integrated for tourism experiences that will leave you wanting to return.
Here you can enjoy Caribbean culture, gastronomic delights, the joy of calypso music and its traditional Congo dance, declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Renovation of Colon City
The capital of the province is a city that hides a history like few others in the region. One of the most remembered is that the former President Peron of Argentina met his wife and future world leader Evita Peron in one of the many theaters that the city had, also Albert Einstein on one of his journeys, or even the arrival of Queen Elizabeth of England on her first official trip outside her country at the beginning of her reign. These are several of many more stories that, together with human development, are the reasons for the execution of the city renovation project that is so important for the country.
This project that began in 2015 aimed at promoting downtown Colon, betting on social development, urban reorganization and improvement of the quality of life.
The improvements in all the infrastructures achieved in its first stage was the recovery of open spaces, avenues and buildings with historical value. They also recovered spaces and avenues in the Old Town of Colon, and created a 7-hectare marine promenade, where children, adults and tourists can enjoy multi-sport courts, bike lanes, children’s games and new green areas.
When you visit Colon, enjoy these spaces that a city full of good people and history that has left its mark on the continent gives you. You will witness the recovery process of one of the best planned cities in the American continent.
Fuerte San Lorenzo
Located near the mouth of the Chagres River, the remains of the mighty Fort San Lorenzo are surrounded by the sparkling Caribbean Sea and more than 30,000 acres of protected rainforest in the Panama Canal watershed. In order to protect the entrance and exit of the main route to the Americas, the Spanish King Felipe II ordered the construction of the fort in 1598, with little effect. In fact, between the years 1596-1740, the fort was under almost constant attack by now-famous pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan, and the English Admiral Edward Vernon.
Recognized today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the massive fortress was built by the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli and is considered an extraordinary example of 17th and 18th century military architecture. When you visit, take some time to wander through the majestic ruins and imagine what life might have been over 400 years ago when pirates and enemy ships had their eyes on San Lorenzo. You will be able to walk through the same corridors of the colonial era and see the heavy cannons that are behind the walls. You will also enjoy the impressive views of the Chagres River and the Caribbean Sea.
How to get there:
The trip from Panama City to San Lorenzo will take approximately one hour and twenty minutes by car, crossing the bridge over the Panama Canal in the Atlantic.
In a sector called Costa Arriba de Colon, on the beautiful blue coasts of the Caribbean, you will find Portobelo, a town small in size but giant in history. This city was the largest colonial port in Central America and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1597, the beautiful bay of Portobelo had become the main crossing point for goods between Europe and America. From here, the gold of Peru was sent to Spain. Due to the frequent circulation of valuables in the area, this city became a regular target for historical pirates such as Henry Morgan and Francis Drake, who attacked the city and took the port several times throughout the seventeenth century.
When you come, you will see that there are still remains of colonial forts that protected from invading pirates. Starting with Fort Santiago, where the cannons still point towards the entrance to the bay and the views from its bastions, are some of the best in the city. The largest fort in Portobelo is San Jeronimo, which has 8 cannons, a few watchtowers, and an officer’s quarters that you can explore. Two other nearby forts are San Fernando and San Fernandino, in the hills surrounding Portobelo. If you want to see models of the forts, as well as reproductions of the weapons from the colonial era, you should visit the Royal Customs House built in 1630 and which is being renovated to be reopened at the end of 2022.
When you visit, try the delicious Afro-Caribbean cuisine, characterized by flavorful ingredients and spices, such as curry, coconut, fresh seafood and local vegetables. You will also learn about the unique song and dance of the Congo culture, and learn about Portobelo’s most revered religious figure, the Nazarene or Black Christ. This life-size wooden sculpture full of mystery (several miracles have been attributed to it) washed up on the shores of Portobelo and was picked up by a fisherman, although its exact origin is still unknown. You can see it in person at Iglesia San Felipe, built in 1814.
How to get there:
From Panama City, you can get there by car in approximately two hours, through the Panama-Colon highway, exiting at Sabanitas. Entering through the street of this same town, you go directly to Portobelo.
The Congos is a culture, musical genre and Afro-colonial dance concentrated mainly in the Costa Arriba of Colon province, which is characterized by a violent and erotic expression when dancing, almost always associated with a kind of mime and theatrical representation, which has thematic historical episodes of the infamous black trade, of slavery and the consequent black rebellions during the times of conquest and colonialism. It is also considered the oldest drum genre and dance of the Isthmus of Panama.
Its origins go back to 1514, when blacks began to arrive, brought from West Africa, to work on the plantations in Panama. Starting in 1523, the arrival of men and women from Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and the Congo, mainly, was systematized.
The form of communication used by the blacks of that time, and which is still cultivated by the Congos, is the greeting with the feet and speaking backwards, mixing Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. They used to meet in their “palenques”, where they danced, played and satirized the white oppressor, for whom they felt hatred and resentment, music being a means of relief, but also nostalgia for their roots. Also, it was a way of making fun of the ecclesial structure of the time, which told them that if they did not obey the master, the devil would take them away. From this, derives the personification of the souls and the devil in the Congo baptism.
Congo is danced barefoot, due to the relationship between black people and the land. The dance, a mixture of movements, percussion and strong sounds, colors, dresses and masks, myths, magic and songs, are a fervent sample of the ancient African roots that have survived through countless generations, preserved to this day through one of the most representative traditions of Colon province, where the population is predominantly African-American.
Things to Do
Go to Congo dance classes. The Escuelita del Ritmo located in Portobelo offers free classes every Saturday for all who wish to learn this ancestral dance from Colon. Information: www.laescuelitadelritmo.org/.
Take a day to discover the Portobelo National Park riding a horse, a complete different experience surrounded by the most exuberant nature of Colon. You will discover rivers, waterfalls and a natural pool where you can relax. Information: www.portobelotour.com/portobelo-national-park.
Learn how to ride an amphibian board (Anfibia Board) to experience the marine life at Portobelo in an innovative way. An Anfibia Board is a hydrodynamic board with a semicircular shape that will give the sensation of flying effortlessly under the water. You will see coral reefs and all its marine life. Information: www.portobelotour.com/water-tours/anfibia-board/.
Visit the past on a “day tour” to the forts of San Lorenzo and San Jeronimo. You will discover stories of pirates and corsairs in two of the most defensive colonial-era military forts. Information: www.civitatis.com/es/panama-city/excursion-fuertes-san-lorenzo-jernimo/.
Relax doing a shopping “tour” at the Colon Free Zone totally free of taxes. You can buy fine jewelry, appliances, clothes and much more at cheaper prices. The tour ends with a delicious meal at the newly expanded Gatun Locks. Information: viator.com