While traveling abroad, it is a good idea to do your due diligence prior to packing your bags and heading out on an exploration expedition. Okay maybe not an expedition, but it is a good idea to know your surroundings before hitting the town. Panama is no different. While Panama is among the top-rated countries in the Global Peace Index, there are some parts you may not want to travel alone or avoid altogether. Colón is one of these places.
Colón is Panama’s gateway to the Caribbean and serves as the main port of entry. The city is notorious for high crime rates, so walking around, (especially alone) is not advisable. Colón is a port town in very poor condition, so it usually is not part of a tourist’s itinerary anyhow.
However, if you are a tourist or a businessman and a scenario unfolds where you must stay overnight and will be in the vicinity of the Colón area, not to fret. We have you covered. We will suggest places that are safe in Colón, and attractions you can visit near the city of Colón.
I Must Stay Overnight, What Can I Do in Colón?
It is not surprising that many tourists find themselves having to stay overnight in Colón Panama. For example, an all-day Canal trip with an overnight stay in Colón, with a rail trip back to Panama City the next day does happen. Tourists also find themselves having to stop in Colón as they embark on cruise ships to the Caribbean and beyond.
If you are a tourist or a businessman and for whatever reason, a situation arises in which staying overnight in Colón is a must, there are a couple of things you can do to maximize safety.
Generally speaking, there is a shopping plaza and cruise ship port, Colón 2000, and as long as you do not venture off from this area, you will be safe. The Plaza is guarded by private guards and Panamanian Police, so safety is ensured. We suggest dispensing some cash from an ATM and stocking up on food and everyday supplies at the plaza. The plaza has a Super 99 grocery store and two restaurants. The plaza also contains souvenir shops. If you must run some errands and gather some supplies, Colón 2000 is a safe area where you can do so.
What About Hotel Options in Colón?
The city center of Colón is home to numerous modern hotels and several colonial mansions that have been turned into hotels, with a lot of charm may we add. Fortunately, both hotel options are well equipped with security and amenities. The Larger hotel options include Radisson Colón 2000 Hotel & Casino, the Sand Diamond Hotel, and the Hotel Internacional Colón.
The city center itself is prominent with crime and is not safe to walk at night, so caution is heavily advised.
I Want to Go Out and Explore, What Can I Do?
We are also not suggesting, by any stretch of the imagination, that you should remain cooped up in your hotel all day, longing to go out (this would be preposterous). While Colón itself is dangerous and we do not walk around the port city, there is plenty to be seen and done, safely may I add, in the surrounding area.
Agua Clara Locks
To the west of Colón, you will find the new Agua Clara locks and the visitor’s viewing area of the new Canal expansion. Here, you can walk across a bridge situated in front of the locks and walk between North and South America in a matter of minutes as the canal is considered by many to be the connecting source!
You will also find the Fort San Lorenzo, located on the Chagres River, which was ordered to be built by King Phillip II in 1595. The fortress will give you a commanding view of the mouth of the river and an amazing view of the sea, miles out.
On the Caribbean side of Panama, west of San Lorenzo Nation Park, you will find Achieto Road. Achieto Road is one of Panama’s best bird watching locations, and home to more than 300 exotic bird species. Bird watching is primarily done along the Achiote Road on foot, or slowly driving on the way during the morning hours. The experience will provide first-class and in-depth bird watching while you take in the breath-taking scenery.
Some parts of the excursion will be done by hiking on one of CEASPA’ s (local NGO) trails in search of glimpses of exotic species such as White-headed and Stripe-breasted Wrens, and Montezuma Oropendolas.
There are several tour guide opportunities available, so we suggest calling ahead for transportation arrangements.
An hour east of Colón, there is Portobelo, a port city and beach village on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Portobelo was once the greatest Spanish port city in Central America, and as such, fortunately for us has retained its beauty. The city thrives on fishing, agriculture, and tourism. Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities to get out and do fun touristic things here as opposed to the stark contrast of Colón.
Portobelo offers snorkeling, shopping, and a couple of excellent restaurants including La Torre and Los Cañones. With clear Caribbean waters and numerous coral reefs, Portobelo Bay is a pure paradise for those wanting to snorkel and dive.
One of the attractions while visiting Portobelo, is visiting Portobelo National Park. The national park is home to the ruins of five Spanish forts, a restored treasure house. While the scenery is top-notch and historical, after taking in the scenery and landscape, we suggest bringing along all the picnic essentials to enjoy a nice lunch and a cooler with wine, beer, and favorite rum for a wonderful time.
Fuerte Santiago or Fort Santiago is one of the sites you can visit. Fuerte Santiago was referred to as the ‘reef rock’ by the Spanish and its walls are up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) high. The fort’s ruins include artillery sheds, officer’s headquarters, and watchtowers. Plenty of photo opportunities and historical facts to be learned!
Venturing off into the Caribbean, in just a short 10-minute boat ride you will reach a beautiful island just off the coast of Portobelo. Boat rides leaving from port Puerto Lindo often will soon bring you to your much-anticipated destination, Isla Mamey.
Isla Mamey is a quaint and tranquil destination flaunting its white sands and beautifully lined rows of coconut palm trees facing the ocean. The charming island features turquoise pristine warm waters, where you can snorkel amongst the coral reefs and observe exotic fish. Your best bet will be to make this trip during the week, as the island will be mostly yours! On the weekends, the island is host to hundreds of beachgoers.
One thing to note is that the island does not have a restaurant. We suggest bringing along a cooler packed with refreshments and lunch for the day to enjoy the island to the fullest. If escaping into a quiet and relaxing paradise sounds like the better plan, Isla Mamey awaits!
Driving past Portobelo, you will reach La Guaira, a small harbor located right in front of Isla Grande. Isla Grande is accessible by a quick five-minute boat ride where clear waters and green lush vegetation awaits.
Isla Grande features a floating rum bar. The bar, as you may have guessed, includes all of your favorite rum cocktails and more. Just say the word and a boat will gladly escort you to the floating bar destination, free of any extra charge.
Once there, you can continue to take advantage of amazing views and clear swimming water. The bar also caters to your every water frolicking needs. A rope swing and a top floor to dive off of are on deck. All in all, the bar will accommodate a fun atmosphere with its lively music, swings, and hammocks.
If you want to escape Colón for a day, this is the perfect spot for you. Isla Grande is a pristine Caribbean island with several eco-lodges and resorts to choose from. Isla Grande is also a reputable spot for surfing, so bring your board and get ready to catch some waves.
Let’s Make the Most of Colón!
We understand that the first mention of an overnight stay in the city of Colón may stir up emotions of concern. However, there are plenty of options available both in the city of Colón and in surrounding towns to maximize and ensure your safety.
There are plenty of options to venture out of Colón (while remaining in Colón Province), that will allow you to travel and sightsee a little bit more. The next time you are in Colón, we hope that you take advantage of sight-seeing and some of the activities we’ve laid out for you.
The notion of tipping is based on rewarding good service. Tipping, which is called “propina” in Panama, similarly works under the same basic principle. If you find a service truly helpful and...
Spending the weekend with your family or loved ones is one of the best ways to take a break and escape the routine that makes life dull and boring. While you can easily do so creatively by simply...