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Colón Cruises

Colón, Panama

About Colón, Panama

Panama’s “second city” (after Panama City), Colón lies near the Panama Canal’s Atlantic entrance. Though named after Christopher Columbus by descendants of Spaniards, the city was founded in 1850 by Americans and called Aspinwall, after the promoter of railroads there. During the California gold rush, prospectors from the eastern United States sailed here, rode the rails across the narrow isthmus of Panama, then sailed up the Pacific coast, believing the journey easier than traversing the entire United States by horse and wagon. The US transcontinental railroad put an end to those voyages.

The city was originally established exclusively on the marshy islet of Manzanillo Island, surrounded by coastal bays and the Folks River. Its economy prospered greatly during construction of the Panama Canal in the early 20th century. When the Panama Canal Zone was relinquished to the Panamanians, the city limits extended to encompass the former US Army base of Fort Gulick and several former Canal Zone towns.

Colón Lifestyle and Culture

Native tribes maintain a strong presence in this northern corner of Panama. In the city’s rural reaches, the indigenous Emberá people, descended from ancient tribes, live in thatched-roof huts, travel by dugout canoe and weave traditional baskets. A visit to an Emberá village provides a rare glimpse of pre-Columbian life in Panama.

Modern-day Colón is home to large West Indian, Arab and South Asian populations, and also retains the rich culture exported here from Spain. Its music, art and traditions echo back many generations, made more vibrant by African and Native American influences, from ceremonial masks and woodcarvings to delicious cuisine. During public holidays, women dance in colorful and flowing pollera dresses and men don traditional montunos, dark pants, a crisp collarless shirt and a small woven hat.

Colón Sights and Landmarks

The Panama Canal is the main draw for visitors to Colón, and it’s just as fascinating to watch it in action from the land as from your ship. The viewing center at the Gatún Locks provides a front-row seat to the two-hour process that floods the lock and raises ships to meet the next water level. For a view of the canal’s recent expansion project, head to the Agua Clara Visitor Center, where a theater and exhibits provide a fascinating overview.

In the city proper, follow the twin white bell towers to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This stunning neo-Gothic structure, with its arched doorways and windows and fine details, stands as an extraordinary example of Spanish colonial architecture.

Nearby, the sleepy town of Portobelo was once defended by Spain with several fortresses. Fort San Jerónimo is the largest on the bay. Its 18 cannons still point out to the water, just as the Spanish positioned them last in 1821 when Panama won its independence. Fort Santiago, with walls made of coral, provides further insight into the city’s defenses.

Colón Entertainment and Activities

Nearby, the sleepy town of Portobelo was once defended by Spain with several fortresses. Fort San Jerónimo is the largest on the bay. Its 18 cannons still point out to the water, just as the Spanish positioned them last in 1821 when Panama won its independence. Fort Santiago, with walls made of coral, provides further insight into the city’s defenses.

While you’re in Portobelo, admire the Real Aduana de Portobelo, the Customs Houses where pilfered gold was counted and stored before being shipped back to the king. And visit the last structure that Spain built before the Crown left Panama, the Church of San Félipe. Its venerated Black Christ statue is said to perform miracles.

Colón Restaurants and Shopping

Panamanian cuisine blends foods and techniques from Spanish, African and Native American cultures. Tropical fruits, vegetables and native herbs figure strongly at the dining table, bringing bright flavors to a diet of maize, rice, wheat, plantains, meat and seafood.

Within Colón’s gated port area, sample local comfort food at Arrecifes, a modest eatery where Caribbean seafood gets a criollo treatment with stewed onions, peppers and tomatoes. If you visit Fort San Jerónimo, you might stop by El Palenque at the Casa Congo. Al fresco dining on the bay complements its fish and plantain dishes.

Within Colón’s gated port area, sample local comfort food at Arrecifes, a modest eatery where Caribbean seafood gets a criollo treatment with stewed onions, peppers and tomatoes. If you visit Fort San Jerónimo, you might stop by El Palenque at the Casa Congo. Al fresco dining on the bay complements its fish and plantain dishes.