Visit Colon and Panama’s Past
Panama’s Colon Province is rich with history. It has been a Spanish colonial outpost, a rowdy 18th century pirate stronghold, a vital link across the continent during the 19th century Gold Rush, and more recently, the workers’ base during the construction of the Panama Canal. Today, visitors can see reminders of all of those periods as well as sparkling turquoise waters and dense tropical jungle.
Colon at the entrance of the Panama Canal
Colon sits on the Caribbean Sea coast of Panama, at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. A bustling port city of around 200,000 residents and Panama’s second largest city, Colon was founded in 1850 when the Panama railroad was constructed connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, saving the thousands of fortune hunters bound for the California and Alaska gold fields the arduous trek through the Panama jungle. Today, Colon is a popular stop for cruise ships heading for the Panama Canal as well as an historic day trip from Panama City.
One of the most interesting sites near Colon is Portobelo, a former Spanish fort located about twenty miles north of Colon. This once vital Spanish colonial stronghold succumbed to British and pirate attacks in the 17th century, leaving just a small fishing village and some ruins in its wake. Visitors, today, can tour the ruined seaside fort. Many of the original buildings remain, including the original Customs House, the Church of San Felipe, and the huge iron cannons. The picturesque fort was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Fort San Lorenzo
Another important Spanish fort in the area is San Lorenzo, perched high on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the Chagres River, about 25 minutes from Colon. Built in 1595 by order of the Spanish King Phillip II, the fort sits at the edge of the entrance to the Panama Canal. Like its sister fort, Portobelo, San Lorenzo frequently came under attack by pirates, including the infamous Captain Henry Morgan, and British war ships. Eventually, Morgan and his men captured the fort and burnt it to the ground before departing to wreck havoc on Jamaica. The fort was rebuilt in 1761 and remains of these buildings and foundations of the earlier fort are open for visitors. The crumbling ramparts are a sobering foil against the lush green jungle foliage.
Just offshore from Colon is the lush tropical island of Isla Grande. Known throughout the region for its coral reefs and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, this pristine island caters to day-trippers as well as overnight vacationers of all budgets. A few luxury resorts as well as rustic country cabins offer visitors accommodations. The island has no roads and most of the town and tourist facilities are located along the beachfront. The beaches here are made of white, powdery sand and are wide and uncrowded. With only two hundred permanent residents, this is an idyllic spot to kick back and enjoy the tropical flowers, wildlife, and turquoise waters.
Birds and wildlife around Colon
Colon province is known for its wide variety of bird species. Over 350 different types of birds call the jungle and coastlines of this area home for at least part of the year. Bird enthusiasts can take a guided tour into the jungle with one of the area’s trained ornithologists.
Take a trip through Panama’s diverse history with a daytrip to Colon and the surrounding area or spend a night or two amidst the relatively untouched tropical beauty on Isla Grande. Colon has a lot to offer history buffs, watersports enthusiasts, and nature lovers. It’s well worth a visit.