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 As you contemplate your next travel adventure or destination, consider the following description:

"During the colonial era, gold and silver bound for Spain were stored at the Caribbean coastal towns of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo. These were once the world’s wealthiest cities, attracting scores of pirates...Today, the ruined city of Portobelo and the nearby fortress of Fuerte San Lorenzo stand as testaments to the faded glory of the Spanish empire." (Lonely Planet, 2014)
Pirates, ruined cities, the is almost like a magic spell, and it is what you will discover when you plan a visit to Colon, Panama.


The Undiscovered Panama

Too often, travelers think strictly of the impressive capital Panama City and the nearby Panama Canal as the must see destinations in Panama. These destinations most certainly have earned their international reputations as ideal place to explore, but there is a lot more to see and do when in Panama. Colon is one of those overlooked areas.
It is both a provincial town and a province. The town itself is mostly an urban area dedicated to the "Zona Libre" or the Free Zone. This was something established in the late 1940s and is today the largest free trade zone in the Americas. More than 1500 companies and banks use this "fortress like" area to enjoy duty free benefits. This does not mean you can head to Colon and do a lot of duty free shopping because most of the companies are not actually established as duty free stores. Instead, they enjoy the benefits of duty free import, export, shipping and receiving.
This makes the urban Colon fairly unappealing, and it is the province that has so much more to offer. "Stretching along the Caribbean coast from Veraguas Province in the west to the Comarca de Kuna Yala in the east, Colón Province is mostly undeveloped and virtually inaccessible, but steeped in a rich, accessible history." (Lonely Planet, 2014)
What you will discover in this province includes some of the finest beaches, rainforests, and even some colonial sites. Many visitors come to Colon for the impressive bird watching opportunities, the snorkeling, or the opportunity to tour quiet ruins. This is also the "quiet" side of the Panama Canal too, and is a great way to visit the locks without a lot of crowds or traffic.
Something that many never realize is that the railroad connecting Panama City to Colon was the first rapid transit opportunity in the Western Hemisphere (before 1869) and that today there is a luxury train that still connects the two cities and which is viewed as one of the loveliest and most appealing rail journeys remaining in the Americas.

Visiting Colon

You can take the train to Colon, but there are also many cruise ships that make a stop as they travel along the canal. Taxis are an option as well, or you can drive easily from Panama City.
There are many parks and statues to see in the city as well as the Free Zone, but most visitors tend to schedule their visit as a series of stops outside of the urban area. Stops at Portobelo, the fortress of Fuerte San Lorenzo, the Gatun Locks, and a guided tour of Centro El Tucan are some of the most popular options. The Canal Observation Center, Fuertes San Fernando and San Jeronimo, and Mirador Peru are also popular options for those exploring Colon.

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