The second largest city in Panama, Colon is the country’s gateway to the Carribean sea. Founded by the government of the United States in 1850, it was the hub of the Panama Railroad with the intention of creating a fast track to California during the California Gold Rush. Named Aspinwall by the American immigrants that inhabited the city, the Panamaians called the city Colon after Christopher Columbus.
Destroyed many times throughout its history, the city has been burned down and rebuilt up to four times until finally establishing itself as a city for emigres as well as Panamaians themselves. Today, the city is known as the centre of Panama’s Carribean coast, as well as a great central heart for tourists to radiate out and explore the immediate surrounding beauty of the country. What people do not realize is that Colon is the best place in Panama’s Carribean coast to explore the entire country!
What is Colon Panama known for?
Colon is most famously known for being the Carribean side of the Panama Canal. This already brings people from all over the world to the area to marvel at the ships passing through as well as the power of human innovation.
The city is also known for its famous natural sights as well as historical forts and different cultural influences for such a diverse city.
Is Colon Panama dangerous?
While most areas in Panama are relatively safe, it is with great importance to exercise the utmost caution when visiting any city in Latin America, due to the instability of the region. Colon, Panama is no exception. A high degree of vigilance is recommended as Colon is a major port city and with a diverse population and economy, there is bound to be a criminal underworld. Do not walk around the city alone, especially if you look out of place or flash money around. It is best to blend in or travel with groups of people or with a local as this is the best way to guarantee safety.
Read our detailed guide: Safety in Panama
Is Colon worth visiting?
Colon is a special place as this is an excellent starting point to visit the less travelled by, beautiful Carribean portion of Panama. The amount of natural wonders is astronomical, and the things to do around the city is great for people who are interested in group activities and excursions that require a lot of social interaction, networking and making friends.
What to do in Colon?
The Panama Canal
It’s time to visit what people flock to from around the world — The Panama Canal. Named the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, this narrow stretch of water is a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. This link between North and South America is nothing to joke about, as this is the most important point of travel in the economic sector, and the overwhelmingly vast majority of our shipping goes through this small stretch of water.
Built in 1904, the canal was opened in 1914 under the control of the United States, and was not transferred to Panama until 1999. Panamanians were not even allowed to enter the area! This shows the sacrifices that the people of this country had to go through for the sake of progress and innovation!
It is worth noting that the surrounding rainforest is also an amazing place to take in the natural sights, as it is largely thanks to the rainforest that the Panama Canal makes ecological sense to maintain and in part, its water fills the locks to service the many boats that pass through. This is why the surrounding rainforests of the Panama Canal are maintained to near-perfect conditions and are vehemently protected.
Also read: What to do in Rio Hato
Fort San Lorenzo
About 8 miles west of Colon lies Fort San Lorenzo. This historical fort serviced the village of Chagres. This was once the chief port of call in Panama, now an abandoned village. Built by the Monarchy of Spain, this fort is pronounced as a stopover for the gold route during the rainy season, facilitating it to be an extremely wealthy port town. Eventually, due to its vast riches, the village and the fort was subject repeatedly to pirate attacks until it was raided by the corporate entity run by Sir Henry Morgan, a plantation owner. After frequent handovers, it was finally given back to the Spanish where it had a pronounced vitality during the California Gold Rush and was used frequently by the Americans as a trading post. The introduction of trains in the region brought forth the villages of Chagres as well as a fort to fall out of favour, and eventually led to its decline and derelict state. In 1980, the fort and town were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Today, you can visit both the village and the fort, and from there, you can explore the history and the importance of the area to Spanish Colonists, Pirates, and the American traders. The ruins can also provide good context on how important it was, and still is, to protect transatlantic trade. This is also where you can get a fantastic view of the mouth of the Chagres River, a historical trade route that is still used today.
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Fort San Lorenzo
Gatun Lake is a freshwater lake that services a major component of the Panama Canal. This is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, and provides 32.7 km of the waterway. This lake was also commissioned as a reservoir to provide driving water to the cities of Colon and Panama City, as the rainwaters from the forests provide a watershed that is naturally cleaned and sanitized to provide this water despite its use by ships. A short drive from Colon, you are able to view the pure majesty of this lake and as well as admiring the Panama Canal, you can admire this massive lake as a testament to human innovation. This is also a centre of recreational fishing in the area. You can fish for many different types of fish, both native and invasive with fish even originating from the Amazon River!
Visit the nearby Soberania National Park for a quick excursion through the natural wonders of the country as well as viewing the extremely dynamic biodiversity. Here, you can view sloths, tapirs, and pumas. The park covers 55,000 acres. This is an extremely popular area for birdwatching, with some 525 bird species perching or whizzing around the forest. There are 105 species of mammals which also include the Panamanian night monkey with extremely unique trills, as well as astonishing methods of communication that are studied intensively!
Where to next: How to get from Colon to Panama City