Colón

Colón Panama is our port of call on Good Friday, April 22. Some businesses may be closed for the holiday. The map, below, shows the location of the Colón pier and just a few of the more noteworthy attractions near the Canal.

Top Attractions

The closest attractions to Colón are listed first.

Click to enlarge

Gatun Locks

Gatún Locks – The Gatún locks elevate ships the 26 m (85 feet)  from the Atlantic to the level of Gatún Lake. These locks are closest to Colón and are included in many tours. The Gatún locks have a spectator stand providing a close-up view of the ships going through the three stair-step locks. The day after our Colón visit, Millie will make a full transit of the canal including going through Gatún locks.

Castillo de San Lorenzo at the mouth of Rio Chagres

Castillo de San Lorenzo – This Spanish fort was built in 1597 on the mouth of the Chagres river. Henry Morgan captured the fort in in 1670 and then later sacked Panama city (present day Panama Viejo). To get to the fort, you cross a water-level swing bridge on the north end of the locks. The drive to the fort is about an hour and a half. The Gatún Dam can also be seen as part of a short side-trip.

Ruins of Castillo de San Jerónimo in Portobelo

Portobelo (Beautiful Port) – So named by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Portobelo became a departure point for Spanish  treasure fleets taking plundered riches from South America to Spain. Located 43 km (27 miles) from Colón, Portobelo is less than an hour’s drive from Colón. The main attractions are the ruins of the Castillo de San Jerónimo and the museum in the restored Real Aduana (Royal Customs House).

Lake Gatún and the Panama Canal

Lake Gatún – Lake Gatún is a man-made lake that was created as part of the Panama Canal construction. The creation of this lake was a key success factor in of the American canal design versus the failed French sea-level canal project. Creation of Lake Gatún significantly reduced the amount of earth to be moved and tamed the seasonal flooding of the Chagres river that would have washed out a sea-level canal.

Lake Gatún is the location for many outdoor activities and tours.

  • Click to enlarge

    Monkeys board the tour boat in search of handouts

    Gatún Lake Safari – This is one of the best ways to see the wildlife living in and around the lake, including monkeys, sloth, birds, iguanas, and crocodiles. On most of these tours, they will hand-feed monkeys that inhabit the islands. Celebrity uses GatunExplorer for their tour. If you watch the video, it’s not quite The African Queen, but it reminds me of  the Disneyland Jungle Cruise, without the animatronic African wildlife. NOTE: As of mid-December 2010, Celebrity and RCCL have changed vendors for this tour. The new tour is not getting good reviews. I am attempting to contact the original “houseboat” tour operator to see if this excursion can be booked independantly.

  • Embera Indian Village – The Embera are one of the indigenous people of Panama. Several tour operators offer excursions to one of many Embera villages along the shores of the Chagres River including Parara Puru, Emberá Puru, and Emberá Drua. These tours usually involve a ride on a motorized dugout canoe to the village.
  • Kayaking excursions are offered by the cruise line and a few tour companies. Most of the kayaking activities originate near Gamboa where the Chagres river runs into the lake. Limited kayaking is also offered as part of the Gatun Lake Safari. Also see Gamboa Resort below.

View of Panama Canal and Railway from Gamboa Tram Observatory

Gamboa Resort – Gamboa Rainforest Resort is on the Chagres River adjacent to the town of Gamboa. Since 1936, the Panama Canal Dredging Division has been based here. The resort is built on the former site of the Gamboa Golf and Country Club. The resorts on-site activities include jungle boat cruises, 1.2 km aerial tram ride through the rainforest up to an observation tower, hiking, kayaking, and reptile, butterfly, and marine species exhibits.

Miraflores Locks

Miraflores Locks – The Miraflores locks raise ships  from the Pacific to Miraflores Lake. Due to the tidal variance of the Pacific, the lift height varies 13 m to 19 m (43 to 64.5 feet).  The Miraflores Visitor Center includes a museum, theater, three observation terraces, two snack bars, a restaurant with panoramic view, and a gift shop. The day after our Colón visit, Millie will make a full transit of the canal including going through the Miraflores Locks.

View of Casco Viejo, Panama City

Casco Viejo (Old Town) – Was founded in 1673 following the sacking and subsequent abandonment of Panama Viejo.  Casco Viejo is the site of many of the city’s most significant historical sites including he Salón Bolivar, The Metropolitan Cathedral, The National Theater (founded in 1908), Las Bovedas Monument, La Iglesia de La Merced, La Iglesia San Felipe Neri, and Iglesia San José (Saint Joseph’s Church). If you visit Panama City, this is a must-see location.

Amador Causeway

Amador Causeway – Amador Causeway was built during the construction of the Canal using fill removed from the Culebra Cut. The causeway is about 3 miles long and provides shelter for the marinas and anchorages within the bay. The causeway is the former site of Fort Amador, an important U.S. naval base used to protect the canal, especially during WWII. The military base has since closed and the causeway has been converted to recreational use. Attractions include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and The Bridge of Life Museum. The main activities are biking, walking, restaurants, and people-watching. The causeway has great views of the Bridge of Americas, the Panama City skyline, and Casco Viejo. There is a bicycle rental shop right next to the performing arts center. Rental is under $4 per hour. Here is a somewhat outdated blog with several pictures of the causeway.

Catedral de Panamá Viejo

Panama Viejo (Old Panama) – Panama Viejo is the original site of Panama City, founded in 1519.  The city survived pirate attacks, an earthquake and a major fire.  Panama Viejo was ulitimately destroyed in 1671, by pirate Henry Morgan and his 1400 men. Panama City was subsequently rebuilt at its present site. Panama Viejo features a visitor’s center and museum (exhibits are in English and Spanish), the restored cathedral tower, and a handicrafts market.

Weather

The Panama Canal passes though a tropical rain forest with warm and humid weather year round. Colón receives over 10 feet (3 m) of rain in a year and Panama City receives over 6 feet (1.9 m). The rainiest weather is May through December.

The April weather is hot and humid with an average high of 90 F and 60% humidity. The average low is 79 F. April is a transition month between the dry and wet seasons with Colón averaging over 5 inches (130 mm) and Tocumen (Panama City’s international airport) averaging 2.3 inches (60 mm) for the month. Expect it to rain sometime during your trip through the canal – it wouldn’t be a tropical rain forest without the rain.

Here is the real-time weather for the the MPMG airport (closest weather station to Miraflores)

Click for Panama, Panama Forecast

Port Information

Colón 2000 Cruise Ship Terminal

There are two active piers within Colón: Colón 2000 (Terminal No 1) and Home Port (Terminal No 2). The two piers are located right next to each on the east side of Colón. Until recently, there was a third  pier on the west side of Colón called Cristobal Pier 6. Recent reports indicate that Cristobal pier is being demolished to make way for a new container ship wharf. Home Port is used primarily for cruises originating in Colón, e.g. Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur Of The Seas. We will most likely use the Colón 2000 pier. As can be seen in the photo, the pier is connected by a skywalk to a shopping area containing a large Super 99 grocery store, Internet café, and souvenir stores.

Colón is probably the least safe port we will visit. The city is plagued with poverty and crime. To quote William Friar’s Moon Panama, “At the very least, do not walk around Colón: Drive or take taxis everywhere. Shopping at the Colón Free Zone or Colón 2000 is reasonably safe.” You will want to take a tour or taxi to the area attractions.

Maps

Download and print out these maps to take on the cruise.

Canal Zone map from Frommer's Panama

Walking tour of Casco Viejo from Frommer's Panama

Currency Exchange

Panama uses the United States dollar as the official paper currency.  Panama has their own balboa coins which are he same weight, dimensions and composition as the U.S. coins. It is common to receive change in both US and Panamanian coins.

Web Sites

Here are some links to web sites with really interesting travel information about Panama.

Probably the most famous Panama web site it that of the canal itself. The Panama Canal Authority operates several web cams along the canal at Gatun Locks, Centennial Bridge, and Miraflore Locks. Try the “High Resolution” links if your Internet connection is reasonably fast. In general, I think the Miraflores web cam provides the best viewing of ships in the locks.

Another Panama Canal and cruising enthusiast is Richard Detrich. Richard lives in Panama, but spends a great deal of time at sea as a port lecturer for Princess, HAL, and Celebrity. His web site has quite a bit of info on Panama. Richard has two blogs, one on the Panama Canal and the other on life in Panama.

3 Responses to “Colón”

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  1. Excursions Recap « Millennium Panama Canal - March 11, 2011

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  2. Excursion Plans? « Millennium Panama Canal - January 2, 2011

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  3. Colón Panama « Millennium Panama Canal - October 29, 2010

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