If you’re cruising in the Caribbean, you will most likely be making a stop at Colón, Panama. While less famous or well-known than Panama City on the Pacific coast, there are plenty of things to do in Colon Panama and its surrounding area in terms of history, culture, and nature. You may have limited time […]
If you’re cruising in the Caribbean, you will most likely be making a stop at Colón, Panama. While less famous or well-known than Panama City on the Pacific coast, there are plenty of things to do in Colon Panama and its surrounding area in terms of history, culture, and nature.
You may have limited time on your cruise stop in Colon, so we’ve written this guide to give you some ideas on how to best maximize your time there, whether you have just a few hours or a full day.
Agua Clara Locks Visitor Center
Take time to learn all about the history of the world’s greatest feat of engineering: the Panama Canal. This visitor center at the eastern entrance to the canal spans over 4 hectares and includes observation decks over the canal’s extension and Gatun Lake and a projection room which screens a short film on the history of the canal. Plus, it’s only half an hour away by car, making it the perfect place to visit on shorter Colon shore excursions.
There is also a restaurant, coffee shop, gift shop, kids playground, and even a nature trail through the rainforest, so you’ll find something for everyone. Entrance fees are $15 for adults and $10 for children.
La Granja Campo y Aventura
La Granja is an ecological and ecotourism center located 5 miles (8 km) outside of the city of Colón. If you are looking for adventurous things to do in Colon Panama, visit this center to enjoy a plethora of activities on offer such as zip lining, kayaking and paintballing, as well as horse riding and hiking tours, a butterfly conservatory, agrotourism and many more. It is a perfect place to spend short Colon shore excursions. Entrance fees vary depending on the activities which you want to take part in.
Fort San Lorenzo, Colon
Dating back to the 16th century, Fort San Lorenzo was first constructed by the Spanish to guard the entrance to the Rio Chagres, an important waterway for trade and slave ships.
The fort had to be rebuilt several times throughout its history as it was attacked multiple times, burned to the ground, and suffered heavy cannon fire by pirates such as Francis Drake and Henry Morgan. It was rebuilt in 1761 and it is this structure which remains to this day.
Spend a few hours immersed in this fascinating historical site which was once one of the most important landmarks in Latin America’s history as the hub of the Spanish gold trade, a slave port, and pirate bait.
Panama Canal Railway
The Panama Canal Railway Company runs between Colón on the Caribbean Coast and Panama City on the Pacific Coast and has been in operation since 1855. It’s well worth a ride if you have time; it’s a one-hour ride each way with fantastic views of the coastline and mountains.
The Panama Canal train only leaves once per day from Colón and Panama City. The train departs at 7:15 am from Panama City and departs at 17:15 pm from Colón. Depending on your schedule, you can explore a little of Panama City or stay overnight before your return journey to Colón to board the ship.
Day Trip to Portobelo Panama
Portobelo was once the most important port in Latin America as the main hub for Incan gold exports to Spain. It is now a beach village focused on agriculture, fishing, and tourism. You can even go sea kayaking and snorkeling in the calm Caribbean. (Note: Even if a tour lists the start/end location as Panama City, tour operators are often willing to accommodate travelers starting in Colón, as the two cities are only about an hour away from each other by car.)
Must-see sights include the 18th century Fort San Jeronimo and Casa de la Cultura Congo, a cultural center which focuses on the region’s Latin and African cultural heritage. Take a day trip with a local guide to learn all about the town’s history and even sail and snorkel in the tranquil Portobelo Bay.
Monkey Island Panama and Gatun Lake
Monkey Island is a man-made island located in the middle of Gatun Lake which you can visit on a boat tour or even by kayaking on the lake. It is home to an astonishing array of exotic wildlife which are protected within Soberania National Park. Here, you’ll be able to spot several species of monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds such as toucans.
Book a tour which will take you on a boat down the Panama Canal to this secluded spot, and afterwards have the chance to experience local culture in an indigenous community. Or, if you’re more interested in adventure activities, go zip lining over Lake Gatun as part of this tour.
Isla Mamey and Isla Grande
For a relaxing day, take a trip to the nearby islands of Isla Mamey and Isla Grande. Isla Mamey is more secluded, so you may have the place to yourself to relax on the white-sand beaches with ideal conditions for snorkeling.
Isla Grande, on the other hand, is a bit more developed and has excellent restaurants where you can sample local Panamanian cuisine. It is also home to the oldest lighthouse in Latin America, which was designed in 1893 by French engineer Gustav Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower. Take a walk up there to witness the panoramic views across the islands.
Within the inner rainforests of the Panama isthmus live the indigenous Embera people. Some of their villages welcome travelers to experience their lifestyle and learn about their culture. Be aware: Embera tours associated with cruise ships are less likely to offer authentic experiences and more likely to have large groups. We recommend booking this 6-hour adventure with a smaller local tour operator instead. For more information about visiting an Embera village and responsible travel, check out our other blog post.
Whatever your interests and however much time you have, don’t confine yourself just to the city of Colón. While there are many things to do in Colon Panama, instead take Colon shore excursions in the surrounding areas. This is a fantastic region in Panama with plenty of history, culture, and natural beauty within easy reach.