The Caribbean port for Colón, on the western edge of Manzanillo Island, takes its name from Christopher Columbus, the Genovese explorer who landed here in 1502. Located in Limon Bay at the southern east part of Colon City, at the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal, Cristobal is an important seaport for maritime routes across the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean. Today, 15,000 cruise ships glide majestically into port hemmed by vast swathes of bird-filled rainforest, high-rise cities and nine ancient indigenous tribes.
As the famous entrance to the imposing Panama Canal Cristobal’s winding 80-kilometre (50-mile) stretch of water cuts through vast rock faces and vine-tangled jungle. Ant-clad creepers trail into the Canal’s murky depths while giant palms are home to monkey and sloth. Transiting cruise-passengers enjoy a privileged view of the flower filled watershed edged by towering ferns. Take an elevated up to the balcony at Miraflores Locks for a bird’s eye panorama of cargo ships and locomotive ‘mules’ – and be sure to have a camera at the ready.
• Take a canopy ride high up into the tree tops at Gamboa Rainforest.
• Visit a traditional Embera settlement on the mighty Chagres River (Rio Chagres).
• Spot rare endemic and migratory birds on Gatun Lake (Gatun Largo).
• Discover old ramparts, canons and fortifications in 16th century Portobelo.
• Kayaking the watershed of the Panama Canal, spotting caiman.
• Transit Panama ocean-to-ocean on the world’s first Trans-Continental railroad.
Instituto Panameño de Turismo (IPAT) (Institute of Tourism)
Tel: +507 526 7000.
A duty-free shopping hub, Panama offers a good range of inexpensive international luxury brands and goods in sleek, air-conditioned malls. Sportswear, electronics and designer names are particularly good value (discounting as much as a third off the price). Local items include Ngobe Bugle-crafted beaded necklaces, Embera palm-woven baskets, Kuna Indian molas (colourful overlaid textiles) as well as colourful hammocks, Tagua Carvings and painted ceramics.
Panama’s local dishes are good and wholesome with ceviche (fish marinated in lime juice, onions and peppers), patacones de plátano (fried plantain), sancocho (Panamanian stew with chicken, meat and vegetables), tamales (seasoned pie wrapped in banana leaves), carimañolas and empanadas (turnovers filled with meat, chicken or cheese) much-loved staples. Seafood appears on every menu with octopus, lobster, shrimp, clams and sea-snails all particularly good. A strong US influence prevails in Panama’s major cities where fried chicken, Tex-Mex, pizza and burgers are easily found along with plenty of Chinese noodle joints
When to go:
Year-round temperatures vary little, don’t expect temperatures to drop much below 25°C (77°F) at any time of the year. The rainy season lasts from May to November but generally brings showers late afternoon and overnight, and humidity as high as 90%.
4km (2.5 miles).