June 12, 2008 | Comments 0

Colon - When the Cruise Itself Is the Excursion

colonpanamaWhen most cruisers think of a voyage through the Panama Canal, they usually see this causeway as a path to other destinations. Well, not anymore; the government thought that since so many cruise ships ferry through a path which is literally at their doorstep, they might as well make a destination out of it. Admittedly, its initial offering with Colon is a rather recent port, therefore it is as yet not as developed as it should be. There are a few attractions to boot, but its main appeal lies in its proximity to the adjacent Canal locks; it is also just a couple of hours away from the Pacific Coastline, and it is even closer to the country’s capital.

Panama City is an ideal stop if you want to soak in on colonial culture. Numerous tourist attractions are being developed within and surrounding the capital, including a restoration of Casco Antigua and Viejo, the aged colonial towns within the city. These towns were originally built in 1673 as a replacement for the city which was previously sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan. Within the six blocks which comprise the Plaza Central, the magnificent President and Municipal Palace and the city cathedral are situated. Both the Historical and Panama Canal museums are also accessible during the week, at regular office hours.

A trip to the Panama Canal locks will also give you a truly unique experience, and is well worth the trip to the port in itself. The Canal has been in full operation since 1914, but was only turned over to the Panama government in 1999. The Canal locks host tourist centers which offer multi-media presentations about the locks’ bittersweet historical background. The Gatun Locks are the ones nearest to Colon, but if you want to take in the full effect of the experience, the Miraflores is much more impressive. There is so much happening here that you may very well chance upon at least a ship which is being pulled and raised (in multiple, successive stages) by a height of 26 meters into the Gatun Lake, from the ocean waters on either side.

As a last port stop in your itinerary, make sure that you also visit Portobelo City, a once-thriving business hotpot, when shiploads of gold were traded in for goods during the trading fairs in the area. The bartering frenzy which lasted for three months was probably the reason why the area was named after one of London’s famous street markets (which still exists today, by the way) – Portobelo Road. Unfortunately, continuous assault by pirates, as well as the British Navy (with no less than Sir Francis Drake among the ranks; he died here, and his grave is on a nearby island) left the area in ruins. You can experience the thriving marketplace as it was in olden times, as the area is reconstructed to afford the tourist a worthwhile tour of its forts and bustling street market. The next time you take a trip or cruise to the Caribbean, mind the Panama Canal, and step on port to sample the unique experiences it has to offer.

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