Colon Port of Call
Miraflores locks, Panama Canal © @thyngum
The main cruise embarkation port at the north Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, Colon is a sprawling industrial city within close proximity to beautiful jungle landscape and the wonders of the Canal. The most popular sites in Colon are the nearby Panama Canal itself, including the impressive raising and lowering of ships in the Gatun Locks, and the immense man-made Gatun Lake.
Colon is attractive to cruise ships in part because of the modern Colon 2000 cruise terminal, allowing berths for several large ships and more than 2,500 passengers at once. The terminal is sophisticated and offers a variety of shops and restaurants but is a bit removed from the centre of downtown Colon. Some cruise ships dock at Cristobal Pier which is smaller but offers good craft markets and cultural shows. Cruising to Colon offers travellers the chance to explore off-the-beaten-path areas of Panama that are out of reach of Panama City.
Colon 2000 official website: www.colon2000.com
Tour groups often ride the train from Colon to the visit the Gatun Locks which is the most beautiful route. Regulated taxies can be hired from Colon 2000 and Cristobal with pre-set fares, and are considered safer, although the local bus is cheaper for longer excursions. Cruise ships tend to offer a variety of shore excursions and many travellers prefer to stick with these pre-arranged trips but independent travel is possible.
The largest locks in the Canal are a short distance from Colon and offer great opportunities to see both the rising and lowering ships as well as the mechanics behind the operation. A bit farther into the canal is the Gatun Lake which can be fun to explore in smaller boats and kayaks or use for water activities like snorkelling and swimming. Many activities in Gatun Lake can be arranged from Colon 2000 Terminal or from Cristobal. The city of Colon is largely industrial and not traditionally considered a tourist destination but a massive improvement programme has been operational since 2014, working to restore historic buildings and construct urban parks. Undoubtedly the greatest appeal of the port and city for travellers is the opportunity to shop for duty-free merchandise in the massive Colon Free Zone and the duty-free shops of the Colon 2000 terminal.
Restaurante Arrecifes - great seafood right in the port
Grand Cafe - the best Middle Eastern food in Colon
Club Union Arabe - an elegant restaurant with sea views
The Colon Free Zone is the world's second largest free trade zone (after Hong Kong). There are a number of shopping malls that vary in selection and price, but consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics are usually good buys. You can find local handcrafted items and popular Panama souvenirs such as carved tagua nuts and cocobolo, and woven palm-fiber baskets at local artesania markets.
Duty-free luxury goods
Visit Panama City
Take a Chagras River trip
Take a train ride to the nearby Miraflores Locks