The Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean coast features some excellent getaway islands like Bocas del Toro and the fascinating San Blas Islands with a high concentration of indigenous populations.

Colón and Cristóbal, the towns on either side of the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side are interesting cities to visit for their central locations for viewing boats entering and exiting the Panama Canal, as well as the final stop on the Panama Railroad from Panama City. The Zona Libre in Colón offers excellent tax-free shopping. Show your passport at the entrance to this second-largest free zone in the world and arrange for your purchases to be exported or shipped to the airport for you to pick up. Bargaining is expected. Muggings are a problem in these cities.

Fuerte San Lorenzo is one of the oldest Spanish fort towns in Latin America with excellent views of the coast and the Río Chagres from its cliff-top home. The fort has recently been renovated under the direction of UNESCO and features a picnic spot and a small beach at the bottom of the cliff.

Portobelo is just east of Colón on the Caribbean coast and one of Panama’s historical sites. The Monumental Complex was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Monument in 1980 and can be visited every day but Sunday for $1. Founded in 1519 and famous as the spot where Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) sheltered himself and crew after wrecking the Vizcaina offshore, the town can be easily seen in a day, more if you want extra time to relax on the beach or join divers looking for Columbus’ wrecked Vizcaina.