Colon welcomes you to one of humanity's most extraordinary engineering endeavours, the Panama Canal. This extraordinary waterway connects two of the world’s great oceans and, on opening, saved ships from an epic and treacherous 8,000 mile voyage around Cape Horn. While the Atlantic Entrance is Colon's main raison d’etre, there is much more to this city on the canal’s grand gateway than first meets the eye.
Take an old world voyage on the regally romantic Panama Railway Canal, which preceded the canal and was constructed at extraordinary human cost to traverse Panama’s narrow land. The tracks have been rolling since the 19th century and cosying up inside the historic carriages, with their gleaming glass ceilings and polished woods, is an elegant journey back through time to the period when this was the quickest route from the east coast of the USA to California’s gold rush dreams. A side trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Portobelo is also a must. With its reef rock fortifications built by the Spanish in the 17th century, these jagged jaws of coral were carved to cut approaching pirates and conquistadors to shreds. It shares its World Heritage Site designation with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, which perches on an emerald-green cliff, casting its gaze over the harbour below.
Back in Colon, after staring in awe at the grand, clanging Gatun Locks, and splurging on a case of duty-free rum and trinkets from the Colon Free Trade Zone - a trip to the beach will soothe city-worn souls. Playa La Angosta is a rabble of raucous beach-going fun, where the blue waters swirl with bright banana boats and fleeting canoes. Relax on the sand among sizzling yuca fritters, and families clamouring in the shade of cabanas. On the Caribbean side, Playa Chiquita is accessible only by boat, but rewards with warm gin-clear waters backed by thick rainforest.