Why Portobelo?

Things To See & Do

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The Forts

Portobelo’s most famous landmarks are its UNESCO protected Forts and ruins. Spend a few hours strolling around and be sure not to miss out on Fuerte San Fernando, built high up into the hillside over looking the bay with spectacular views.

Fort San Fernando

Aduana & Black Christ Church

Visit the museum at the old custom house, which used to hold so much Spanish bullion it made Portobelo the wealthiest place in the world.

San Felipe Church is the home of the Cristo Negro. Scroll further down this page for more infomation about the Black Christ Festival.

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Isla Grande

A beautiful laid back Caribbean Island just 40 minutes along the coast. Popular with Panamanians who flood here at weekends from the City. Head down Monday to Friday and you will have the place almost to yourself.

Great scuba diving

Several  diving companies are located nearby as the waters around Portobelo have great coral reef, a large range of marine species and even a sunken war plane to discover.

Panama Outdoor Adventures

Canopy ziplining, horseback riding and river tubing are all on offer at one of Panama best adventure companies nearby. Check out their link below.

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Great local beaches

Large, clean and quiet beaches can be found a short bus ride away take a water taxi to some even more secluded spots.

Jungle & Mangrove Tours

Go on a guided Kayak tour of the mangroves with an English speaking guide. Plenty of exotic birds, caymen, monkeys and other wildlife will be on show. Walking tours are also on offer.

History

This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage is located on the Caribbean coast of Panama in the Colon province and in the Portobelo national park. It’s relaxed easy going way of life deceives it’s history as one of the most important and busiest ports on the Spanish Main. Christopher Columbus landed in 1502 and it is said he proclaimed “Que puerto bello!” meaning “what a beautiful port”, the name has stuck since.

The port was heavily fortified however the British privateer Captain Henry Morgan raided the town in 1668, plundering it for 14 days, totally decimating the town and it’s inhabitants. It was attacked again in 1739, this time by the British Navy led by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon ending the settlements main function as an important base for Spanish trading.

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Even now you can freely stroll through the remains of the fortifications complete with cannons which are in surprisingly good condition considering the age. Unfortunately much of the surviving sea wall and forts were demolished so the material could make a sea defense for the port of Colon during the construction of the Panama Canal.

The Aduna building in the centre of town was the main hub for the trading of gold and slaves, meaning at one time the town held more wealth than any other place in the world. Today it has been beautifully restored and holds a museum detailing the rich history of the town.

Festivals

Every March Portobelo hosts the vibrant Festival de Congos y Diablos. The Carnival actually starts in February and people from all over the region come to revel in the tradition of “los Congos”, a mockery of the Spanish imperialists. Participants in the carnival play the roles of the Congos representing the former slaves and their Spanish slave masters, depicted as the Diablos (devils)
Elaborate costumes are made and spontaneous street dances take place throughout the party which is a mix of both Catholic and pagan heritage. At this time Portobelo is inundated with tourists and Colonese enjoying the music, food and dancing. Stay clear of those diablos though, many carry wooden canes and they aren’t afraid to use them!
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In October Portobelo becomes an important pilgrimage for thousands of people the length of the country in honour of the black Christ of Portobelo, a wooden statue displayed near the altar of Portobelo’s Church of San Felipe. Many of the pilgrims travel the final leg of the journey carrying heavy crosses or crawl on their knees while others pour hot wax over their bodies in order to cleanse their souls.
All wear the colour purple and make sure to arrive before the evening of October 21st.The finale of the festival on this date involves the statue being hoisted through the streets by dozens of men followed by a candle lit procession
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