Panama’s second largest city, Colon, located at the northern, or Caribbean, entrance to the Panama Canal, is also the capital city of Colon Province. This province extends along the Caribbean coast of Panama and borders the Panama and Cocle Provinces to the south and the Guna Yala Comarca to the east.
Colon is probably most famous for its Free Trade Zone, the largest in the western hemisphere and second only to Hong Kong on a global scale. The two cruise ship ports in Colon are used by all the major lines, bringing thousands of visitors every year from around the world.
Unfortunately, Colon does not have the best of reputations, although the government is trying to change this by implementing various social programs and restoring some of the city’s buildings.
Colon has some incredible architecture that some investors are trying to save. There are few, if any, tourist attractions in the city itself but the province has much to offer. Large tourism developments include the Melia Panama Canal, a full-service luxury hotel on the banks of Lake Gatun, and on the border with Panama Province you will find the Gamboa Rainforest Resort with its many exhibitions and extensive services. The canal expansion
project is well underway and is bringing significant attention and investment to the area.
The province of Colon is where Panama’s history started and where trade with the “Old World” was centered for the Spanish conquistadors for many years. The port city of Portobelo is now a quaint and laid-back town where tourists can visit the ruins of the forts and other Spanish-era buildings such as the restored Customs House and the Church of the Black Christ.
Isla Grande, located close to shore, a short drive past Portobelo by the town of La Guayra, is a destination in itself. Popular for water sports, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and boating, the island offers a variety of accommodations, restaurants, and nice beaches.
The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal are a short drive to the west of Colon, with a visitor’s center and observation deck to get a close-up look at the ships passing through. Fort San Lorenzo, located just beyond the locks, is popular not only for history buffs but also for nature lovers since this area is rich in wildlife and birds.
Provincial capital: Colon
Area: 4,868.4 km2 / 3,024 mile²
Population: 241,928 inhabitants (2010)
Principal industry: The Colon Free Zone, Ports, Logistics and Tourism
Distance from Panama City to Colon: 47 miles / 76km
Main areas of development: Costa Arriba (Portobelo, La Guayra)
Airport: Airport in Colon with capacity for charter flights, currently being expanded to accept international flights