Colon City was founded by the Americans in 1850 as the Atlantic terminal of the Panama Railroad. The now derelict buildings hint at the colonial grandeur, but the city is crime-ridden and not a place to wander around.
The New Washington Hotel dates to 1870 when it was a hotel for railway workers, and later became an upmarket place to stay for tourists visiting the Panama Canal works. As with most of Colon it is a bit rundown, but only a short taxi ride away.
Zona Libre (Free Zone)
The world’s second largest Duty Free Trade Zone after Hong Kong. Although there are plenty of shops in here, it is really aimed at bulk commercial customers. Taxis will take you in to have a browse around. If you buy anything it will be delivered to the cruise line.
Colon 2000 Cruise Terminal
Even if you are not on a cruise you can check out this complex:
- A few souvenir shops with a good selection
- A Super 99 supermarket for groceries and essentials
- Two casinos
- A small café with excellent coffee
- Restaurants (including Subway) and bars
- Wifi available in a few places
The “must see” of this end of the Canal. You get up close and personal with the big ships, and listen to a running commentary about the Canal.
On May 31, 2016, just before the June opening of the expansion, the visitor centre was closed to the general public. It is now only available to view by VIP parties, which includes cruise ship shore excursions.
Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center
This visitor center provides a view over the new Canal Locks (Agua Clara), and across to the existing Gatun Locks in the distance. There is an excellent short movie about the project, knowledgeable guides providing commentary, a restaurant and a small nature walk.
Shelter Bay Marina
The main yacht marina for the Canal area, with a nice cafe on the waterfront next to the yachts. It is a 30 minute drive from Colon, and then you must factor in delays for driving over the Canal or catching the ferry.
San Lorenzo Fort
One of America’s oldest Spanish fortresses dating back to the 1500’s. It defended the entrance to the Chagres River, which was the main transportation route across the country. Although it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, there are no signs or guides at the site, however it is an atmospheric place that is worth a visit. About an hour to drive there, and you could stop at Shelter Bay Marina for refreshments on the way.
Boat trip on the Canal
There are several ways you can get out on Lake Gatun and the Canal itself in small boats or tourist ships. Lots of wildlife viewing, and get up close and personal with the big ships transiting the Canal.
This fortress guarded the Conquistador gold waiting to be shipped to Spain. There is a small museum in the Customs House. It takes about 40 minutes to drive there from Colon.