The Colón Coast: Panama’s most underrated destination for nature, culture and cuisine

A report from the Bharat Express News.

Panama gained independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821.

From the peaks of La Amistad International Park to the tangled jungles of Darién, the Central American country of Panama is home to truly spectacular natural beauty. It is hard to beat Colon.

Located along the Caribbean Sea, this sultry province measures over 1,750 square miles and offers ample opportunities for exploration all across the border. While the southern depths of Colón are home to some fascinating native species, there’s a world of opportunities to be discovered on its sparkling shores, with no shortage of charming towns and vast natural areas along the coast.

For seasoned outdoor adventurers, it’s best to head east, where the scenic Portobelo district awaits. Founded in 1597 by the Spanish Empire, it served as a prominent port city for the global silver trade, but its ideal location ultimately became its downfall. Portobelo was regularly attacked over the centuries, changing hands over the years between the English Empire and independent pirates, with Spain eventually turning to smaller ports in the Americas for trading purposes. Although the community is only home to a few thousand people today, one of the top attractions nearby can be found in the form of Portobelo National Park.

Mangroves are particularly hardy plants that grow in salt, brackish and fresh water.

Established in 1976, this coastal reserve is known for its pristine mangrove forests, and for those looking to get an up-close look at Panama’s Caribbean coastal ecosystems, Portobelo Adventures is the perfect guide. While day trips for hiking and snorkeling are both available, the Cascajal River and Mangroves excursion offers a fascinating perspective on Panama’s native flora and fauna, drawing guests deep into the forest to look for wildlife. Mangrove crabs, three-toed sloths and white ibises are just some of the creatures that may appear, while really lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of the jaguarundi, a small wild cat that tends to hunt during the day.

There’s an incredible array of wildlife to be found on a trip to the coastal mangroves of Colón, but the area is home to much more than just wildlife. After a morning expedition, downtown Portobelo is a particularly charming place to spend the day, with beautiful beaches, historic sites and a rich culture found nowhere else on earth.

Upon arrival, one of the city’s most impressive tourist attractions is on full display, Fort San Jerónimo. This massive military fortress is one of many structures built between the 17th and 18th centuries, each one designed to protect the coast from invading forces. While many of its fellow fortresses have crumbled over time, San Jerónimo still stands strong, even earning UNESCO World Heritage status in 1980 for its historical significance – and it’s far from the only concept recognized by UNESCO found in the area.

During the 1500s, many of the enslaved Africans living in Panama rebelled against their Spanish captors, eventually establishing their own free settlements along the Caribbean coast. Today, their descendants uphold their legacy through their Congolese culture, with traditional African festivals and rituals held throughout the year. On a trip to Portobelo, visitors can visit the Nazareno, a wooden statue of Jesus Christ carved centuries ago, or head to Black Zambombo to sample Afro-Caribbean-style fried fish, but the Congo culture may be the best known for its many traditional dances and rituals, all of which contributed to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status in 2018.

Panama is home to stunning wildlife, beautiful natural areas and a whole host of fascinating cultures, and to experience all three in one fell swoop, Colón is the perfect destination. While Portobelo is far from the largest community in the country, the city’s legendary Afro-Caribbean heritage coupled with the abundant natural beauty that surrounds it makes for an unforgettable journey. When planning your next vacation, don’t miss this highly underrated county.

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