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Panama’s Most Underrated Destination For Nature, Culture, And Cuisine

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From the peaks of La Amistad International Park to the tangled jungles of Darién, the Central American nation of Panama is home to truly spectacular natural beauty—and for those in search of a fascinating region that blends cultural immersion with ample opportunity for outdoor adventure, it’s tough to beat Colón.

Perched along the Caribbean Sea, this balmy province measures in at more than 1,750 square miles, offering ample opportunity for exploration all throughout its borders. While the southern depths of Colón are home to some fascinating native species, there’s a world of opportunity to be discovered across its sparkling shores, with no shortage of charming towns and sprawling preserves dotting the coast.

For seasoned outdoor adventurers, it’s best to head east, where the scenic district of Portobelo awaits. Established in 1597 by the Spanish Empire, it served as a prominent port city for the global silver trade, but its ideal position ended up being its downfall. Portobelo was subject to regular attacks over the centuries, switching hands between the English Empire and independent pirates over the years, with Spain eventually turning to smaller ports across the Americas for trade purposes. While the community is home to just a few thousand people today, one of its top attractions can be found nearby in the form of Portobelo National Park.

Established in 1976, this coastal preserve is renowned for its pristine mangrove forests, and for those wishing to get an up-close view of Panama’s coastal Caribbean ecosystems, Portobelo Adventures is the perfect guide. While hiking and snorkeling day trips are both available, the Cascajal River and Mangroves excursion offers a fascinating perspective on the native flora and fauna of Panama, drawing guests deep into the forest to search for wildlife. Mangrove crabs, three-toed sloths, and white ibises are just a few of the creatures that might make an appearance, while truly fortunate visitors may catch a glimpse of the jaguarundi, a small wild cat that tends to hunt during daylight hours.

There’s an incredible array of animals to find during a trip out to Colón’s coastal mangroves, but the surrounding area is home to a lot more than just wildlife. After a morning expedition, downtown Portobelo is a particularly charming place to spend the day, offering stunning beaches, historic landmarks, and a rich culture found nowhere else on earth.

Upon arrival, one of the town’s most impressive tourist attractions is on full display—namely, Fort San Jerónimo. This massive military fortification is one of many structures built between the 17th and 18th centuries, each one created to protect the coast from invading forces. While many of its fellow forts have crumbled over time, San Jerónimo is still standing strong, and even earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1980 due to its historic significance—and it’s far from the only UNESCO-recognized concept found within the area.

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

Panama is home to stunning wildlife, gorgeous natural sites, and a whole host of fascinating cultures, and to experience all three in one fell swoop, Colón is the perfect destination. Though Portobelo is far from the largest community in the country, the storied Afro-Caribbean heritage of the town paired with the abundant natural beauty around it makes for a truly memorable trip. As you plan your next vacation, don’t miss out on this highly underrated province.


From the peaks of La Amistad International Park to the tangled jungles of Darién, the Central American nation of Panama is home to truly spectacular natural beauty—and for those in search of a fascinating region that blends cultural immersion with ample opportunity for outdoor adventure, it’s tough to beat Colón.

Perched along the Caribbean Sea, this balmy province measures in at more than 1,750 square miles, offering ample opportunity for exploration all throughout its borders. While the southern depths of Colón are home to some fascinating native species, there’s a world of opportunity to be discovered across its sparkling shores, with no shortage of charming towns and sprawling preserves dotting the coast.

For seasoned outdoor adventurers, it’s best to head east, where the scenic district of Portobelo awaits. Established in 1597 by the Spanish Empire, it served as a prominent port city for the global silver trade, but its ideal position ended up being its downfall. Portobelo was subject to regular attacks over the centuries, switching hands between the English Empire and independent pirates over the years, with Spain eventually turning to smaller ports across the Americas for trade purposes. While the community is home to just a few thousand people today, one of its top attractions can be found nearby in the form of Portobelo National Park.

Established in 1976, this coastal preserve is renowned for its pristine mangrove forests, and for those wishing to get an up-close view of Panama’s coastal Caribbean ecosystems, Portobelo Adventures is the perfect guide. While hiking and snorkeling day trips are both available, the Cascajal River and Mangroves excursion offers a fascinating perspective on the native flora and fauna of Panama, drawing guests deep into the forest to search for wildlife. Mangrove crabs, three-toed sloths, and white ibises are just a few of the creatures that might make an appearance, while truly fortunate visitors may catch a glimpse of the jaguarundi, a small wild cat that tends to hunt during daylight hours.

There’s an incredible array of animals to find during a trip out to Colón’s coastal mangroves, but the surrounding area is home to a lot more than just wildlife. After a morning expedition, downtown Portobelo is a particularly charming place to spend the day, offering stunning beaches, historic landmarks, and a rich culture found nowhere else on earth.

Upon arrival, one of the town’s most impressive tourist attractions is on full display—namely, Fort San Jerónimo. This massive military fortification is one of many structures built between the 17th and 18th centuries, each one created to protect the coast from invading forces. While many of its fellow forts have crumbled over time, San Jerónimo is still standing strong, and even earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1980 due to its historic significance—and it’s far from the only UNESCO-recognized concept found within the area.

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

Panama is home to stunning wildlife, gorgeous natural sites, and a whole host of fascinating cultures, and to experience all three in one fell swoop, Colón is the perfect destination. Though Portobelo is far from the largest community in the country, the storied Afro-Caribbean heritage of the town paired with the abundant natural beauty around it makes for a truly memorable trip. As you plan your next vacation, don’t miss out on this highly underrated province.

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