Colon - Panama
Updated: Sep 18
As Pole to Pole guests on Hurtigruten Expeditions, we were fortunate to be on an organised excursion of Colon before the Panama Canal transit, which we were grateful for, as after researching online, it isn't recommended to do it independently.
Below is the local prison, which was in dire conditions but reflects today's reality in Colon, for a city home to the Panama Canal with a revenue of approximately 15 million per day.
Colón is a city and seaport in Panama, on the Caribbean Sea, near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal; it has traditionally been known as Panama's second city.
The vast Colón Free Trade Zone offers tax-free shopping, and there are over 3000 stores in a nearby pocket of the city. It is the distribution centre of all goods in South America.
A bus awaited us on an excursion to popular sites near Colon. With Carlos, our guide and Jorge keeping us safe on the road, we drove through the streets of the outskirts of Colon. Seeing the reality of the living conditions for the people and the city was quite disheartening. Carlos was describing to us only yesterday the areas we were going through were one metre underwater, so they were dealing with the remnants of the flooding.
First up was a surprise visit to the Northern entrance of the Panama Canal, Gatun Lock, where they have a visitor centre and viewing platform to watch the ships in transit.
We were excited to hear one was leaving the last chamber and another entering the first. We got the whole experience from the viewing platform, the chamber gates opening and closing, and seeing the power of gravity as the water rises and releases in the lock chambers.
It was genuinely fascinating, especially as we would all experience the transit on our ship the following day.
Information overload As we learned all about the Panama Canal and the country of Panama, here are some fun facts below.
As we were heading back to the bus, we were surprised to see a visitor out front, a Coatis, part of the racoon family. He was familiar with having humans in his presence, so we all took the opportunity to snap some pics of our first Coatis sightings.
Next, we visited Fort San Lorenzo. To access the fort, you drive through an abandoned US Army training base during the Vietnam War, a dense jungle rainforest and mangroves, hearing stories about the crocodiles who cross the roads at night to hunt; therefore, no night walking is recommended unless you are keen on being their appetiser, to also the road we travelled on being nicknamed 'crunch road' when the crabs are migrating, as millions come to the area to do so. It becomes impossible to avoid them as you drive through.
We arrived at an 18th-century, well-preserved colonial military structure within half an hour. UNESCO seaside ruins with sweeping views of the mouth of the Chagres River.
We strolled through the historic site and admired the panoramic views.
We even encountered an army of disciplined little ants delivering food and shelter to their home. The little things, we were all enthralled by the ant's trail.
Upon leaving, we were also treated to another Coatis visitor as we departed.
Carlos was an excellent guide; his insights were just the right amount, and we picked up many fun facts. We were whisked back to the ship whilst getting a drive-by tour of Colon and the sites; also advised to steer clear and stay in our bubble of safety on the ship.
A fantastic morning, a bucket list item was checked off, and after a quick duty-free shop, we were back in the safety of our floating home for a delicious lunch at Fredheim.
Our new fellow passengers were embarking, and everyone was excited to kick off their vacation. They have all been an absolute delight onboard, sharing travel stories and the new segment as we explore the West Coast of South America.