No visit to the Caribbean side would be complete without at least some information about Colon. Most guide books will warn you that a trip to Colon is an invite to be mugged or robbed and that you should stay away from it unless you stay in your locked car. On the two previous visits we have made to Panama, we have taken that advice and steered clear of Colon but this time we decided we needed to have a bit of a look, at least.
On the way back from our trip to Portobelo a few days ago, we decided to take a drive through Colon to see how it was. There was a not too current map in our guide-book that indicated that there was an area around the cruise ship docks that was relatively new. We surmised that if it was a cruise ship facility, security should be a bit higher. After all… what respectable cruise ship line would pull into a port and dump passengers right into a situation where they would be mugged or robbed? We know that some of the Mexican ports have been dropped by the cruise lines just for that reason. So logic suggested that if cruise ships are coming and going from Colon, the area around the docks should be a bit safer area.
So we headed for the area called Colon 2000 which is the gated cruise ship facility.
The first thing we noted about Colon is the traffic. It is bumper to tailgate all the way into town and all the way out on the main drag which is called Paseo Del Centenario. This street is divided with two lanes in each direction. There is a generous median down the center containing lots of massive trees that provide shade to the traffic and small kiosk kind of businesses. It is dirty, with lots of trash everywhere. The buildings lining both sides of the street are old run down concrete structures around eight or ten floors tall, all in need of paint and more. As well as heavy traffic, there are lots of people; some walking and some just hanging around.
The Colon city site is located on a peninsula in the Caribbean bounded on the west by Bahia (bay) Limon and on the east by Bahia de Manzanillo. It is historically Panama’s second most important city, at the Caribbean end of the canal. Colon is also host to the second largest duty-free operation in the world, next to Hong Kong, which creates an amazing amount of business and revenue for the country. This area has long been neglected and has much fewer resources than the Pacific side of the isthmus, according to my ageing guide-book. This city has a mostly black population as many of the canal construction workers, imported from the islands of the Caribbean, settled here when the canal was completed.
We continued our journey down Paseo Del Centenario to the end, which is the beach frontage around the peninsula. Here we turned west and worked our way through less densely populated and more tidy neighborhoods until we saw a cruise ship above the buildings. We headed toward it and eventually passed into the neat and well groomed place called Colon 2000. This is an area with a good-sized multi story strip mall, featuring duty-free items as well as a not bad looking Radisson Hotel with a casino attached. There was a cruise ship at the dock, but I didn’t recognize the name or company. We know that some South American cruises originate from here. There was lots of security and everyone seemed to be friendly, although if you’re white, be prepared to be stared at. Our first stop was the casino, where Andrea found her favorite penny slot machine. She sat for a few minutes and we took $20 home to pay for dinner. We poked around a few of the stores and I tried to get to a higher vantage point to get some pictures but everything seemed to be locked off. Oh well!
Well I don’t think I would recommend a stroll down the main drag, but I think that there are some areas of Colon that you could visit without taking your life in your hands. We managed to survive our visit without problems. You definitely need to keep your wits about you and be highly alert. If you want to try something a bit different and are a bit gutsy, then this might be something for you.