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Sometimes known as Panama's second city, Colon is also spoken about as the gateway to the canal. From the city, visitors are in an enviable position to observe one of the world's most impressive feats of engineering, The Panama Canal, and from its banks, you can watch daily life at this famous working landmark. The city of Colon's history is intricately linked to economic factors and this becomes obvious in the various sights and experiences that tourists can enjoy here. With its links to the canal and railway so evident, the city is also developing other tourist attractions to enjoy without having to travel far from the cruise terminals.
Visitors to Colon won't be surprised to see that there are a wide number of tours and historical sites dedicated to the building of the Panama Canal. The canal certainly dominates many of the tourist sights here, but due to its good geographical location, the city and its surrounding areas also offer a diverse range of natural attractions and pristine beaches to enjoy. Some of the sights well worth a visit are:
Gatún Locks is one of the best places to see the canal in action. Ships are raised here from the lower waters of the Caribbean Sea by 29.5 meters to meet with the level of Lago Gatún. It is inspiring to witness these gargantuan structures moving large bodies of water and ships about. If stood on its end, one of these locks would be taller than the Eiffel Tower. There is a small observation deck to afford you a better view of the formidable structure in action but there are no other tourist attractions here. You really have just come to marvel at her working.
Chargres National Park
Chargres National Park is just outside the city of Colon and is home to a tropical rainforest, 114 types of mammals, 95 reptile species, 396 types of birds, 7 kinds of amphibians and a vast range of flora. It covers a staggering 318,000 acres with two rivers running through it. Visitors are able to enjoy river cruises or hiking tours through the park. You are also able to enjoy a visit to a traditional Embera Village.
Fuerte San Lorenzo
Fuerte San Lorenzo was built by the Spanish in 1595 with its main function being to fend off pirates and defend the Panamanian trade routes. Whilst the fort is now in ruins it offers stunning views across the sea and the journey to reach it takes you through some beautiful jungle landscape.
Isla Grande lies around an hour from Colon and is well worth the journey. Once there you can enjoy some spectacular pristine white sandy beaches and extensive water sports including snorkeling, surfing, diving and jet skiing. There is a real Caribbean vibe to the island, and dotted along the beachfront are laid back restaurants and bars for you to relax in.
Unlike many cruise destinations, the best shopping in Colon can be found as soon as you disembark at the cruise terminal. The Colon 2000 is a smart and sophisticated shopping centre which offers shoppers a wide range of large name brands at reasonable prices. Clothes and jewellery are the main goods on sale. There is a vast Free Trade Zone nearby but don't be fooled into thinking it is the best place to shop as it is mostly aimed at bulk buying for companies. Saying that, there are a few stores there that will allow you to buy single items and will also send them direct to your ship. Again though, it is mostly jewellery, clothing and watches that are available.
If you are looking for locally produced souvenirs then Cristobal Pier is the place to go. It's where you'll find a wide range of handmade goods and a thriving craft market with plenty of souvenirs and traditional gifts to take home at reasonable prices.
Just a few steps from your ship you can find Café Iguana, conveniently based within the Colon 2000 plaza. It serves up mouth-watering international and local dishes but the food is a little bit on the pricey side as it is so close to the terminal and therefore a bit of a tourist trap. If you fancy trying some traditional local food in bright and airy air-conditioned surroundings, then head to the Grand Café. Located in the heart of Colon it is a real treat with an extensive menu, excellent service and reasonable prices. Well worth a visit.
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