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Named after Christopher Columbus, Christobal is the Atlantic Terminal port of Panama. The original part of the city was built by the Panama Railroad Company after dredging vast areas of swampland to build their headquarters on back in the 1850s. Later on, Cristobal became a vital hub in the building of the Panama Canal and this history is evident in the sights around the city. Known by many as the 8th wonder of the world, the Panama Canal is a marvellous feat of engineering and visitors to Cristobel are in the perfect location to watch the gargantuan locks in action. From the moment you pull into port you can enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the canal.
While the town of Cristobal itself doesn't offer a wide variety of activities for tourists to experience, the surrounding area and the canal itself provides plenty of opportunities to experience the natural beauty and cultural diversity of this region. Here are some of the best things to see in and around Cristobal:
The area's historic links with France, Spain, Britain and the United States mean there are numerous ruins and sites dotted around the near vicinity. Take the time to visit Casco Viejo which is the old compound where you can discover a picturesque 17th century church along with its convents which now lie in ruins. The original dungeons can also be explored, as well as a poignant monument dedicated to the 22,000 workers who lost their lives helping to construct the canal. The Panama Canal Museum, whose building was once home to the French company that tried to have the canal built at sea level, is also located here.
Riding the canal doesn't have to be done aboard large sea-going craft. Speedboat rides and other tours also operate here, giving travellers the chance to see the enormity of the canal from its heart. Choose from a fast paced, exhilarating ride, or slow things down on a sightseeing tour.
Chagres National Park
Nature and culture enthusiasts should visit Chagres National Park, an extensive area of tropical jungle housing an impressive variety of flora and fauna, some of which is indigenous to the area. There are tours available to make sure you get the most out of your visit here, and some of them include a trip to a traditional Embera village. These villages have remained unchanged since the time of Christopher Columbus and visitors can experience traditional body painting and shop for unusual souvenirs.
Cristobal is surprisingly accommodating for shoppers with an extensive covered marketplace boasting a wide variety of locally produced handicrafts available to buy. It's popular for its range of handcrafted jewellery and woven wall hangings, as well as traditional souvenirs including shell and silver trinkets and woven baskets. Most of the items here have been made by hand using traditional, time-honoured methods. The other cruise terminal in the area, Colon 2000 has a vast shopping precinct which is home to numerous designer brands but is not as traditional in nature. The prices tend to be a little bit higher here, but if you're looking for mainstream shopping, this is the perfect place to visit. It's popular for its clothing, watches and jewellery here.
Most of the restaurants are located in Colon though you are able to find a few good ones in Cristobal itself. Café Mediterranea and Panaderia Mediterranea are two restaurants that serve up locally caught seafood and the famous dish of Panama Sancocho. This is made with avocado, chicken and yucca in a stew. Other popular and traditional meals include a variety of soups, ceviche and fried plantain which is served as an accompaniment to most meals.
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