Panama Portobelo

Portobelo, a Natural, Historical and Cultural Paradise in Panamá

From its territory one of the most outstanding religious festivities in Panama takes place; its gastronomy registers flavors of the Afro table and its traditions expose the message behind the Congo dance.

If we talk about culture, the district of Portobelo, located in the province of Colón, Panamá, does justice to this word since from its spaces it houses history, landscapes and tradition. Portobelo is located 60 kilometers from Colón and more than 100 kilometers from the capital.


Portobelo, Image source, Pinterest.


To access this site quickly, one of the roads is the Panamá- Colón highway which takes you to Sabanitas and later on to Portobelo (travel by car). If you would rather take public transport, the Albrook Transport Terminal has buses available to take you in the direction of Colón. You will want to stop in Sabanitas, and board another bus to Portobelo.


Portobelo. Photo credits, Astrid Chang.


This place has an area of 396.9 km2 and a population of 9,183 inhabitants. Its main economic activity is focused on tourism since it has beaches, extensive historical attractions such as customs and the canyons that remain there along with the remains of the forts.


Portobelo, Photo credit, Visit Centro America.


Today Portobelo is one of the most visited sites by nationals and foreigners, hundreds of travelers wait their turn in the port to board the boats that direct them to the various beaches in the surroundings.


Portobelo. Photo credits, Astrid Chang.

In the town you can see picturesque houses that stand out for their bright colors on the walls. The central park of Portobelo is a popular spot where the residents like to congregate, and despite the pandemic some foreigners can also be found here shopping in stores.


Portobelo, Photo Credits, Trip Advisor.


The beaches are just one of the attractions of this place, so is the gastronomy, where they offer the most outstanding flavors of Afro-descendant cuisine such as coconut rice, fish, shrimp and other seafood prepared with the ingredients of the Afro table.


Afro Cuisine in Portobelo, Panama. Photo credit, Restaurante La Torre.


Portobelo. Photo credits, Caribbean Sea Life.


Also, one of its most famous traditions is the dance of the Congos, which takes place  here every year. The dance refers to the situation experienced by African slaves in colonial times.


Portobelo, Photo Credit, East End Magazine.


Its religious activities include October 21, the feast of the Black Christ of Portobelo, (Cristo Negro de Portobelo), when thousands of pilgrims from all over the country congregate in the town.


Fiesta del Cristo Negro de Portobelo, Photo Credit, Mi Diario.


Believers in this Catholic saint perform various penances in gratitude for miracles granted by the Nazarene.

The legend of how this saint arrived in Portobelo tells that the image arrived at the end of the 18th century on a ship whose destination was Peru, but that due to bad weather it had to disembark in this historic town.


Portobelo, Photo Source, Visit Centro America.



Historians point out that in 1976, Law 91 delimited the historical monumental complex of Portobelo, which includes the area occupied by the ancient city of Portobelo, the monumental remains of the castles of Santiago de la Gloria, the castle of San Felipe, the fort battery of San Jerónimo, the Fort Battery and the Strong House of Santiago, the Upper and Lower batteries and the Strong House of San Fernando, the ruins of the Trench Fort of primitive Santiago, the Buenaventura battery, the ruins of the Farnese Fort, of the Trench of the Casa de la Pólvora, the Customs House, the bastions of the walled enclosure called San Cristóbal, and the other buildings that existed within and near the city.


Portobelo. Photo credits, Astrid Chang.


In 1980, the San Lorenzo Fort, together with the Santiago Battery, the San Jerónimo Fort and the Santiago de la Gloria Castle, were declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

These constructions, from the 17th and 18th centuries, are based on a military architecture of the time.

Desde la entrada de Portobelo se puede apreciar una de las  primeras construcciones que es la Batería de Santiago, ya que dentro de la población se ubica el Fuerte de San Jerónimo. En cuanto a Castillo Santiago de la Gloria solo se aprecian las ruinas en la parte superior del pueblo.

From the entrance of Portobelo visitors can enjoy the view of one of the first constructions, the Battery of Santiago, (Batería de Santiago), since within the population the Fort of San Jerónimo is located. As for Castillo Santiago de la Gloria, only the ruins in the upper part of the town can be seen from that location.


Fortification of Portobelo, Photo Credit, LAC Geo.


Within its spaces is the old Customs building, located in the same square in Portobelo. Experts point out that this building dates from the year 1630, marking a Renaissance style.

This place functioned as a warehouse for gold and other precious metals before being shipped to Spain. Later, it became the residence of the governor and other important authorities at that time.

Historical data indicate that the Fort of San Lorenzo, functioned as a defensive system for the protection of the transatlantic trade of the Crown of Spain. Its construction began in 1598 by order of Felipe II and was completed in 1601.

Portobelo was one of the most important towns in America during the viceregal era and was the port through which most of the Spanish ships passed with the fifth royal bound for mainland Spain.

The bay of Portobelo was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage, on November 2, 1502. This place attracted Columbus’s attention due to its natural environment and geographic location. For this reason, he baptized it with the name “Portobello,” (beautiful port).


Portobelo, Photo credit, Sal Que Puedes.


Writings referring to the history of Panamá state that at the end of the 16th century the Spanish began to use this territory as a population settlement and until 1597 it was founded by Francisco Velarde y Mercado, replacing the city of Nombre de Dios, since it was uninhabited due to weather reasons. The original name was San Felipe de Portobelo, in honor of Felipe II.

The city of Portobelo was also famous for its fairs, which lasted up to forty days. The first was held in the year 1544 in Nombre de Dios. Later, the fairs were transferred to Portobelo, when it became a population settlement. The last of these fairs was held in 1739.

Due to the accumulation of merchandise and precious metals, Portobelo was fortified from the beginning. For the same reason, it was the subject of various attempts to loot it by pirates.


Astrid Chang | Correspondent for Panamá

Astrid Chang has a degree in Journalism with an Emphasis in Audiovisual Production. Since 2018, she has been a journalist at La Estrella de Panamá. Her work in the newspaper was initially as an intern, where she developed in the area of sports, nationals, social networks and the web. Later, she was hired to lead the themes for World Youth Day and to be a presenter for the segment “Flash Economy.” She later became part of the Café Estrella team, a new content proposal by ‘La Decana’. In this booklet she has written articles on the environment, technology, health, sports, society, music, culture, sexuality, art, fashion and tourism. Likewise, she has organized and directed projects with visual artists for the International Book Fair of Panama. She too, was sent special to cover the Lima 2019 Juegos Parapanamericanos, and currently she is the coordinator of sports issues in the newspaper. She has training in journalistic leadership.