Portobelo,Caribbean Sea side of Panama. This historic little town of old Spanish forts & buckaneer fame is where I joined my sailing group for the crossing to Cartagena, Colombia. The pic is dark but I left it as is because it's exactly as I remember the moment, dawn on November 28, my first encounter with some of our gang, waiting for the skipper to come & get us on his dinghy to bring us to his yacht and go on a wonderful, bonding adventure!
The Golden Eagle is in the background, navy blue hull.
I realise that I'm going on about this sailing trip... but this experience means the world to me to this day. There's no point writing tips about Portobelo, it's small & no one needs tips to discover it. Many, however, might wonder about how to go from Panama to Colombia. This, for me, was exactly what I was dreaming of even before I could even imagine actually doing it!
By the time I'm done, you'll know how to get around! :)
If you're arriving or leaving Panama on a yacht, you still need to clear customs and immigration somewhere. Make sure to choose a reliable, highly-recommended skipper to start with, for all the right reasons. He will normally be used to transporting foreign travellers back and forth and he knows what they need to be in order. Don't go for the least expensive crossing, choose carefully based on the whole package offered.
I was given a few names of skippers to contact in Colon. Some were more expensive than the one I chose, others less. But they were never as well organised overall, you had to bring your food for the four days at sea (I had NO idea how to do that and how we'd manage to be in the kitchen all at the same time!), and in some cases, you were on your own when it came to clearing customs and immigration.
With my skipper, he brought the food and prepared all meals. Everything was delicious and I could even say, done with a gourmet's touch. He made sure everyone on board had the papers they needed to leave Panama and to enter Colombia. (We would have lost a lot of time if any one of us had come onboard without the stamp in his passport showing that he'd been admitted into Panama OR if he had outlasted his stay. Also, major problems with anyone unlikely to be admitted into Colombia -- for more or less the same reasons.)
Our skipper knew the customs people on both sides and for this reason, he was able to collect our documents at the right time and dinghy over to the officials to get everything stamped in a jiffy.
The pic is the Customs and Immigration house on one of the islands in the San Blas Archipelago. It was so quaint and we all got a fantastic stamp in our passport saying "Left Panama on the Golden Eagle". There was another huge stamp waiting for us in Cartagena. I was so proud of that passport, showing all my exits and entries since Mexico all the way to South America! Well, I 'lost' it the minute I reached my final destination...
Practical details: You can reach Portobelo by chicken bus from Panama City, or Colon (the biggest cities around -- I'm sure you can also get there from other places in Panama.) I got off my Panama-Portobelo bus to meet a friend near Colon, then backtracked a bit to get a chicken bus to Portobelo. The ride was longer than I expected & a bit rough, but very rich in every way. We rode along the coast in a jungle, the bus stopped everywhere to let people out & welcome some in, local people surrounded the bus at every stop to sell fresh food to passengers, & the kids in the bus! Priceless!
Emotions: The kids in South America are very touching in many ways... they look like little adults at first & when you approach them with a smile, ask them about the puppy dog they're carrying under their sweater, they flash that child's smile & are sooo trusting! Many of them are little businessmen by force of circumstance. It takes only a smile & a question to see them as the children that they are. I saw many 'older' brothers caring for their younger siblings across Latin America. Every one of them was a child the second he was given a chance to be.
The Panama Canal Railway has been built in 1855 and rebuilt in 1909 during construction of the Panama Canal. It runs from Colon on the Caribbean toward Balboa on the Pacific. It was operated by the USA until it was handed over to Panama in 1979. In 1998, the government of Panama officially signed over the railway to the Panama Canal Railway Co. The reconstruction was completed in 2001.
The Panama Canal Railway is a nice way to see the Panama Canal because most of its way it runs alongside the canal. You can sit in comfortable wagons watching the scenic landscape of the rainforest, the Gatun Lake and the big vessels crossing the canal.
At the moment the passenger trains can only be booked via the tour operators of the cruise ships who reserved these passages exclusively. And therefore the trips are not a bargain.
At the city of Colon there is Panamas biggest port at the Caribbean Sea. The port is a destination for cruisers visiting Panama.
Colon has a really bad reputation because the crime rate is tremendous. As the city hasn’t to offer that much anyway it isn’t recommendable to stay here. Take a taxi or one of the tour guides waiting in the passenger terminal at the port and go to the more interesting destinations outside the city.
The long distance Bus system in Panama is very good can go from Panama city on a first class air con bus to David in the far north for $18. all the way to San Jose Costa Rica on the Tica Bus is only $25 with food service and movie.
The local buses are beautiful and look exciting great place to meet locals is on the Bus.
Panama City. Gran Terminal de Transporte. Ancon, Albrook
Oscar was my driver excellent English very nice family new and nice auto. will pick you up at airport and act as a guide for $80 $100 per day. Loved his service. Meet his wife and kids really enjoyed it all. real good guy.
After seeing the insperation here is the real picture. You can spend a few hours or a few weeks in the rain forest in Panama by dugout.
You can do this by contacting.
VT member Tammy (snoopy9109) she can help and lives in Panama
Tel/Fax: (507) 314 1417
Or if you speak spanish you can call the embera indians directly:If you are interested in an Embera dugout adventure, please contact the community organization Tránchichi Emberá Chagres
cellular telephone: (507) 698-6576 in Panama
You may also send a message via Mobil Phone beeper at number (507) 264-5155. Leave a message for Emberá Drua, account 810-01-01
Please remember that they only speak Spanish.
The line was shut down in 1981. It was restarted in 2001, and Kansas City RR bought the line. It carries commuters across the isthmus in the AM. Afterword the tourists can use the rail to get to GAtun locks, or all the way across. Apparently freight cars also use these lines to transport the 48 mile route.
They taxi vehicles are allowed on the dock area for ships after the tour buses leave. They charge $3 to get to town, and around $30 to have a tour there. The cost to go to Gatun and Portobelo is $120, compared to $83 each for the day using the tour ship offering that included Portobelo town also. Taxi would be around $180-200 to get to Panama City.
There are plenty of taxi in Panama and are very reasonable in cost. To save your self some money, walk away from the front door of your hotel, you will get charge more likely at locate rate then if you hail it directly from outside your hotel lobby. You don't need to walk far, just go slightly off to the corner or just count 20 steps to either direction.
If you like to have a bit of adventure. Try the buses. They are colorful and fun and cheap!! at 25 cents almost anywhere around the city can go wrong. They have names of the starting and finishing stop. You pay when you get off. There is no airconditioning on the bus but fresh air and loud music and lots of interesting comments and pictures and ornaments around the bus to help to make it an interesting bus trip even just for a few stops to sample the experience.
On Christmas Eve old Cliffie checked in for an Air Panama flight to Mexico City. The airline had hopelessly overbooked the flight but old Cliffie's quiet but determined negotiation brought him accommodation and all meals at the Holiday Inn for three days until the next flight to Mexico. He spent Christmas Day at the poolside, drinking margaritas and listening to Jose play 'White Christmas' on his Yamaha electric organ.
To get to Boca Chica from Panama city you get on the bus for David and after five hours get off on the junction to Horconcitos. There you can find taxis waiting to take you to Boca Chica for 15$. If there are no taxis when you get there you just ask a passer by to take the message to the village. You may have to wait for half an hour.
From David there are direct buses to Horconcitos where you can find a taxi for Boca Chica. Or you can get on any bus to Panama city and ask the driver to drop you off at the junction. Remind them again after 40 minutes just in case...
From Boca Chica there is a small bus every day for the junction for 2$ or private collectivos for 1.5$. Sometimes it is difficult to get on a bus from the junction because the buses from David are packed up and they won't stop so you will have to go to David and then catch a bus to Panama City. This happened to me...
Hitching is not common at all. People in Panama do not stop to take hitch hikers. They told me themselves. They didn't explain the reason. I suppose they are afraid or too busy. If they happen to stop for you offer them some money. They will probably take it. I have seen some poor hitch hikers waiting for hours in the hot sun in vain....
If you are flying to Bocas del Toro, to David or San Blas islands you have to go to Albrook airport - which has an excellent shopping mall, by the way, where you can go by many public buses. But if you are going to fly you have to take a taxi because the entrance is at least one kilometer away from the bus terminal.
There are no public buses to the terminal so you can take a taxi from your hotel. Don't give more than 2$ for a day ride and 3$ for a night call ! It's only a 15 minute ride.
Aeroperlas Airlines' telephone number is 315 7500.
International flights use the Tocumen Airport. It is located 35Km northeast of the city. There is no bus service to or from Tocumen but you can use a public bus. If you have landed there you just have to walk about 200 meters to the main street where the bus stop is. To come to the airport get on any bus going that way, get off at the airport stop and then walk to the airport entrance. When you are leaving you have to pay airport fees (20$) unless they are included in your ticket.
From Cartagena , Colombia, the flight with Copa Airlines is 45 minutes and costs 285$. There are also sailing boats for around 300$. For information about boats go to my Cartagena page boats to Panama
All in all, we enjoyed our experience at the hotel. It is well located, hence you are close to...more
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