Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Colón Panama Cruise Port: Tips, Attractions and Weather

Fort San Lorenzo near Colón Panama. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Fort San Lorenzo near Colón Panama. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The Colón cruise port is the gateway to the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side and one of the more popular stops on “exotic” western Caribbean cruises.

The most popular western Caribbean cruises usually visit some combination of Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The word “exotic” in exotic western cruises promoted by cruise lines usually means the ship will go to one or more ports of call on on the Central American coast. Roatan, Belize City, Costa Rica and Panama’s Colón lead the list.

Cruise visitors usually arrive at Colón 2000 or Pier 6 of Cristóbal port on the south side of Limon Bay. The location on the bay is important to know for the sake of seeing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Colón is the provincial capital, and the province has Central America’s largest port system.

Like other Central American countries with a Caribbean coast, Panama offers more in the way of ecotourism, history, culture and education than just plain beaches. In fact, Colón is not the place to go for beaches. So plan excursions accordingly.

Quick Travel Tips

  • Lake Gatún and Panama Canal tours are the dominant attractions.
  • Beach lovers will have to drive long distances to find good ones.
  • Colón Free Zone is the largest duty-free zone in the western hemisphere and the second largest in the world.

Where is Colón Panama?

Colón Panama is a little more than 200 miles east to southeast of Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Because of their closeness, they often are included on the same cruise itinerary. But like Limon, Colón is one of the southernmost ports of any western Caribbean cruise at 900 miles south of Cozumel. For that reason, Colón is usually on exotic western Caribbean itineraries of at least seven days.

Gatun locks
Lake Gatún is one of the biggest attractions in the cruise port area. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Attractions and Shore Excursions

A cruise to Panama might lead someone to think that the main attraction is the Panama Canal and the famous locks that raise and lower ships as they cross between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

They would be right, but Colón has more to offer.

Walking Around Attractions

Colón Cruise Port Map

The area around the Colón 2000 terminal is known for its restaurants and shopping. The area around the nearby Cristóbal port is known for its craft markets.

The two locations are about three miles apart and take 10 minutes to reach by regulated taxis.

It is worth noting that Colón has a reputation for street crime, but government authorities have made a strong effort to make tourists feel secure within the duty-free zone. Make sure to use a registered taxi when traveling outside of the zone and don’t display wallets or jewelry. When possible, walk with or among other tourists.

Colon 2000 is a growing tourism district with restaurants, shops, casinos and duty free shopping mall. The mall calls itself, “The only tourism and tax-free mall in the Caribbean”, although some other ports with malls beg to differ. The mall has dozens of shops representing some major international brands.

The Panama government has invested $900 million in a major city renovation. It includes refurbished streets, improved sewage systems and upgrades of public spaces and buildings.

Otherwise, the city doesn’t have much to see or do outside of Colón 2000. It is one of the few Caribbean ports without any guided city shore excursions at this time. Most cruise visitors opt for the shore excursions that take them outside of the city.

Shore Excursions

The most popular shore excursions take cruise travelers to the Panama Canal locks.

For first-time visitors, it is useful to know that the Panama Canal was made possible because of the narrow width of Panama between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and a huge investment of money and labor (as well as lives). It also was made possible by the presence of the sprawling Lake Gatún near Colón.

Limon Bay connects with Lake Gatún at the Gatún Locks, the first of the famous locks on the Atlantic side that raise and lower ships going through Panama and that need to adjust to different terrains and sea levels.

The lake and the locks are only about a 25 minute drive from Colón via taxi or excursion bus.

A tour of the locks is not the most exciting experience for a cruise traveler in the Caribbean, but it is one of the most impressive and educational excursions. The tour is highly recommended for families in particular.

Anyone on a tight schedule can visit the locks and return to Colón within a few hours. Other visitors usually combine the locks with other activities including a kayak or canoe tour around Lake Gatún to view the numerous species of wildlife that live there. Less active people can take boat tours.

Other Attractions

Wildlife fills Lake Gatun.

Two of the next best attractions in the area are in opposite directions of each other along the Atlantic coast.

Fort San Lorenzo, one of the oldest Spanish forts in America, lies about 45 minutes west of Colón. Built in 1597, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed to protect the mouth of Chagres River. A four- to five-hour tour that includes both the fort and the Gatún locks will cost about $100 per person with discounts for children.

The Chagres was an entry point for boats that traveled upstream to reach Venta de Cruces. From that point, they walked to Panama City on a trail Camino de Cruces.

Cruise visitors to Colon also can go to Panama City on a much quicker shore excursion than early settlers. They can take a train or excursion bus from the Colon docks on a one-hour ride across the country. It includes a tour of the historical Panama City as well as a visit to the Miraflores Locks. Prices usually range from about $75 to $150 depending on the length, mode of transportation and other factors.

Portobelo National Park is another UNESCO World Heritage site located about an hour east of Colón. Christopher Columbus discovered and named the landing site Portobelo, which is Italian for “beautiful port,” in 1502.

Francisco Valverde y Mercado founded the city of San Felipe de Portobelo in 1597. The Spaniards shipped gold and silver from Peru, unloaded it at Panama City and carried it on mules across the isthmus to Portobelo. Visitors can see the remains of the original fortifications that protected the plunder from pirates.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Colón is known for the above shore excursions, but it’s not known as a beach destination.

Although Panama has its share of good beaches, most of them are located elsewhere, like Bocas del Toro.

Cruise visitors to Colon with a passion for beaches can go to Playa La Angosta, which is about a 40 minute drive from Colon, or to Isla Grande, an island about an hour away.

Shopping / Restaurants

Visitors can start their shopping at the modest Colón 2000 mall right by the cruise docks. It is known for a handful of shops, restaurants, a casino and a safe environment. For safety reasons, tourists should not venture outside of the mall unless by taxi or excursion bus.

Colón claims the second largest duty-free shopping zone in the world.  The much bigger opportunity lies at the Colón Free Zone southeast of the cruise docks. It has more than 3,000 companies represented on more than 1,000 acres of land.

Cristobal Pier on the eastern side of the Panama Canal has an active crafts market.

Another interesting option is for passengers to hop on a train and go to Panama City. The distance is 46 miles, and the ride lasts about an hour. Passengers can board the train at the Atlantic Passenger Station in Mount Hope near the Port of Cristobal. It is a mile and a half southwest of the cruise terminal. Multiple cruise lines offer this trip as an excursion.

Getting Around / Transportation

Colón is better known as a port where cruise passengers take excursions into the countryside or over to Panama City rather than staying in the city. Although taxi service is available in Colón, there are few options for traveling short distances.

“Rather than spending the day in Colon, many cruise passengers choose instead to participate in shore excursions arranged by their ships or tours organized independently,” as one cruise line said.


Panama weather on the Caribbean coast enjoys drier weather from late winter to early summer and wetter weather from early summer to late fall.

The wet weather in the second half of the year is the result of the Caribbean hurricane season. It brings heavier rains to the Caribbean and parts of Central America. Panama rarely gets hit by a hurricane, but instead has spikes in rain.

Temperatures are warm throughout the year with average highs nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32 Celsius.

Final Tips

  • Panama is a more active cruise destination than a restful one.
  • The educational experience at the Panama Canal makes it a good choice for families.
  • English is widely spoken, and U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
January 25, 2024

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