This Caribbean fishing village is so laid-back and languorous, it is incredible to ponder that it was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America. Mules once carried Peruvian gold and Oriental treasures to Panama City via the fortresses at Portobelo. Though English privateers destroyed them several times throughout their history, many of these atmospheric colonial fortresses still stand. Throughout the village, homes are situated among these atmospheric ruins.
Today, Portobelo’s residents scratch out a living fishing, tending crops or raising livestock. Though economically depressed, Portobelo is experiencing something of a cultural revival, with interest surging in Congo art and dancing. The town bursts to life every October 21 for the Festival de Cristo Negro (Black Christ Festival), one of the country’s most vibrant and spiritual celebrations.
Portobelo also attracts dedicated scuba divers, with no less than 16 major dive sites in the adjacent waters. Though the visibility can’t compare to more traditional Caribbean diving destinations, the variety of underwater attractions include a 110ft cargo ship and a C-45 twin-engine plane.
Portobelo destination guides
Portobelo by Rail and Gatun Locks Full-Day Tour from Panama City
Combine two of Panama's most famous cultural attractions on a full-day rail and coach tour from Panama City. First, travel by train to the UNESCO-declared city of Portobelo and learn about its people, culture and history. Then, travel to the Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal before heading back to your Panama City hotel.
Sir Francis Drake Island Full-Day Scuba Diving Adventure
Visit Portobelo Bay, on Panama’s northern coast, and dive into the historic waters surrounding Sir Francis Drake Island. The water in Portobelo Bay is crystal clear and offers an abundance of marine life.