Where to visit in Panamá
The fort´s ruins are located 9 miles west from the city of Colon, overlooking the Chagres River.
In 1502 on its final voyage Christopher Columbus first saw the magnificent Chagres River.
In 1534 just after the “taking over” of Peru by the Spanish Monarchy, established a gold route through the isthmus, it was called “Las Cruces Trail”, most of it consisted of the Chagres River, it connected the Pacific Ports with the Chagres River during rainy season. On those days there were two main Atlantic Ports; “Portobello” and “Nombre de Dios”, used as Spanish warehouses mainly for gold. The land route during dry season connected these two ports with Panama City, through a trail denominated “Camino Real”.
The precious metal commerce through the isthmus brought unwanted attention from pirates, which started visiting Panama around 1560, the Spanish in their attempt to protect the Atlantic front of “Las Cruces Trail” built Fort San Lorenzo right at the entrance of the Chagres River, which by the end of the 16th century evolved into a sea level battery.
A buccaneer called Henry Morgan ordered an attack against Fort San Lorenzo in 1670, which left it in ruins; in 1671 ransacked Panama City using Fort San Lorenzo as its base of operations.
Ten years passed since Henry Morgan had attacked the City of Panama, at this time the Spanish built a new fort 85 feet above sea level, overseeing the entrance of the harbor, and protecting the once known town of Chagres.
By 1740 Porobello was destroyed by British Admiral Edward Vernon, which forced Spain to abandon their commerce through this Atlantic Port; and shifted their attention to fortify installations on Chagres and Gatun.
On the 1850´s the Spanish had almost abandoned activities on both dry and rainy season routes through the isthmus, for which they started sailing the long route around Cape Horn on South America. Fort San Lorenzo served as a prison for more than 100 years.
Fort San Lorenzo has been a Government Protected Area sin 1908, the ruins of both Fort San Lorenzo and the Chagres Town are enclosed on the 29, 000 acres of the San Lorenzo Protected Area, at one time U.S.A. Canal Zone Teritory.
UNESCO declared Portobello and Fort San Lorenzo as World Heritage Sites; described as “Magnificent examples of 17th and 18th century military architecture, these Panamanian forts on the Caribbean coast form part of the defense system built by the Spanish Crown to protect transatlantic trade.”
The Royal Customs House was open in 1638, a wooden one story building, used as a school after independence from Spain in 1821. The building was designated as a historical monument in 1941, however its restoration did not started until 1997, at a cost of one million dollars, it currently households Fort San Geronimo and Museums.
The Church of the Black Christ, without question the most revered religious figure in Panama is the Black Christ or Cristo Negro in Portobello, which draws tens of thousands of pilgrims to the town every October. A small effigy carved from black cocobolo wood with an anguished face and eyes raised to heaven, the Black Christ is reputed to possess miraculous powers. The origins of the icon still remain something of a mystery. Some say that it was found floating in the sea during a cholera epidemic, which ended after the Christ was brought into the town; others maintain it was on a ship bound for Colombia that stopped at Portobello for supplies and was repeatedly prevented from leaving the bay by bad weather, sailing successfully only when the statue was left ashore.
Every year on October 21 up to fifty thousand devotees, known as Nazarenos and dressed in purple robes, come to Portobello – a number walking or crawling the last few kilometers – for a huge procession that is followed by festivities throughout the night.
This new observation center offers an exclusive panoramic view of the Panama Canal expansion. Visits take slightly over an hour. Covered decks view Gatun Lake and the locks; there is also a theater with videos in English, exhibits, a cafe and gift shop. With no on-site museum, the focus here is really about getting a good look at the expansion. A short rainforest trail has sloths and monkeys. Exhibits close at 4pm but visitors must enter by 3:15pm.
The turnoff is just past the railroad tracks, to the left; for the locks, continue straight at the turnoff. The center is accessible to travelers with disabilities. Prices: Adult/Children - $15.00/$10.00. Opening Hours 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
In February 17, 1998, The Panama Canal Railway Company, a joint venture between Kansas City Southern, a U.S. Class I Railroad, and Mi-Jack Products, North America’s leading independent intermodal terminal operator, was awarded a 50-year concession to rebuild and operate the line.
With an investment of $80 million dollars, the revitalized railroad provides an efficient intermodal link between the Pacific and Atlantic ports and complements the existing hub transportation infrastructure provided by the Canal, the Colon Free Trade Zone, the Port terminals, highways and airports.
In addition, its luxurious passenger service allows travelers to enjoy a journey through the lush jungles of Panama flanking the scenic Panama Canal. PCRC is catering both to business executives commuting between Panama City and Colon, as well as tourists traveling from Colon’s cruise terminals to Panama City.
The Panama Canal Railway is one of the great train rides of the world. Along with its colorful history, the railroad follows a picturesque path across the Isthmus of Panama. The line flanks the Panama Canal passing through lush rainforests, cruising alongside the Canal’s locks, through the historic Gaillard Cut and gliding over slender causeways in Gatun Lake.
It effectively links one of the World’s less traveled but most attractive tourism corridors between Colon on the Atlantic Coast and Panama on the Pacific. Passengers disembarking at the Colon 2000 Cruise Terminal, the Gatun Yacht Club, or at Pier 6 in Cristobal can enjoy different shore excursions offered in Panama and ride the historic railroad, as did our forefathers in their quest for wealth during the California Gold Rush.
Passenger service between the cities of Panama and Colon began in June 2001. The daily service caters to business executives commuting to work between the two cities, as well as to tourists in general.