The first thing I read about Colón, Panama when I Googled it was:
Colón is a city in Central Panama. The town is in poor condition and notorious for its high crime rate…
Our cruise ship offered a lot of different shore excursions in Panama, but the only thing I wanted to do was go see the Panama Canal. It was also the one thing that the captain of the ship recommended.
So, I tried to research it online to see if I could find the best deal. Let me tell you – the information online is kind of confusing and apparently a lot is out of date or just incorrect.
I did find out that there were 3 places you could go see the Panama Canal – Gatún Locks, Miraflores Locks or the brand new part of the canal. Since Gatún Locks were nearby Colón where we docked on the Celebrity Refelction, we decided to go there…just walk off the ship and get a taxi.
I’d read on one website that a taxi would be US$ 5-7 one way, so when the taxi drivers told us that it would cost US$ 80 round trip …well, that was just not going to happen. Luckily, another guy persistently told us that the absolute bare minimum he could offer would be US$ 60. At the very same time, another guy told me (he kind of whispered to me) that he’d take us for US$ 40…so, we went with him.
He was driving in one of the yellow cabs that most of them (if not all) seemed to drive. He was a really nice and chatty guy, and we felt comfortable driving with him and could easily talk to him in Spanish.
We told him that we wanted to go to Gatún, but he actually took us to the new Agua Clara Visitor’s Center, which is located at the new (expanded) part of the Panama Canal, which just opened in 2016. This place is really nice and I thought it was worth the visit. Apparently, it’s not worth going to Gatún which is the old part of the Panama Canal and located just on the other side from the new part. From where we were, we could still see ships passing the Gatún Locks.
We were so lucky to arrive just as a huge Maersk container ship (Maersk Seville) was getting ready to enter the locks and go through the canal. Being from Denmark and seeing that Maersk is a Danish shipping company, it was just a really great visit for us. But regardless of the ship, it was really interesting to see how the lock system works. And we had a great, panoramic view of the first of three chambers that the Maersk Seville ship had to pass in order to get from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean Sea.
The entrance to the Visitor’s Center was US$ 15 for adults. We spent about 1 hour and 30 minutes just seeing the ship enter and pass from the first lock to the second. After that, we visited the gift shop really quickly and left again, making the entire tour about 2 hours and 30 minutes. The drive from our cruise ship port to Agua Clara Visitor’s Center was about 25-30 minutes each way.
This was clearly the right way to spend the day, unless you do another tour. The little town right by the cruise port is NOT a great place to walk. It’s probably not safe either. We were advised not to go walking, not to wear jewelry and not to carry too much cash as Colón is a dangerous place and people can get mugged even during the day.
On the way back to the ship, we really paid attention to the streets just outside the port. There’s nothing to see, but dirty and run down streets & buildings. There is a large Free Zone area just outside the port, but it was closed as today was a holiday.
All in all, I really enjoyed today. The Panama Canal is certainly an interesting visit – even on a rainy day like today was.