Sunday, November 30, 2014


The Caribbean town of Portobelo is among my favorite places in Panama, as well as in anywhere else in the world. Christopher Columbus named the bay in which the Spanish colonial settlement is located—Beautiful Port—when, in 1502, on his last voyage to the continent, he sought refuge here during a violent tropical storm.

Portobelo rose to prominence in the late sixteenth century as the port through which the product of Peruvian gold and silver mines was stored and counted before being shipped to Spain.

The port gained such importance that it became the target of pirates, as the presence of four nearby forts attests. In fact, Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery while trying to capture the town—and it is said that he rests in a lead coffin at the bottom of the bay.

Today, however, the town has fallen on hard times. In spite of the natural beauty that surrounds Portobeloas well as its vast historical significancethe heat, the humidity, and the rugged terrain has kept it from becoming one of Panama’s required tourist destinations.

Still, there is much to see and do here, such as paying a visit to the miraculous image of El Cristo Negro, whose healing powers has made him one of Panama’s most venerated religious personages.

Erinn and I are privileged to have a friend who occasionally allows us the use of a modest—yet very comfortable—house she owns on the edge of the bay and about a kilometer out of town.

Here, we spend the days reading, relaxing, snorkeling, and kayaking. Sometimes, I even get to write here. And it is for all these reasons that Portobelo has become one of our favorite havens in Panama.


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