Just an hour and a half from Panama City on the Caribbean coast, Portobello is one of the most scenic places in the country. During the colonial period, this historic fishing town was Spain’s major port in the Americas and the centre of their trade in the gold and silver taken from the Inca Empire.
You can visit the restored Customs House through which all this incredible stolen wealth passed and was counted. While the Inca treasure was exported to Spain, countless slaves were imported through Portobello to serve the Spanish occupation.
The ruins of five Spanish forts, which are typical of the Spanish military architecture of the time, also bear testimony to the riches once stored here. They were built to resist attacks, mainly from the British and pirates like Henry Morgan and Francis Drake. They are now a World Heritage Site but in need of some restoration and maintenance.
As well as this fascinating but dark history, Portobello now boasts a boutique resort, with a museum and gallery where local artists and artisans produce and sell their wares directly to the public. The rich local culture is readily accessible here, not least among the simple but colourful restaurants serving great seafood. Don’t miss the Black Christ, a 1.5 metre statue of Portobelo’s patron saint, housed in its own museum and honoured in a major festival every October. In September there is another huge Panamanian party at the Jose Del Mar seafood festival.
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