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Cruises to Colon (Cristobal)

Colon (Cristobal) (Photo:Don Fink/Shutterstock)
Colon (Cristobal) (Photo:Don Fink/Shutterstock)

About Colon (Cristobal)

Panama's Colon is best known as the gateway to the Gatun Locks and newer Agua Clara locks, where visitors can watch the Panama Canal -- one of the world's greatest feats of engineering -- in action. (The equally magnificent Miraflores Locks also are a roughly one-hour drive from the city.) The canal is only one of the region's many attractions, however. Colon, situated on Panama's Atlantic side, is home to the world's first transcontinental railway; its magnificent red and gold trains traverse Central America from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single afternoon. The country's vast, virgin rainforest is home to sloths, 10,000 plant species and 900 species of birds, including harpy eagles.

Having regained control of its famous canal at the turn of the 21st Century, Panama is now steering its own boat in terms of tourism (its second-largest economy after the canal). Significant development programs over the past several years have welcomed new beaches as well as several enhancements to Balboa (another major port, on the Pacific side).

Colon itself is in the middle of an approximately $500-million urban renewal project aimed at improving the city's image and boosting tourism. (Most cruise passengers that begin or end their journey in Colon stay in Panama City instead of Colon, due to the city's reputation for street crime and lack of central attractions.)

The project includes the development of a new duty-free shopping center at one of Colon's main docking areas, Colon 2000, as well as park restoration and the construction of a new retail mall, bus terminal and hospital. Colon 2000 currently offers only a couple shops, restaurants and bars; there is also an ATM on site. Although the project's initial plans estimated its completion to be in 2019, the city still has a long way to go.

Colon's other docking area, Cristobal Pier, is smaller but offers a craft market and folklore shows. Regardless of where a cruise ship docks, visitors can experience both places, as the two cruise terminals are within easy reach of each other.

While those who aren't comfortable with exploring on their own are advised to stick with the ship-sponsored shore excursions, it is perfectly possible to explore farther afield as long as you're careful. This means using registered taxis (Uber is also an option) and following the usual safe traveler rules: Let people know where you're going and when you're due back, and don't flash cash or flaunt expensive jewelry.

The province of Colon, rich in history and endowed with pristine beaches and exotic plants and bird life, will certainly repay the effort. Yes, it has its problems, but its future is prosperous and there are as many good, honest and welcoming people there as anywhere. Plus, a visit to Colon gives you the rare opportunity to see off-the-beaten-track parts of Panama, some of which are truly unspoiled.

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DAY 1: Miami

12 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Great Stirrup Cay, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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DAY 1: New York

14 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
New York
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Puerto Plata, Curacao ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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DAY 1: Miami

16 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Falmouth, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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DAY 1: Miami

11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Cartagena, Gatun Lake ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Aruba, Bonaire ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Tampa
Visiting:
Cozumel, Puerto Limon ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Cartagena, Gatun Lake ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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56 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
St. Maarten
Visiting:
Antigua, Sopers Hole ...
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Cruise Line:
Windstar Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Bonaire, Curacao ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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16 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Los Angeles
Visiting:
San Diego, Cabo San Lucas ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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12 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Grand Cayman, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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12 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Puerto Plata, Curacao ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Tampa
Visiting:
Key West, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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7 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Colon
Visiting:
Balboa, Isla Parida ...
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Cruise Line:
Windstar Cruises
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Cruise Critic Favorite

11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Grand Cayman, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Curacao, Aruba ...
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Cruise Line:
Celebrity Cruises
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16 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Miami
Visiting:
Cartagena, Colon ...
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Cruise Line:
Norwegian Cruise Line
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Barbados
Visiting:
Bequia, Mayreau ...
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Cruise Line:
Windstar Cruises
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14 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Half Moon Cay, Santo Domingo ...
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Cruise Line:
Holland America Line
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Galveston
Visiting:
Costa Maya, Roatan ...
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Cruise Line:
Royal Caribbean International
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10 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Half Moon Cay, Curacao ...
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Cruise Line:
Holland America Line
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Cruise Critic Favorite

10 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Half Moon Cay, Aruba ...
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Cruise Line:
Holland America Line
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Puerto Limon, Colon ...
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Cruise Line:
Royal Caribbean International
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11 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Half Moon Cay, Aruba ...
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Cruise Line:
Holland America Line
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10 Night
Cruise to Colon (Cristobal)

Leaving:
Fort Lauderdale
Visiting:
Falmouth, Cartagena ...
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Cruise Line:
Princess Cruises
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Why go to Colon (Cristobal)?

Pros:

You'll find it all -- from duty-free goods to encounters with indigenous people -- right at the port.

Cons:

Until its urban renewal project is complete, Colon remains a somewhat shabby city with few central attractions.

Bottom Line:

Colon is the gateway to the Panama Canal and conveniently located one hour from Panama City.

Colon (Cristobal) Cruise Port Facilities?

Cruise ships utilize two ports for visits to Colon: Colon 2000 and Cristobal Pier.

Colon 2000: As its name reflects, Colon 2000 was constructed at the turn of millennium to encourage cruise ships to bring their passengers into Panama, rather than heading straight through its canal. The port provides a clean, protected environment and well-regulated taxi services. As soon as you enter the terminal, you'll notice how its secure facilities contrast with the "rough around the edges" appearance of the surrounding area. An overhead walkway leads passengers to the facility's small selection of shops (many are closed or vacant with the urban renewal project underway) and larger department-type store with bargain-priced liquor, electronics, perfumes and other goods (including free-zone goods), as well as a few restaurants and bars.

Cristobal Pier: Cristobal Pier is about 3 miles from Colon 2000, the main port and duty-free shopping zone at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal. Regulated taxis run between the two, and the journey takes about 10 minutes. The gigantic warehouse-cum-hangar has been converted into a pleasant, welcoming passenger facility with a flea market at one end and an internet cafe and indoor/outdoor, sea-view bar at the other. There you'll find a range of wood-fronted vendors selling local craftwork (like embroidered sundresses, tablecloths, elaborate baskets and woodwork produced by local Panamanian-Indian tribes) and free-zone goods, including sunglasses and electronics at bargain prices. The shops are arranged around an indoor courtyard area where local dance troupes give folkloric performances.

Good to Know?

Protect your wallet. Street crime is a real possibility in Colon, so don't flash cash or wear expensive jewelry.

If you're going alone by taxi (rather than taking a ship's shore excursion), be prepared to wait until the tours have departed. Taxi drivers can only pick up passengers from the port complex once the last tour coach has left.

Getting Around?

By Taxi: Cabs are plentiful. Drivers are regulated, and their runs are closely monitored. Taxi organizers will take your name, your ship, your departure time, your expected time of return and the name and number of the driver with whom you are traveling. Look for the central desk at the Colon 2000 complex. 

Drivers will also offer a printed tariff of fares: $3 will get you from either port to any point within the perimeters of Colon City, though wandering about on your own here is not recommended. Some cab drivers will offer lower fares than the official tariff if approached directly, but we'd recommend taking the official route for peace of mind. 

Colon's taxi drivers offer a wide array of go-as-you-please tours, listed on a written tariff (so there should be no embarrassing haggling when you get there, though it's worth negotiating waiting time and investigating ferry fares or entrance fees in advance). Or, take an affordable taxi-based city tour, which will show you the main sights of Colon.

By Rideshare: Uber is even more affordable than taxi services, though wait times for drivers are less reliable and vary based on time and availability.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

Local currency in Panama is the Balboa, which has parity with the U.S. dollar. To find current exchange rates, visit www.xe.com. Dollars are accepted everywhere, and the port shops take credit cards (though stallholders in the flea market do not). If you run short, there are ATM machines at both ports.

Language?

Spanish is the official language. Some taxi drivers and shop owners speak enough English to have a conversation, as do several employees at the grocery store in port, but the majority know only a few words. Be sure to bone up on common phrases before leaving home, download an app to your smartphone, or bring a phrasebook.


Colon (Cristobal) Cruise Reviews

CruiseOrLand
Sail Date: Jan 2019
Colon is the Embarkation point for the cruise. We booked a Windstar transfer from Panama City to Colon, which is described in the body of this review. I don't consider Colon a shore-excursion destination.... Read More
Island Princess
Ronnie n Dave W
Sail Date: Jan 2019
Colon is an industrial town, not to be walked around. Some areas look like they were hit by a bomb.... Read More
Norwegian Pearl
Gxi8805
Sail Date: Dec 2018
Experienced the canal and shopped in colon... Read More
Serenade of the Seas
sandykj
Sail Date: Mar 2020
Long, somewhat slow and boring (8 hours). Expensive.... Read More
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