Why go to Colon (Cristobal)?
You'll find it all -- from duty-free goods to encounters with indigenous people -- right at the port.
Until its urban renewal project is complete, Colon remains a somewhat shabby city with few central attractions.
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.
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.
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.