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Travel Stories:Panama – Part 5: Portobelo

Are you ready for some pirate action? Because today we will (re)visit the small bayside town of Portobelo, Panamá.
This place smells of history and sounds of clanking swords … yet there is not to much else to do there …

How to get to Portobelo

Here’s were hings get tricky (again). As I’ve talked about in my Santa Catalina – Post: Getting around Panama isn’t that easy, even if you do have a car.
And with Portobelo ist was a little bit worse … There are some trips being sold yet … They’re rare and usually not under 100$. Which is a little ridicoulus … But more on that soon.

We went on to ask the really nice guy at the El Machico reception and he had a solution: Take the bus.
If you want to get to Portobelo you need to get to Albrook Bus Terminal and take the bus headed towards Colón. There’s an express one that will usually not stop inbetween or some more scenic options.

Do not go all the way to Colón!

The problem with Colón …

If you’re taking the bus you should get off one stop before Colón called Sabanitas. Most people will get off there and it’s quite hard to miss: There’s a supermarket (In case you still need to get some snacks) and you’ll see a lot of people standing there.

Again: Do not go all the way to Colón. Colón is supposedly really dangerous. Now usually I take those things with a grain of salt: What our travel guides may consider dangerous may just be regular life in the country you’re visiting.
But: As soon as locals start to tell you that a place is dangerous … Stop and listen. That was the case here.
Don’t go to Colón. Period.

So: Get off at Sabanitas and take the bus to Portobel from there. The people are really open and friendly and will help you without much consideration.
The bus will cost you about 5$ to get to Portobelo and 5 to get back. More or less. Prices aren’t super fix soo … As always: Ask the driver.

Also: There’s usually a lot of street vendors at Sabanitas. If you see a lady cooking orange-y fruit in salt water: Buy a bag. These are pifa. They’re palm fruit and a popular snack in Panamá. They’re usually cooked in salted water – therefore savoury – and then eaten as a snack.

They are a little dry, taste a little like potatoes and might get a little getting used to. I bought a bag of five (maybe) for a dollar and it was enough to satisfy the three off us.

If you want to try something truyl Panamenian: Go buy pifa.

The Fort(s)

Everything in Portobelo is easily and freely accessible. Different from other tourist attractions entrance is completely free.

You can walk around the historical forts all on your own, no guide needed and check everything out on your own time.
There’s also no real danger of getting lost.

The first part of the ruins is just right outside the village. If you hit the right spot, just shout for the driver to let you out, if not you’ll have to walk a little back from the bus stop.

The second part is a little further down the one road that is Portobelo.

If you don’t care for pirate forts you can also check out the church in the town center. Apparently there’s a black Jesus idol in there that seems to have a lot of religious value. Since I’m an atheist I can’t really speak on that. So I won’t.

Portobelo History Lesson

Here’s why I was looking forward to Portobelo so much: The history.

Portobelo was “discovered” by Christoph Colombus during his “travels” through Latin America. He’s supposedly who gave the place its name: Puerto bello. Beautiful Port. I know: Dude was creative.

Portobelo is also known for its pirate history. It was at one point one of the richest cities along the coast which – obviously – went on to attrackt plunderes.
Due to Panamás unique geography and its location between two coasts and two countries it was a place easily accessible from both the old and the new world.
This is why a lot of “explorers” would carry the valuables they “found” to Portobelo from where they would then be transported back to Europe.

During its long and moving history Portobelo was visited by bothe Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan.

It is also the supposed place of death of the former. Good old Sir Francis had been to Panamá before this time around he planned to make his way down to Panamá City.
On his travels over he sadly contracted a diahrrea virus and well … Died. So when his ship arrived at Portobelo his crew honourosly threw him over board and he became part of the sea.

At least that’s what I heard.

Eating in Portobelo

I totally recommend to pack lunch. Portobelo is a tiny town. If you didn’t pack lunch: There’s an amazing Sandwich Shop right were the bus puts you down.

You can also go to the supermarket near the curch or get some coconut cookies and a coconut at a shop in town.

Here we have it: Portobelo. It’s probably the most off-the-grid place I went to in Panamá and it is quite hard to reach. But if you’re into history: That’s worth it!

Please check out the other four parts:
Panamá City
Santa Catalina
San Blas

Or the next one: Back to Panamá City

And visit me on Social Media:

You can also get 10% off at Lucie and Leo with my code: MUPFIN.SMILES

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