It wasn't until May 20, 1597, however, that Francisco Valverde y Mercado founded the city of San Felipe de Portobelo, upon orders of the king after the pirate Francis Drake destroyed the Spaniard's first settlement at Nombre de Dios. From then on, all of the gold and silver from Peru was unloaded from boats at Panama City and then carried on muleback across the isthmus to Portobelo. This was done once a year when the flotilla arrived, which attracted the pirates to the area in anticipation of an opportunity to plunder.
In 1976 the fortifications were enclosed in the newly-formed Portobelo National Park, and in 1980 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. The forts are standing to this day.
There are also several good snorkeling and scuba diving sites off the coasts of Portobelo, which is an additional activity that divers should take advantage of when visiting the area.
The park is located in the province of Colón, an 125-kilometer drive from Panama City.
How to arrive
- Car: Take the Panama-Colón Highway from Panama City and you will arrive in approximately an hour and a half.
- Plane: Take a flight from Marcos A. Gelabert airport in Panama City to Enrique A. Jiménez international airport in the France Field area of Colón. Transfer to an auto and drive on the Pan-American or other highway for about 15 minutes to Sabanitas, where you turn left and continue for another 30 minutes to reach Portobelo.
What to bring
- Insect repellent
- Tour of historic sites