Gatun Locks, which consists of three chambers, provides visitors with the best opportunity to view the Panama Canal in operation. Southbound and northbound vessels can be seen throughout the day, allowing visitors to follow the vessels as they navigate between Gatun Lake and the Caribbean Sea.
Situated directly across from and in front of the Locks' control tower is a large, comfortable viewing area, where bilingual speakers are always present to narrate and answer any questions you may have. The visitor's center is situated just 25-35 ft. off the Canal and consists of two viewing platforms, one at ground level and the other elevated. There is no other location that permits you to get this close. There is a small souvenir shop at the entrance.
There are no pubic buses that will take you directly to the Gatun Locks entrance, so you will need to take a taxi.
Isla Grande, just 1.5–2 hours from Panama City, serves primarily as a weekend destination for urban Panamanians and, to a lesser degree, foreign tourists. While its beaches are not nearly as spectacular as those found in Bocas del Toro or Guna Yala (San Blas,) the verdant green mountains, crystal clear water, and Caribbean style atmosphere are inviting and still relatively undiscovered. The island's few hundred inhabitants earn a living by fishing, growing coconuts, and servicing the tourism sector. There are no roads. Most of the island is inaccessible. The town is spread along the island's beachfront, which, on foot, can be covered in just a few minutes. A well-defined path stretches from one end to the other, making it easy to get around. Numerous small eateries, bars, markets, and street vendors line the town's walkway. For those seeking accommodations, there are many fairly basic but comfortable cabins and hotels that reside just off the path.
Overall, Isla Grande is a peaceful place to spend a couple of days swimming, snorkeling, swinging in a hammock, eating seafood, and enjoying the tropical climate. For the more intrepid, boats can be hired for diving and sightseeing trips to nearby islands.
Buses to Isla Grande depart regularly from Colon, but only those that read "La Guaria" reach Isla Grande. If you're traveling by bus from Panama City, there is no need to as far as Colon. Get off in "Sabanilla" and catch a local bus to La Guaria; Sabanilla resides approximately 30 minutes outside of Colon. The same buses that depart Colon for La Guaria pass by Sabanilla. Once in La Guaria, you'll need to take a water taxi to Isla Grande, which is just a few minutes away.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981, the ruins in Portobelo are dispersed over a large area, complete with cannons and stone walls, some in surprisingly good shape.
The first settlement, straddling the main road just as you enter into the town, overlooks the Bay of Portobelo and is a terrific place to start. A large row of cannons line the left wall, and to the right, a large open courtyard. Just off the right side of the road, nearly in front of the ruins, is a path that leads to the top of an adjacent hill, where wonderful views of the ruins and nearby town can be appreciated.
Further up the road, off to the left and just behind the custom's house, are more ruins. Extending out into the Bay of Portobelo, there is a long row of cannons to your left that run the full length of the ruins, and to the right an open courtyard.
Just across the bay, and divided into three distinct parts, you'll find additional ruins worth visiting. There is a stone trail that leads from the lowest fort, which resides along the water's edge, to the middle settlement, which is rather close and visible from below. It's an easy, short walk along a stone trail. To visit the third and highest section, you'll need to hike up a wide, steep trail. The upper fort provides no views of the two lower sections but offers stunning views of Portobelo and its surroundings. To visit these ruins, you will need to take a water taxi, which can be hired at the dock that resides just after and to the left of the first set of ruins you encounter when entering Portobelo.
From Colon, buses to Portobelo depart throughout the day. As well, you can take any bus that reads "La Guaria," which passes by Portobelo en route to Isla Grande. If you're traveling by bus from Panama City, there is no need to as far as Colon. Get off in "Sabanilla" and catch a local bus to La Guaria; Sabanilla resides approximately 30 minutes outside of Colon and most buses stop there. The same buses that depart Colon for Portobelo and La Guaria pass by Sabanilla. From Sabanilla, the trip takes about 40-60 minutes.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981, the San Lorenzo ruins are perched high on a cliff overlooking the Chagres River, offering spectacular views of the entire coastline. While smaller in size than Portobelo, San Lorenzo is different in that it has a deep moat and numerous caverns on the lower level.
The San Lorenzo ruins are located within a National Park, which also contains numerous walking trails unrelated to the ruins. You can request a trail guide at the park entrance. If you wish to view the Chagres River, turn left at the intersection before reaching the ruins, and follow this road down to the water's edge. There are no public restrooms or stores inside the national park, so bring everything you need.
Unlike Portobelo, there is no public transportation to the San Lorenzo ruins, so you will need to hire a taxi.