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VOL. 11 #22 -- Oct. 21 - Nov. 3, 2005
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Places Section
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Spanish Version



Exciting shopping at the
Colón Free Zone!

The "business of Panama is business" and there is no better place to do business than at the Colón Free Zone, one of the largest free trade emporiums of the Western Hemisphere. Each year, thousands of businesspeople from around the world visit the Free Zone to establish commercial alliances resulting in the import and export of thousands of tons of goods of every corner of the globe.

The Free Zone is also a place for you. Hundreds of tourists include visits to Colón in their itineraries, attracted by the Free Zone’s Swiss watches, computers, and designer clothes, but most of all, by its "zero tax" policy.

The big question is: how to get to Colón? There are many easy ways to get to Panama’s "Caribbean capital" from Panama City. Here are our recommendations:

By taxi: Most, if not all of Panama City’s taxi drivers are willing to take you to the Free Zone. You can hire them for approximately $60.00 one way. You can either contact a taxi company through your hotel’s front desk or hire one on the street. Make sure to negotiate the price before you board the taxi.

Modern express buses to Colón depart from Gran Terminal de Transporte in Albrook.

By bus: An excellent service of large, comfortable buses links Panama City and Colón, departing from Gran Terminal de Transporte, located in Albrook (buses are air-conditioned and feature TV/DVD players and other amenities.) Gran Terminal is a large, modern facility featuring waiting rooms, stores, pharmacies and even shower rooms. Express buses, which take approximately one hour, depart every hour. Regular buses (no air conditioning) could take up to two hours to get to Colón. The price of an express, one-way ticket is $2.00. (For more information, call: 314-6248.)

Colón is in the process of building a new bus terminal, since current facilities are less than adequate. Please keep in mind that crime rates in Colón are high. Therefore, if you plan to visit the city by bus, it is best that you hire a taxi as soon as you arrive at the terminal. Dress down and remove all valuable items from sight. The Free Zone –a gated, high-security area—is only a few blocks away.

By rented car: Traveling by car always gives you a higher degree of freedom and control over your time. Colón is 80 km. northeast of Panama City, approximately an hour’s drive from the capital. If you choose to drive, the easiest way to get to Colón in a rented automobile is via the Corredor Norte expressway. If your hotel is located in the banking district, it is best to get on Vía España and turn right on Avenida Martín Sosa, which will lead you directly to the Corredor Norte’s toll booths. A series of road signs will lead you to the entrance of the partly-finished Autopista-Panama-Colón, a toll way which currently ends near the town of Chilibre. Speed limit is 110 KPH. (When finished, the trip to Colón is expected to last approximately 25 minutes.)

A plane flight to Colón lasts approximately 20 minutes.

At Chilibre, the Autopista merges into the Boyd-Roosevelt Highway, a winding, two-lane road best known as "La Transístmica", where speed limit is reduced to 80 KPH. Note that this road is used by a large number of container trucks at all times. Traffic on this highway, the potholes of which are being repaired in a number of areas, is often congested during the morning and evening rush hours.

By train: The Panama Canal Railway Company, the resurrection of the historic Panama Railroad, offers a deluxe passenger service to Colón, departing from the Corozal train station. The train leaves Panama City at 7:15 a.m. and returns at 5:15 p.m. The price of a round-trip ticket is $35.00 ($20.00 one way). Lasting approximately 55 minutes, the train ride is a wonderful experience, offering beautiful vistas of verdant tracks of rainforests and the Panama Canal. As recommended in the bus-travel option, make sure to hire a taxi as soon as you reach Colón. For more information, call: 317-6070.

By plane: Aeroperlas, Panama’s largest domestic airline, offers daily, scheduled flights to Colón, departing from Albrook’s Marcos A. Gelabert Airport, and arriving at France Field Airport, near the Free Zone. Flights last approximately 20 minutes. For more reservations, call: (507) 315-7500.

A round-trip train ticket to Colón costs US$ 35.00

The Black Christ Festival:

A mixture of faith
and colorful traditions

The Caribbean town of Portobelo, in the province of Colón, will turn into a sea of purple October 21-22, when many hundreds of pilgrims –wearing the color of their revered patron saint-- will pour into the tiny city to thank the Black Christ for the miracles performed during the past year.

The Black Christ festival, which has been taking place for almost three centuries, is a mixture of deep faith and colorful popular traditions. Often crawling and carrying heavy crosses, pilgrims from all parts of Panama travel hundreds of kilometers for the festival, which starts at midnight (Oct. 21) with a slow-moving procession through the narrow streets of Portobelo in which the bearers of the statue take three steps forward and two backwards. At the end of the procession, pilgrams engage in a lively, Caribbean-style fiesta featuring loud music, and lots of spicy foods at the town's colonial ruins.

The Black Christ arrived in Portobelo during the 18th century.

Although many Panama-nians would do anything to get to Portobelo (before the first roads were built to the area, many braved the rough seas not to miss the celebration) no one actually knows how the Black Christ got there in the first place. One legend says that, sometime in the 18th century, the statue was sent from Spain to Cartagena de Indias (in Colombia). Bad weather forced the ship to seek refuge in Portobelo. Each time they tried to leave, they were forced back again by the weather, until crewmen, interpreting the phenomenon as the will of the saint to remain in town, threw the statue overboard, where it was rescued by local fishermen.

The Portobelo fiesta will be best enjoyed by the adventurer type of visitor. At any rate, the celebration is a great opportunity for visitors to discover the pristine beaches, islands and secluded coves of the Costa Arriba (upper coast) region.

Portobelo is located 99 kilometers northeast of Panama City. To get there, drive 66 km on the Trans-Isthmian Highway towards the city of Colón, and then make a right turn at the town of Sabanitas. Buses to Colón (a modern and comfortable service) also depart from Gran Terminal de Transporte, located in Albrook. Good accomodations are found in and around the city of Colón.


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