Once the greatest Spanish port city in Central America during the gold trade, Portobelo succumbed to piracy in the 16th and 17th centuries, now left with ruins of colonial fortifications and legends that pervade the seaside air. Tour the ancient forts, climb on the canons and imagine the scenes of piratical mayhem that lay in the depths of the harbor, still untouched to this day. A favorited spot for diving expeditions, Portobelo does not disappoint.
African roots are strong in Portobelan culture in this intimate town of just under 3000 people. El Cristo Negro (The Black Christ) is a manifestation of devotion and faith venerated among Panamanians, as well as in the daily visits by tourists and locals alike in the plaza´s church and the yearly pilgrimage inspired October festival. Congos are alive and well in Portobelo, dances historically empowering slaves under their oppression that are still reenacted in the village´s streets. A 15-minute drive lies the Isla Grande, an afro-Panamanian island community of cimarrones (descendents of formerly enslaved escaped Africans), a paradise of crushed sea shells, turquoise waters, and absolute tranquility.