- Özgür Töre
Located in the province of Colon, Portobelo is a Caribbean jewel where the UNESCO World Heritage designation converges both for its colonial fortifications and for the Congo culture, also declared as an intangible world heritage site by UNESCO.
Legend has it that this beautiful bay was originally named by Christopher Columbus as “Puerto Bello”; with iconic activities from Panama’s Green (nature), Blue (oceans) and Cultural Heritage experiences such as the Portobelo National Park, the Portobelo Bay and historic, colonial buildings including the Portobelo Customs House, the region is brimming with tourism adventures to satisfy any travelers’ wanderlust.
In an effort to expand these tourism offerings, the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP), in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Environment, is currently executing restoration projects to enhance the areas of Portobelo and San Lorenzo, which are part of Panama’s Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism. Several projects are being implemented, including the following:
- The rehabilitation of the old structures of the Portobelo Customs House and the San Lorenzo Castle, both museums that tell the story of Portobelo’s history, spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture with financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
- The education and training of local tour guides, in preparation of the reactivation of tourism. To date, the ATP and the Ministry of Environment recently certified 20 local tour guides.
- Rehabilitation of the Historic Center of Portobelo, both the cultural and natural part, which will be developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, which includes the rehabilitation of the Tourist Facilities and Interpretation Center (CEFATI), owned by the ATP.
- Rehabilitation of trails in Portobelo National Park, famous for its beautiful Caribbean views and waterfalls, which will be added to the 1,000 Km of Trails project, as well as the training of site guides to enhance the natural heritage. One of its most iconic trails is the “Camino Real” (King’s Road), an interoceanic trail where gold and other precious metals where transported in colonial times from the Pacific Ocean, ending in Portobelo in the Caribbean Sea, recognized by National Geographic among the 50 best tours of a lifetime.
- The support of conservation projects such as, “Rescuing Portobelo's Coral Colony” aimed at rescuing the coral reefs in the Bay of Portobelo, a popular tourist destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.
“We are proud to announce the implementation of our Tourism-Conservation-Research (TCR) strategy in Portobelo,” said Ivan Eskildsen, Panama’s Minister of Tourism.
“Placing local communities at the center of sustainable tourism, we are working to restore and preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site full of fascinating history, and extraordinary biodiversity, both in its oceans and its rainforests. We look forward to attracting the discerning travelers of the post-pandemic world, eager to discover authentic experiences with historical depth and scientific importance.”
Aimed at reducing the social inequality gap through community empowerment, training plans are being developed for local residents and incentives for entrepreneurship with seed capital, which is linked to the community tourism plan implemented by the ATP. The projects, which represent an investment of $44.6 million, are also designed to remove both Portobelo and San Lorenzo from the UNESCO list of World Heritage in danger.
This is another example of how Panama is implementing the Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism, recently recognized by UNESCO as an example of innovation and sustainability, highlighting Panama's natural and cultural heritage. The plan reactivates Panama’s Tourism, Conservation and Research (TCR) strategy applied in Panama over 20 years ago by the prestigious ecologist Dr. Hana Ayala. The TCR’s heritage routes strategy was updated to focus on three core areas: Cultural Heritage (multifaceted culture), Green Heritage (unique biodiversity) and Blue Heritage (ocean wonders).
To learn more about Panama’s cultural, green and blue heritage, as well as the experiences around it, please visit: https://visitpanama.com/things-to-do/.