Portobelo National Park, Panama

Map of Portobelo National Park, Panama

Portobelo National Park, Panama is 105 kilometers from Panama City and is World Heritage site with 70 kms of coast with palm trees and rich coral reefs. The park was created in 1976.

Portobelo was used as a port in Spanish colonial times. The town was a military fortresses that was home port for the Spanish treasure fleets and the site of storehouses for the gold and silver brought overland from the Pacific coast. Portobelo is one of the most beautiful natural ports in the Caribbean and was named by Christopher Columbus in 1502 on his fourth and last voyage. The city of San Felipe de Portobelo, after which the national park is named, was founded on May 20th 1597 by D. Francisco Valverde y Mercado. By the middle of the seventeenth century all the riches from Peru arrived overland from the Pacific coast via the Camino de Cruces. Fortifications were built to protect the port entrance and the city from attack by pirates. The San Fernando Fort, la Trinchera, the Santiago Fort and San Felipe del Morro Castle have been preserved as listed buildings in the World Heritage Site.

The old Customs House (Casa de Aduanas) has now been restored with finance from Spain. The Portobelo fairs made this city the cultural centre of the area for two hundred years. Merchants arrived to sell their wares at the fairs. In 1596 Francis Drake was buried at sea after his death near Drake's Rock (Peñon de Drake) off the Portobelo coast. The pirates of the Caribbean all had their eyes on the treasures of Portobelo. English corsairs under Henry Morgan sacked the city in 1668.

On November 21st, 1739, the port was captured by a British fleet commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon during the War of Jenkins' Ear. After this the Spanish began to sail their treasure fleets round Cape Horn to reach Europe. Today, Portobelo is a small town with a population of 5000.

Portobelo National Park itself covers 34,846 hectares. The national park protects the headwaters of the Rivers: Cascajal, Guanche, Piedras, Iguana, Iguanita and Brazuelo. The highest point in the park is the 979-meter Cerro Bruja which is on the continental watershed. There are also two hills called Cerro Pan de Azùcar an Cerro Palmas and a narrow mountainous strip within the northern boundary of the Panama Canal Basin.

Average annual rainfall is 4.800 mm and average annual temperature varies from 27° C on the coast to 24° C in the mountains. Premontane rainforests, very moist tropical forests, very moist premontane forests and moist tropical forests can all be found.

The Portobelo Park's 70 kilometers of coastline runs from San Cristobal Bay in the North and Buenaventura Bay in the South, with beautiful stretches of coral reefs, mangrove swamp, coastal lagoons and beaches

Four species of marine turtle, including the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate), come to nest on these beaches. The iguana (Iguana iguana) is found in large numbers.

The most common species of mammals is the manglatero cat. On the coasts, particularly in the mangrove swamps, there are crab-eating raccoons (Procyon cancrivorus). In the rivers otters (lontra longicaudis) can be found, and in the most remote forests there are groups of white-throated capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus).

With birds you will see osprey (Pandion haliaetus), common black hawk (Beteogallus anthracinus) and the tiger heron (Tigrosoma fasciatum). Also the largest kingfisher in Panama, Ceryle torquata, and the plumbeous kite (Ictinia plumbea)

Scuba divers recommend Drake's Island, Salmedena Reef, the Three Sisters, and Playa Blanca.

Colon offers hotels near the park.


Panama National Parks