Friday, 1 January 2016

Panama, Portobelo - 03/10/2015

Portobelo! Everybody casually talks about visiting Portobelo, because it's just one of those places that everybody goes to. I didn't realise that there was anything particularly special about this little town and we weren't going to go out of our way to stop here. In fact, we almost skipped it altogether on our way to Linton and the San Blas Islands. But our extreme aversion to getting up and doing things meant that we left our anchorage quite late in the day instead of in the early morning, so we just popped round the corner to Portobelo instead of continuing on to Linton.

It's beautiful here. After all the squalls and miserable weather, it was lovely to wake up in the morning to this. Perfect blue skies and stunning blue water. Christopher Columbus is supposed to have named the town "Puerto Bello," in 1502, which means 'beautiful port.'

But the main attraction here are the ruins. They're hard to miss as you come in - crumbling walls line the hills around the harbour with rows of cannons pointed straight into the anchorage.

The town itself is gorgeous, filled with brightly coloured houses and friendly people. Most of the buildings are obviously very old. It looks like somebody has come along with a tin of bright paint and just covered up the oldness with pretty colours. But everything is properly old rather than just neglected, complete with crumbling stone walls and moss covered windows. I've never been to a country old enough to have buildings made out of big solid bricks before.

A house along the main street

When you walk from the street into where the fort used to be, you're immediately thrown back in time to when there were pirates and warships. The stretch of land overlooking the harbour is lined with cannons, their noses poking through the holes in the wall. Standing behind them you could just imagine lining up the approaching ships and letting the cannonballs fly.

The fort was built because the harbour here was used to export silver between the 16th and 18th centuries - it was one of the ports used by the Spanish treasure fleets on their route back home. It turns out that everybody else likes silver too, so the Spanish figured they had better do something to protect their treasures.

Pirates attacked and captured the city twice, and the last man to do it was Captain Morgan (of Captain Morgan's spiced rum). He had 450 men with him, and together they managed to get past all the cannons and walls and tiny windows with guns pointed through them. They plundered the fort for 14 days, and during that time they managed to take nearly everything of value whilst raping, torturing and killing all the locals (in between bouts of plundering). That was in 1668, which was long before Australia or New Zealand were settled by anybody weilding guns. Yay, pirates!

So wandering around the fort I got a real sense of pirateness left behind from years gone by. The walls themselves were pretty awesome. I didn't know this, but Garth (my permenant tour guide) informed me that the walls were all built with an angle on the edge to make it easier to hide behind them. The windows were all the same, angled in to end at a tiny little hole just big enough to sneak a gun into.

Garth demonstrates how clever the walls are

From the inside looking out

From the outside looking in

There were a few watch towers on the corners overlooking the harbour, along with other random buildings. It was fun trying to figure out which one was the armoury and which one was the powder store or barracks. There were several underground rooms that we ventured into, which were pretty awesome too. Dingy and damp, it was easy to imagine hiding out down there.

Looking down at one of the little buildings

When we headed back to the boat we found another area of crumbling ruins, which had more supports and things around it. Maybe it was an older section, or maybe they just moved their base because the other area has a better view of the harbour. There were more cannons here, all pointed at the water.

The entrance wasn't hard to find

Inside the walls

The second fort overlooking the anchorage

So it was pretty fun exploring all the ruins and running around in a place with so much history. I'm definitely glad we stopped here! We're not staying long though, and tomorrow we're heading to Linton - our last stop before the San Blas. Yay!

Xxx Monique

Click here for LOTS more pictures!


  1. Hopefully you visited Captain Jack's while you were there. Such a pleasant, laid back place to have a drink or some good food and snag a little Internet.

    1. We didn't! Everybody talks about how great it is there, but we'd already put too much of a dent in our budget for eating out. We'll have to stop there if we decide to turn around and sail home the right way!

  2. Hopefully you visited Captain Jack's while you were there. Such a pleasant, laid back place to have a drink or some good food and snag a little Internet.