Cristobal

The Fuerte San Lorenzo
The shoreline of Lago Gatún
Portobelo’s turquoise bay

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Cristobal

A present-day view of the past

Cristóbal is the port enclave in Colón where you will arrive with an MSC cruise.

Southwest of the city, a road runs through to the enormous Gatún Locks, where you can get up close to gigantic container ships being raised and lowered between sea level and Lago Gatún.


Once across the canal, the road divides: to the right it meanders 22km through dense forest to the evocative ruins of the colonial Fuerte San Lorenzo, standing guard at the mouth of the Río Chagres; to the left, it rises above the shoreline of Lago Gatún, offering splendid views across the water and its sprinkling of tree-topped islands before undulating through agricultural land to the rarely visited coastal communities of the Costa Abajo.


MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruises also offer excursions to Portobelo. In colonial times this scenically situated town was the most important settlement on the isthmus after Panama City, since all the plunder from South America passed through here en route for Spain. 


The ruined fortresses, remnants of the conquistadors’ attempts to safeguard the treasure from the envious grasp of pirates and privateers, constitute the town’s primary tourist sites. Indeed, a soldier’s-eye view across the turquoise bay from the forts’ rusting Spanish cannons is one of the most popular postcard views in Panama, conveying the impression of a remote military outpost surrounded by dense vegetation. 


You may therefore be surprised to find the forts located in the middle of quite a poor modern town, with dilapidated houses propped up against the historical ruins and kids playing football in what was once a parade ground. The town itself is mostly squeezed along a thin strip of land between the main road and the bay, which spills into the Caribbean, and is easily walkable.

Must see places in Cristobal

  • The city of Portobelo

    The city of Portobelo

  • Gatun lake

    Gatun lake

  • Panama canal

    Panama canal

Discover our excursions

10 results found

  • Kayaks at Gatun Lake (3.5 hrs)

    ACTIVE & ADVENTURE

    CRI06

    Take a break from your ship, board an air-conditioned coach and enjoy the drive to your first stop, the Hotel Melia Panama Canal, which forms the starting point of your kayaking adventure on Lake Gatun. This exhilarating experience is sure to appeal to guests of an adventurous persuasion, who enjoy physical exercise and love the great outdoors. Nature's bounty in the form of stunning scenery and an abundance of wildlife is evident at every turn as you explore the area from the watery vantage point of your kayak - without doubt the best seat in the house. The tour will include a Kayak ride around the wildlife of Gatun Lake, and also a visit to Gatun Locks Lookout where you can see the operation of the Panama Canal.Please note: the number of seats on this tour is limited. Guests must be at least 8 years of age to participate and are recommended to be physically fit. As you are likely to get wet during the kayaking activity, you are recommended to bring a change of clothes, wear swimwear, sunscreen, a sunhat, sandals and bring a towel. As the transit of ships through the Panama Canal is subject to local authority permission and is dependent on daily scheduling, no guarantee can be given that any ships will be passing through the lock at the time of your visit.
    • Snack included

    • Limited seats

    • Active excursions recommended only for guests in good physical health

      Difficulty Level
      Strenuous

    • Duration
      3:30 h

  • Panama City Tour (6.5 hrs)

    CITY TOUR

    CRI04

    There is only one place on earth that you can reach via the Caribbean Sea, then travel overland for an hour and leave via the Pacific Ocean: Panama City. Located at the entrance to the Panama Canal - a major feat of engineering that has now been in operation since 1914 - Panama City is not simply a pleasing blend of modern and colonial architecture, but also looks back on a long and interesting history. It was from Panama City that Francisco Pizarro launched his two unsuccessful attempts to conquer the Incan empire in Peru - once in 1524 and then again in 1526 - and Vasco Núñez de Balboa ventured out to ultimately discover the Pacific Ocean in 1513. And Panama City was the first settlement to be founded on the Pacific side of the American continent, namely in 1519, at which time it formed a vital communication channel between Spain and its colonies in the Pacific. Your tour then continues on again by coach to Casco Antiguo, or the Colonial City. Founded in 1673, the city replaced the old capital, which at that time had already lain in ruins for 2 years after an attack of the Englishman, Captain Henry Morgan. The Casco Antiguo is full of historical buildings, which include a cathedral, the national theatre, and the fabulous Las Bóvedas walkway. As a final extra before returning you to the ship, the tour also includes a quick visit to Gatun Locks to see how the Panama Canal operates. Please note: This tour includes a long route by bus. As the transit of ships through the lock is subject to local authority permission and is dependent on daily scheduling, no guarantee can be given that any ships will be passing through the lock at the time of your visit.
    • Snack included

    • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

      Difficulty Level
      Moderate

    • Duration
      5:30 h

  • Panama Old Quarter (4.5 hrs)

    CITY TOUR

    CRI09

    With numerous fascinating sites with a history intertwined with Spain, France and the United States that never fails to delight, Casco Viejo (Old Compound) offers highlights which include the 17th century churches, the ruins of century convents and residences, original dungeons, a French monument to the 22,000 who died building the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Museum in an elegant, restored building that once housed the headquarters of the French company that attempted to build a sea level canal.
      • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Moderate

      • Duration
        5 h

    • Portobello and Gatun Locks (5 hrs)

      CITY TOUR

      CRI05

      Portobello was a market town as well as a fortress. It came to life at least once a year during the trading fairs, when the town took on an air of bustle and excitement between 40 to 60 days. The houses were crowded with people, the square and the streets crammed with goods, the Customs House with chests of gold and silver, and the port filled with vessels. Portobello became the emporium of the riches of the two worlds, the most important commercial depot of that period and paradise for the pirates. Although Portobello was substantially built and protected by four strong fortresses and several minor batteries, the town was repeatedly taken by British and other marauder. Sir Francis Drake died in Portobello and has an island name after him where he was supposedly buried. In this tour you will also visit the Lookout at Gatun Locks where you will be able to see the operation of the Panama Canal at the Caribbean Locks of the Panama Canal and the biggest Locks at the Canal. Notes: The transit of ships is subject to the local authorities. It is not guaranteed to see a ship transiting as it depends on the traffic schedule of each day. There are 80 steps to get into the lookout at Gatun Locks but there is also a lower lookout not as impressive but operation and narration can be heard. There is a lot of walking in Portobello, some on uneven and rocky surfaces.
      • Snack included

      • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Moderate

      • Duration
        5 h

    • Two ocean railroad Journey

      CITY TOUR

      CRI02

      Nowhere else in the world can you travel from one ocean to another, crossing the continent of the Americas in only an hour. This is what makes Panama an amazing country. This tour is an exotic cocktail of experiences and history all rolled-up together. Leaving from Colon City on the Caribbean Coast, famous characters and places are mentioned and as history unfolds over time, the scenery also changes when arriving at Gatun Lake, where large vessels carrying the world's commerce can be seen transiting the Panama Canal. Quickly we cross the Continental Divide and find ourselves on the Pacific side, where you will drive to the Causeway for amazing views of Panama City. We will return to the Atlantic by bus on the beautiful highway for a visit to Gatun Locks, view the operation of the Panama Canal from the Lookout and learn everything related to World´s Eight Wonder. Notes: The transit of ships is subject to the local authorities. It is not guaranteed to see a ship transiting as it depends on the traffic schedule of each day. There can be delays in the train ride due to congestion in the line with cargo trains.
      • Snack included

      • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Easy

      • Duration
        5:30 h

    • Embera Indian Culture (6 hrs)

      CULTURE AND HISTORY

      CRI01

      Paradise found in its purest form. This incredible journey takes you to the jungles of Chagres, where you will encounter the Embera Indians. Our adventure begins with a 10 minute dugout canoe transfer up the Chagres River. The Embera are a unique and beautiful people. They live much as they did when Columbus arrived in the 1500's. You will soon forget the outside world as you are immersed in their cultural dance and music. Visitors are invited to explore the area's abundant variety of birds and wildlife during a jungle trek that includes a visit to local waterfalls. During our visit, we will see that the Embera possess amazing botanical knowledge - most will be surprised to learn of their contributions to modern pharmaceuticals. We are welcome to paint our bodies as the Embera do, with a natural fruit dye called Jagua. We will also have the opportunity to view famed Embera handcrafts.
      • Snack included

      • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Moderate

      • Duration
        6:30 h

    • Panama Canal Cruise

      CULTURE AND HISTORY

      CRI03

      The journey begins when we board the buses for a ride to either Gamboa Dredging Division Pier or Cucaracha Pier inside the Panama Canal where you will take the ferry boat that will transport you through The Panama Canal. The ferry will have sufficient space for everyone. The navigation starts through Gaylard Cut that was the most important and difficult part of the Panama Canal construction, here is where the continental divide is located. After crossing Gaylard Cut we will enter Pedro Miguel Locks on our way into Miraflores Lake. After crossing Miraflores Lake we will enter Miraflores Locks on our way to the Pacific Ocean. Centennial and America's bridge will be seen during the adventure. Finally you will arrive at Pacific Port that is the entrance of the Panama Canal at the Pacific Ocean. Here you will take the buses back to the ship. Each passenger will receive a commemorative certificate of doing the Panama Canal Transit and contributing on the expansion of it! Notes: The transit of ships is subject to the local authorities. Transiting time depends on the traffic schedule of each day. The tour includes an approx. 1.5 hr bus ride each way.
      • Lunch or dinner included

      • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Easy

      • Duration
        8 h

    • Panama Canal Expansion (4hrs)

      CULTURE AND HISTORY

      CRI12

      Hailed as a major feat of early 20th-century civil engineering and one of the most testing building projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal served to revolutionise global shipping when it was inaugurated after 10 solid years of construction work in 1914. Removing the need to navigate either around the notoriously hazardous Cape Horn in the south of Chile or the equally tricky Strait of Magellan, the 48-mile ship canal provided an easily navigable link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Caribbean Sea. Your trip to this iconic structure begins with a short drive to the locks on Gatun Lake, from where you'll have a ring-side seat to watch how ships are lifted up to Gatun Lake, which is situated at an elevation of 85 feet above mean sea level. Moving on, you'll then head for the waterway's Expansion Observatory Platform to learn a little about the current construction project that aims to add capacities for a larger shipping lane by building a new and bigger set of locks. Your fascinating tour of the Panama Canal then comes to a close with your return to the ship.
      • Snack included

      • Best seller

      • May involve a limited quantity of steps, uneven surfaces and/or periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Easy

      • Duration
        4 h

    • Monkey Watch at Gamboa  (5 hrs)

      NATURAL WONDERS

      CRI08

      Natural adventure of sight and sound, combined with the thrill of speeding through the Panama Canal next to the mighty ships transiting this man-made wonder! After an exhilarating 30-minute ride at high speed right through the heart of the Panama Canal, the boat will slow down and enter the labyrinth of jungle-covered islands of Lake Gatun. In this protected area the wildlife is plentiful, and you are likely to encounter capuchin monkeys, 3-toed sloth, howler monkeys, various kinds of toucans and other bird life as well as caimans, crocodiles, turtles and a wealth of butterflies. This is an exceptional place to experience the sights and sounds of the jungle up close. Our trained naturalist guides will ensure that you have an outstanding nature experience by tracing the wildlife as well as educating you about it and its habitat throughout this exceptional jungle and canal adventure.
      • Snack included

      • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

        Difficulty Level
        Moderate

      • Duration
        5 h

    • Gatun Locks Canal Zone (2.5 hrs)

      SCENIC ROUTE

      CRI10

      The Panama Canal has three sets of locks. On the Pacific entrance are Miraflores chambers, and Pedro Miguel with one chamber. On the Atlantic is one set of locks with 3 chambers, Gatun, the most impressive of the three locks. In this one you will enjoy the experience to see the ships doing the whole process. We also visit the former Canal Zone, which used to be located the military bases of the United States. Notes: The transit of ships is subject to the local authorities. It is not guaranteed to see a ship transiting as it depends on the traffic schedule of each day. There are 80 steps to get into the lookout at Gatun Locks but there is also a lower lookout not as impressive but operation and narration can be heard.
        • May involve inclines, steps, uneven surfaces and/or extended periods of standing

          Difficulty Level
          Moderate

        • Duration
          2:30 h

      The excursions in the programme above are intended to provide MSC Guests with an idea of the different tours that can be arranged in each port of call; this programme is merely a guide and confirmation of each excursion and its description and prices will be made during your cruise.
      Shore excursions programs and itineraries may vary depending on local conditions and/or any unforeseen events in relation to the timing on the day of the tour.

       

      Some excursions are very popular and therefore availability cannot always be guaranteed, it is advisable to book in advance to avoid disappointment. The guides are guaranteed in English. Only for South America cruises, the guides are guaranteed in Brazilian Portuguese. Narration in other languages depends on the availability of guides. Please note that the final language of the tour will be confirmed on board during the cruise.

      Republic of Panama

      A captivating exuberance

      A captivating exuberance

      Encompassing cloud-forested highlands, glorious palm-fringed islands, vibrant indigenous cultures and Central America’s most ebullient capital city, a holiday to Panama offers a surprisingly varied landscape for such a small country.

      This slender, serpentine nation has a unique history: from the loot-laden mule trains of the Spanish Camino Real to the scything open of the rainforest by the world’s most famous canal, Panama has long proved valuable as a shortcut between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific waves


      Constituting a biological crossroads, too, the isthmus boasts an even greater density of plant biodiversity than Amazonia. 

      Panama’s compact size means the vast majority of its sights are easily accessible. 

      On a cruise to Panama you’ll encounter the irresistible juxtaposition of  ancient and modern, artificial and natural: vast computerized Panamax container ships transiting the canal slice through primeval rainforests teeming with fluorescent frogs and elusive wild cats, only half an hour by dugout from where Emberá villagers practise subsistence agriculture. 


      Visiting the country’s fringes and little-visited interior, you can explore archipelagos and untracked jungle, basing yourself in small towns, friendly villages and remote eco-lodges, and from Volcán Barú – Panama’s highest peak – you can witness the unique and breathtaking sight of the sun rising over both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.