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 Port Stops Near The Panama Canal Locks (and which ones I will avoid)

     Most of the cruise itineraries stop at several ports before they traverse the Canal. I have been to every one of them over many years on the partial Panama Cruises.  While many visitors may have had pleasant experiences at these stops--I will name three of them that I have visited over the years which I choose not re-visit.  For your safety and travel enjoyment please check out the updated Travel.State.Gov website before you go -- to any countries that have had listed threats to your safety and security in these countries.   

      

     Many of the cruise ships traversing the Panama Canal have port stops on either side  of the Isthmus.  In 2005 we did the excursions (rainforest, banana plantation, river ride, etc.) in Colon.. and enjoyed it.  Perhaps it was our good luck that we took the ship's excursion--instead of "on Our Own" which we often do.  In fact, today, many cruise ships advise you NOT to wander around in the town. Now, we stay on the ship or to stretch our legs.. visit the few vendors who set up "pop up tents" along the concrete walkway a few yards down from the cruise ship passenger gate. The Indian craft area at Cristobal is gone, as is the Cristobal dock.

     And please be careful in Limón, Costa Rica which has earned a reputation for frequent muggings and robberies.  They said Limon is the most dangerous city in Costa Rica.

     As far as Cartagena, Columbia, please keep apprised of the US Government's Travel Safety Site for updates. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations like Cartagena and Bogota, but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities.
 

CRIME UPDATE (Travel.State.Gov)

Port Stop Colon (Cristobal)
     Panama's Colon is best known as the gateway to the Locks and the Panama Canal. But, the famous canals are only one of the region's many attractions. The country's vast, virgin rainforest is home to sloths, 10,000 plant species and 900 species of birds, including harpy eagles.


 No one told me!  "Sloths typically have over 600 species of bacteria, plants and animals living on them at any given time, and will often feed on themselves when they are hungry. (Algae is the main snack.)" And I paid $1

to hold one of them because I thought they were cute! Yikes!

 

     Panama is now navigating  its own future in terms of tourism.  One of the main objectives of an on-going  $1.6 billion development program, in addition to widening the canal and constructing new beach and eco-friendly rainforest resorts, has been to persuade cruise lines to use Colon and Balboa (on the Pacific side of the canal) as base ports so their passengers spend more time...and money ashore.  For that to happen, cruise passengers need to feel secure, a feeling not facilitated by Colon's rather scary reputation for street crime. So, local authorities are making an attempt to keep cruise visitors safe. They've regulated taxis and provided good shopping and cafe facilities at the two main cruise ship docking areas, Colon 2000 and nearby Cristobal Pier. Hopefully, this will alleviate reticence of cruisers to visit.
     Still, passengers are best advised to confine themselves to ship-sponsored shore excursions.

 

 

The other Port Stop was Cartagena, Columbia

     Most of us  know that Colombia is world-renowned for its problems with drug trafficking and violence. On a trip in 2009 when I asked about it, it was explained to me "There are kidnappings by the guerrillas. But, the chances of that happening are very slim. They are only in a few regions which are known and easily avoided.  Petty crime is in big cities. Colombians will tell you; don't make  yourself a target. Don't walk around looking scared.  Don't show off jewelry. Dress nice, but don't look like you have a lot of money on you."  Okay... now that information is unnerving! Nevertheless, we wanted to see San Felipe Fortress, the colonial architecture of the buildings and  the famed walled city.  We were advised to take the ship's excursion and we would be safe.  We were!  But.. the adventure was immediately dampened for me as we took off on the tour bus through the city at 8:30 a.m., I saw a young child (7 or 8 years old) sleeping in a fetal position in a doorway niche. The city was not up and running yet. Not a soul was around.  I wanted the bus driver to stop and wake the child.. he just laughed and said--he'll  be fine!  I could not get that picture out of my mind the whole cruise.

                

                                Shopping Mall                                                                                Castillo San Filipe

And THIS From the U.S. State Department today (9/9/2011):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations like Cartagena and Bogota, but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities.

Terrorist activity remains a threat throughout the country. On August 12, 2010, a car bomb exploded outside the Caracol radio station in Bogota, injuring seven people. On October 21, 2010, Colombian authorities foiled another car bomb attack directed at the National Administrative Center in Bogota. On June 16, 2011, a satchel bomb exploded at a local monument in uptown Bogota, resulting in some damage to adjoining buildings, but no fatalities or injuries. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can still be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists. While the Embassy possesses no information concerning specific and credible threats against U.S. citizens in Colombia, we strongly encourage you to exercise caution and remain vigilant.

Limon, Costa Rica

     We booked the ship's shore excursion, Tortuguero Jungle Boat Ride and  banana plantation in 2008.  When we arrived at the dock we noticed many little girls (11-12 years old and dressed nicely) waving at the passengers and crew members as they got off the ship. Some of them paired off and took off.  I recalled about someone telling me about child prostitution in Costa Rica... but certainly they wouldn't be that obvious? Would they?  As our bus drove through the town, I saw many little girls on the sidewalks walking up and down. When we got on our jungle boat I had an opportunity to ask the driver about child prostitution.  He said "not really."  Then the passenger behind me interjected loudly "Oh, yes-- there is child prostitution here... and it is condoned by the parents because the country is so poor they take the money home to their parents."  When I got home I researched the subject.  This is what I found::

     "The result is increasing poverty (more than 27 per cent of the population) and disintegrating families (41 per cent of all children are born to single mothers). Prostitution is legal here,  the minimum age is supposed to be 18 with sexual contact of any kind with a child under 15,  illegal,  yet the authorities look the other way even if the child is younger than 9! Costa Rica's commerce is juvenile sex and is blatantly out of control. And anyone with eyes can see it."

     As a mother, and grandmother I can't accept a lifestyle that puts children in danger--and visitors who take advantage of them.  I will not get off the ship in Costa Rica again--even though I know it has some reputable and beautiful areas.

     And just to close off my "naughty port list"  I will add that even though I love the Mexican Riviera--and been to each of the resort cities numerous times, I will not visit them again until they are safer. Nor will I add the voluminous information and photos I have taken there to my website.  I have also noticed that many cruise ships have discontinued port stops there also.  That, to me is wise. Some day when Mexico has it's drug and narco problem solved we will go back--but not until then.

Time to switch-- to tell you about one of the most precious port stops I've ever visited!   (Next Page)

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Safety Warnings in Pre-Panama Port Stops

 

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