Panama to Develop Sustainable Tourism Offerings in Portobello

The Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) is looking to develop sustainable tourism offerings in the city of Portobelo on the Caribbean side of the country. Located in the province of Colon, Portobelo is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its colonial fortifications and for the Congo culture; it has also been declared an intangible world heritage site by UNESCO. Legend has it that the bay was originally named by Christopher Columbus as “Puerto Bello.” 

In the city, people can enjoy 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. In an effort to expand these tourism offerings, 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
  • 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 Caribbean views and waterfalls, which will be added to the “1,000 Kilometers 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 were transported in colonial times from the Pacific Ocean, ending in Portobelo in the Caribbean Sea
  • 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

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.

Panama’s “Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism” reactivates the country’s tourism, conservation and Research (TCR) strategy applied over 20 years ago by the 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).

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