Train to Colón
You may have seen that early in the morning, and again late in the afternoon, a passenger train whizzes by Gamboa. Where does it go? Is it any good? Recently Adriana and I found out...
Nuts and Bolts
When: M-F 7.15 depart Corozol Train Station, returns 17.15 from Colon Train Station - the trip is just over an hour. Where: The Train station is on the side of the main road between Paraiso and Albrook. STAY ON THE MAIN ROAD - the carpark is on the right as you approach El Rey. Cost: $25.00 each way Thanks to Jess for the following contribution.
Train to/from Colón - not what I expected!
Adriana and I recently took the Panama Railway from Colón to Panama city. We originally planned to get the train from Panama to Colón at 7:15 and return on the bus, but the morning traffic chaos (at 6am NOT WHAT I EXPECTED) put an end to our plans and we missed the morning train. Plan B was hatched while driving back to Gamboa, actually sitting in Pan y Canela (Clayton) drinking coffee - take a bus to Colón around 1pm and return on the 17:15 train from Colón to Panama. We got dropped off at the corner of the Gamboa road and waited for a bus on the road to Chilibre. Before the bus came we were offered a ride in a small minivan at a reasonable price to Colón. I think this ride sharing is pretty common in Panama and seems like the perfect solution; people going somewhere can essentially car pool, for a small fee. Everyone wins. I see lots of people at bus stops doing the same thing. Anyway I digress. Our driver to Colón was Victor, it turns out that he actually runs tours for a bunch of hotels in Colón. He was super friendly, happy and full of heaps of useful information about Colón and the surrounding area. It was a much better/faster journey than on a Diablo Rojo. Our first question to Victor was - “is Colón as dangerous as everyone says?”. Victor says Colón is very safe and it is only people in Panama city who spread these terrible rumours (NOT WHAT I EXPECTED). Victor also gave use some great tips on how to shop in the free-trade zone (I think they're mostly kindof shady at best so I won't print them here). Victor drove us all the way to Colón 2000, via a short stop at his house to drop off some shopping. Colón 2000 is the Cruise ship terminal for the Port of Colon. I was imagining a sprawling mall - not unlike Albrook - although maybe more higher end - something like MultiCentro. Turns out it was NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. It is a very small group of shops around a Super99.
The complex itself is charming and brightly coloured, but the shops are essentially all the same and not unlike the souvenir shop at Tocumen airport. I can’t imagine what it looks like when some 3000 Cruise ship passengers disembark. It is crazy to think that most Cruise ships do not stop at Panama City, but at Colón 2000 instead. After walking around Colón 2000 (which only took about 10 minutes) we headed to the Hotel Washington - one of Victor’s recommendations. The hotel Washington is a beautiful old building that stands out against the rest of the city. It was built in 1870 at the request of US President William Taft. The entrance to the hotel has a well-maintained garden, which entices you in through the extravagant entrance. As you go through the foyer you are filled with great expectation about the beautiful vista that awaits you on the ocean side of the hotel. Positioned right on the beachfront, the view on the other side of the hotel was NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. Instead of more lovely gardens and a beautiful pool you are greeted with a helipad and a large expanse of concrete extending out to the sea - literally. If you want to read more on the History of the Hotel and see some old pictures click HERE.
After touring the grounds of the Hotel Washington we then walked - yes walked - to the nearby park on the seafront and took in the view. Colón really does look like it is falling apart. The stone fence on the seawall hints at a grandiose history, but the gaps in the fence tell of the present state of Colón. The lonely planet described it as “a sprawling slum of decaying colonial grandeur and desperate human existence”. This is harsh to say the least. All the people we met were friendly, during the day it seemed quite safe to walk around a little and all the taxis we took never tried to overcharge (can’t say the same about taxis in Panama city). THIS WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. Victor explained to us that Colón province produced enormous wealth for Panama but none of the money ever returns to Colón to help the city or the people.
Finally it was time to head to the train station. It is recommended that you arrive early. You can buy the tickets on the train, no need to buy them before, which is lucky because there is nothing at the train station, except of course our train. One of the engines was named “City of Gamboa” City! Really!
We were directed to sit in the carriage with the viewing dome, where there is a snack bar and a hostess who will bring your refreshments to you table. The view from the train is fantastic. There is also an outdoor area (smoking area) where you can really experience the train, feel the wind in your hair and see the forest rush by. This is my favourite thing to do on a train, something that is not possible in most countries now - something to do with safety and liability. The train travels past the Gatún locks where you can also see the construction of the new locks. It then travels along and over the lake eventually whizzing past BCI and slowing down in Gamboa. Over the Gamboa bridge, no need to wait for the green light, and then though the forest again. Finally you emerge from the forest behind the Radisson hotel and Golf course and then follow the Canal again before stopping at the Train station in Corozol.