Getting from Belize to Panama was a lot harder than we expected it to be. We looked into several different options and routes (via Rio Dulce, via Roatan etc), but finally decided on just flying directly and take a few more dives in Panama instead. For some reason the flight tickets we booked online kept being cancelled. On the third try we booked from Belize City instead of San Pedro, and we finally received a confirmation a couple of days later. It was a long day of travelling though. The water taxi actually left on time at 1 pm (rare). We took a taxi to the airport and had 2,5 hours there before our flight. We had another 2,5 hours between flights in San Salvador, and when we finally got out of the airport in Panama City it was passed midnight (1 hour time difference). Our dive instructor from Golden Frog Diving, Rey, was there to pick us up and drive us to our hotel (Coco Plum) in Portobelo. Checked in and ready for bed around 2 am. Long day!
We did 4 dives in two days in Portobelo. Golden Frog Diving was located just 30 meters from our room, so it was very convenient. Rey and the other people working there were great, and we were diving in small groups. The first day we visited the two most famous dive sites in the area, El Avion and Drake Island. The first one is a sunken C-45 aircraft, a small two-engine military transport plane. Quite cool, but the visibility wasn’t great. We continued over the reef, had some fun swimtroughs and even went into a small cave and out a very narrow opening in the cave ceiling. Drake Island is where divers are still searching for Sir Francis Drake’s coffin which was cast out to sea here. We were more interested in the beautiful coral reefs (very different in both shape and color compared to what we have seen before) and all the colorful fish found there. The second day we had two dives around Salmedina Reef. Our dive master was great at showing us small details and letting us touch what could be touched without harm (like a strange sticky coral). Other highlights was a huge barracuda, and helping to find and capture lion fish which do not belong here (native to the Indo-Pacific) and are now threatening the reef ecosystems. We also had lunch in a beautiful bay with white sand and crystal clear water.
Since we had not arranged our trip from Portobelo to San Blas and back to Panama City, we didn’t have too much time to explore the city. Portobelo is a lazy harbour town and the starting port for many boats going via San Blas to Columbia. It used to be an important trading port for plundered treasures for the Spanish, and several forts were built to keep the pirates away. We walked from our hotel to the city centre and passed the well-preserved Santiago Battery, which still has 14 of the original cannons in place. Other famous buildings are Casa Real de la Aduana (The restored royal customs house, now housing a small museum) and Iglesia de San Felipe (a church housing Panama’s most important religious icon, the Black Christ), but we didn’t go into any of them. We went to Captain Jack’s to see if it was possible to go by boat from Portobelo to San Blas, but ended up booking a hotel in Panama City before and after instead. That way we can leave our suitcases there and just bring what we need. With all travel arrangements taken care of we just enjoyed the social part of Captain Jack’s. Had some great curry, a couple of beers and a few drinks and talked to a lot of great people from all over the world.