What are the main tourist attractions of Colón?
There are many popular attractions in Colón. In the city itself, renovations are taking place. We have highly interesting architecture. Recently the Christ Church by the Sea has been restored; this is the first church built in Colón and a one-of-its-kind building in Latin America. Many other historical buildings are being restored as well. At just a short distance from the city within the province of Colón, the forts of Portobelo and San Lorenzo can be seen, both of which have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Then there is of course the Panama Canal and its Visitor Center, where the canal can be viewed. The Colón Free Zone is a great place for shopping. Colón features beautiful beaches and rivers, fishing tours, railways, the lake, indigenous communities that can be visited by boat, and lots of flora and fauna to explore. Food is also an important part of what Colón has to offer, considering that we have culinary influences from many different cultures, including West Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Arab, and Italian. There are a lot of options in Colón. As part of a wider tourism strategy, the government hopes to promote the inclusion of Colón as part of new cruise ship routes, along with islands such as Aruba and Curaçao.
What are the current administration's priorities and vision for Colón?
We want to renovate and renew the city. We want to improve its living conditions and convert it into a key tourist destination. Not only do we want tourists to see Colón as a shopping center, we also want them to explore and truly discover our city. It is a different city since it is not colonial, but rather American and French in its architectural order. The old city can be traversed on foot in 15 minutes, and we want to encourage visitors to do that. Walking through the old city is the best way to see and experience the most interesting and historical district of Colón. We want to make Colón one of the safest cities in Panama, and we are also promoting the development of its public spaces.
An Odebrecht-led consortium recently won the contract to renovate of the old city. What does this megaproject entail, and what will it represent in terms of job creation?
The renovation will have a big impact on three critical aspects, the economy, culture, and society. We want to empower our people with the tools and the knowledge to build their own future, not only as employees, but also as entrepreneurs. Colón has a major housing problem; many of its houses are uninhabitable, dating back to 1917-1920 when the Panama Canal was being built. All of these houses need to be renovated, as houses have a limited lifespan, especially when they lack proper maintenance. Certain heritage sites like Casa Wilcox and Maison Blanche are going to be renovated as well. We want to give people better places in which to live and better buildings, more public spaces, and a better quality of life. The government has invested a lot in this project, starting with a $500 million commitment that has since grown to $800 million. We would also like to see private companies investing in this renovation. We want people to come out of the Free Trade Zone and project into the city, thus integrating the two. We are learning from similar experiences in other places like Curundú in Panama City, which has become a much healthier sector with access to water and sanitary conditions. We also want to construct more housing facilities for middle-income and working-class citizens, which currently presents a deficit. We hope that all of this will be a great incentive for the private sector to invest in Colón.