The stretch of coast east of Colón  is known as Costa Arriba, which includes Portobelo, Nombre de Dios  and its neighboring villages, and La Guaira, the jumping-off point for Isla Grande . For most of the way this is a lovely drive: It’s quite striking to zip along the lush, quiet coastline and suddenly come upon the ruins of ancient Spanish forts .
Though the Spanish ruins scattered all over this seaside town hint at its long history, it still may be hard to believe that Portobelo (pop. 3,867) was one of the most important ports in the Spanish empire. Today it’s sleepy and impoverished, the decaying houses of its current residents built near or in some cases into the crumbling stone ruins. It truly comes alive only on October 21, for the celebration of the Festival del Cristo Negro  (The Black Christ Festival).
The town’s poverty can be a bit intimidating, but visitors shouldn’t have any problems if they come here during the day and stay alert. Note that Portobelo is one of the wettest spots on the isthmus.
A large swath of this area is part of Parque Nacional Portobelo, whose boundaries extend into the surrounding waters. The park is under increasing development pressure, however, as are the natural treasures that are not even nominally protected. Settlers are rapidly cutting down much of the lush forest in this area, and cookie-cutter suburban housing is going up along the beautiful coastline.
By Bus: Portobelo is about 100 kilometers from Panama City . Those coming by Colón-bound bus from Panama City will have to change buses in Sabanitas. Do not go all the way to Colón , and make sure ahead of time that the bus stops in Sabanitas, which is on the Transístmica 60 kilometers from Panama City. Passengers are let off near the El Rey supermarket. Buses between Sabanitas and Portobelo run only during daylight hours. The fare is US$1.25.
The main bus stop in Portobelo is next to the Iglesia de San Felipe. Colón-bound buses leave Portobelo every half hour 4:30 a.m.–6 p.m. To get from Portobelo to Panama City, take a bus to Sabanitas (Colón-bound buses stop there). Get off at Sabanitas, cross the highway, and take any of the frequent long-distance buses running from Colón back to Panama City.
By Car: Take the Sabanitas exit off the Corredor Norte. The turnoff to Portobelo is at Sabanitas, on the right side of the Transístmica just past the El Rey supermarket as you head north, in the direction of Colón. Stay on this road to Portobelo, about 35 kilometers away.