A Weekend Getaway to Grande Island

Grande Island
Pictures views of Grande Island.

Many years ago, Grande Island (Isla Grande) was unknown by the majority, some US military had a home there and even a hotel.

Over the years it has become popular, it is like a small paradise near the city, for those who want a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle.

Despite its name, the Island is small.

It is located in Colón, within the Portobelo National Park, in the Caribbean Sea and as such, its beautiful crystal clear waters.

Grande Island

You can go with your family, with friends or alone to Grande Island, you will always spend a good time and you will disconnect from the city.

My first visit was more or less 18 years ago, I have been several times and there is not a time when I did not like it.

In these years, I have seen that despite business coming and going, the Island maintains its essence and great attractive.

Its waters are very calm, in some areas it seems that salt water pools are formed.


In one of its points, you can practice surfing, in this area I do not recommend swimming, due to the large number of corals and sea urchins.

The boats and the houses are colorful which makes the place picturesque.

At night, it can be as calm as it is partying, you can spend a good night with music and drinks, as you can also spend it in the tranquility of the sounds of the sea.

red door
One of the most photographed points, previously you could enter.

Spots of interest

Cristo Negro (Black Christ)

It is a photographic icon when talking about Isla Grande, but do you know its history?

On this visit, I couldn’t leave without asking, I consulted with one of the guys from the hostel and he told me that, according to the oldest locals on the island, years ago, a military man had a traffic accident and he was in wheelchair, he prayed the Cristo Negro “to be able to stand up and walk again” and in exchange he was going to do something.

After 8 years of work and therapy, the military man walked again, so he sent to make the Cristo Negro and placed it in the sea, near his home.

If you want you can walk to the Christ and you go on the left side you will see that the water is extremely low.

Black Christ of Grande Island
Black Christ of Grande Island

The Lighthouse

Built in 1893, it is about 124 years old, it is one of the oldest in Latin America, it is 55 meters above sea level.

Designed by the French, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who built  of the Eiffel Tower), it located on the west side of the Island.

To get there, there is a concrete path, however, it is quite steep, climb slowly.

You can go up to the Lighthouse itself, inside it is narrow and has a spiral staircase, but from the top you have a beautiful view of the island and its surroundings.

A few years ago, I went up it and I confess that the feeling that the lighthouse would detach from the base and roll to the sea.

It is very big, but the truth, it is made of steel and although it has some oxide, it has more than 100 years, when things were built with good materials and there it is.

Lighthouse of Grande Island
Lighthouse of Isla Grande.

Tours

The Transport Cooperative, the boats that cross the Island, offers tours to other places, such as

  • Isla Mamey Island,
  • Grande Beach,
  • The Tunnel of Love,
  • Cañón Ciego
  • among others,

Prices are around $ 60.00.

Food

Both at Portobelo and Grande Island, prices are around $ 11.00.

Inside the Island there is a small store, but it closes early and it is not very stocked, I suggest you bring drinks, water, snacks and you can even bring food to cook (if you stay in a hostel, take advantage of the common areas, they usually have a kitchen to the guests).

The water is drinkable, but has a strange taste, so if you can, bring your own.

path

Prices

  • $3.00 Cross to Isla Grande * (this cost may vary depending on the dock you go to).
  • $5.00 Lot parking (cost for day)
  • $11.00 average cost per meal
  • From $16.00 to $300 accommodation.

*There are boats to cross the Island, they belong to a Cooperative, they work from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm on Saturday, to 5:00 pm on Sunday and  to 7:30 pm from Monday to Friday.

* If many customers continue to arrive, they can extend the hours, the cost depends on the destination dock and if it is crossed during the day or at night.

* Costs range from $ 3.00 to $ 5.00 per person.

How to get to Grande Island?

By bus: you can take a Panama – Colón bus (autopista-highway) at Albrook Bus Terminal, get off at Sabanitas (it is the first stop after leaving the highway), from there you must take another bus that goes to La Guaira).

If you go by bus, I recommend you lodge, they do not make many rides, in addition, the ride, without delay in waiting for the bus, it can take about 3 and a half hours.

A few years ago I made this trip by bus, I left early in the morning from Panama City, I managed to get to the Island at 4:00 p.m.

The bus I got to La Guaira was the last to leave for Colón, so I had no choice I had to look for a hotel.

On the Island there are hotels, cabins and hostels, you can share a room, camp, you can even rent a hammock and use the hostel facilities.

By car (my recommendation): use the highway, it will save about an hour of travel, just check, through an app (Google Maps), the exit, since it is not signposted and you can pass it.

Take Sabanitas Street, just at the entrance is the El Rey Supermarket.

From Panama City to Sabanitas it takes an hour and a half (on the highway), from Sabanitas to La Guaira it is another hour.

At the La Guaira dock there is where to leave the car, if you are going to stay to sleep, ask to leave the car inside, it is the same cost, it will be in the shade and in a fenced property, the cost is $5.00 a day (no a night).

With this option, you could make a stop in Portobelo, walk the Forts, visit the Church of Cristo Negro and have lunch.

dock La guaria
La Guaira dock to take the boat to Grande Island, the island is in the background.

My investment for one night, with a stop in Portobelo

  • $15.00 hostel with breakfast
  • $7.00 gas and tolls
  • $5.00 boat
  • $5.00 parking
  • $18.00 in restaurants
  • $8.00 in food, snacks, drinks
  • total = $ 59.00.

My expenses were shared with another person, for the total of 2 people it would be multiplied X 2.

Updated: 2021.

Other places you may like

dock 
 La Guaira dock to take the boat to Isla Grande, the island is in the background.
One of the docks on the Island.

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