Nombre de Dios

The beautiful, deserted mainland beaches continue as the 'road' heads east to Nombre de Dios. The historic town (1520) near the present village was once the thriving trading port that first hosted the famed fairs, located at the end of the stone-paved Camino Real from the capital. By the 1550s, more than half the trade between Spain and its colonies was passing through its lightly defended harbour, but in 1594 the decision was made to move operations to the more sheltered site of Portobelo. The Camino Real was diverted and Nombre de Dios was already dying when Drake captured and burnt it two years later, so that William Dampier could describe the site some years later as “only a name ... everything is covered by the jungle with no sign that it was ever populated.” Excavations have taken place revealing the Spanish town, parts of the Camino Real, a broken cannon and other objects, most of which are now in the National Museum.

The modern village is built on either side of a freshwater channel; a footbridge links the two. The church is built on a plaza on the west side, the main square is on the east. It has few facilities, one hotel and a restaurant on the square, but there's a beautiful beach for the few who get this far. A
cayuco
 can be taken to Playa Damas, an unusual beach where alternating patches of red and white sand resemble a chess board. The beach is owned by an amateur ecologist who has built some rustic huts and a campsite,
Costa El Oro
, on a small island here, he also offers expert guidance on local fishing and diving spots. Buses come into the centre en route to Portobelo or Cuango; while most go as far as the main square before coming back the same way, some turn round before this at the little plaza beside the police station.

The track staggers on for another 25 km linking the peaceful fishing villages of the Costa Arriba. Locals eagerly await the paved road's eventual extension through the succession of seaside villages to the Golfo de San Blas opposite El Porvenir, the capital of the Kunas' self-governed area of
Kuna Yala
(Kuna Earth).

Not far beyond Nombe de Dios, near Viento Frío, is
Diver's Haven
, which is recommended for diving tours . The next village is
Palenque
,
unspoilt, with a good beach and very rudimentary huts being built for visitors.
Miramar
is the cleanest of all the
pueblitos
along this coastline. The occasional smuggling boat puts in here and a few Panama City tourists come to stay in the three houses on the tiny
Isla
 Bellavista
.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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