Colon (Spanish for Columbus), with its three modern ports, is one of the Caribbean's most important shipping terminals. It is connected to Panama City by road, rail, air and the Panama Canal. The Silver Whisper is scheduled to dock at the neighboring port of Cristobal, which features extensive facilities for cruise vessels and their passengers.
Colon is the second largest city in Panama with a population of just over 200,000. The city was founded in 1850 by Americans working on the Panama railroad and named Aspinwall for one of the railway engineers. Following completion in 1855, Colon gained in importance, which was furthered by the plans for an isthmian canal.
During the time of the French canal attempt, a fire in 1885 burned the city nearly to the ground and left thousands of people homeless. Colon was rebuilt in the architectural style then popular in France. Buildings from that era plus the ones constructed by Americans between 1904 and 1914 are still in use today, although the majority is on the verge of collapse.
In addition to its importance as a port, Colon boasts the world's second largest duty-free zone, known as Zona Libre, which is contained in a huge fortress like, walled-off area with giant international stores. However, most of the merchandise is sold in bulk to commercial businesses throughout the country. A top selection of Free Zone shops is located at Cristobal port, Pier 6, which also features an open market for Panamanian souvenirs, arts and crafts.