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 Cristobal (Colon) - Profile


Colon lies on the eastern shore of Limon Bay at the northern entrance to the Panama canal. Unfortunately the city has become an unsafe place to visit with its high crime rate and drugs problems.

Shelter Bay lies 2 miles away on the opposite side of Limon Bay and is a quieter, more remote place but a long way from most services.

Shelter Bay Approach - Navigation Warning
When entering Shelter Bay Marina you are advised to keep at least 300 feet off the headland to your port side. It is important to follow the green channel markers as there is a reef just off the entrance. This is especially important if arriving at night. Although the channel markers have flashing lights, the marina itself is only dimly lit and if arriving at night it is advisable to anchor in the designated yacht anchorage (see info. under docking) before approaching the marina. The channel can accommodate vessels with 25 feet draft.

Chart supplied by Christian Arp-Hansen (do NOT follow the red line)

Also see this report by SY Danish Blue for more details.

Position 09° 22'47"N, 79° 55'52"W (Shelter Bay approach channel)


Read Panama Formalities for detailed information on procedures for clearing into and out of Panama.

Cristobal Signal Station should be contacted on VHF Channels 12 or 16 and the yacht will be directed to anchor at the designated yacht anchorage, or proceed directly to Shelter Bay Marina (VHF channel 74). (Note: advance reservation is recommended for Shelter Bay Marina).

Whether you are at Shelter Bay Marina or at anchor, the service of agents are available for both clearance and/or canal transits if yachts are prepared to pay for the service and don't want to do the paperwork etc. themselves. See Clearance Agents for listings.


There is now an Immigration officer based at Shelter Bay, so a trip into Colon is no longer required.

Port Captain

Next the captain should go to the Autoridad Portuaria (port authority) to clear into Panama and obtain a cruising permit. The Port Captain's office is in the Panama Canal Commission building 1105, 3rd floor.

Clearance is completed at the Port Authority.

Shelter Bay Marina

Port Authority and Immigration is once again based at Shelter Bay Marina.

To speed up the process, you can get photocopies of all documentation and crew lists in the Dock Shop.

Yachts already cleared-into Panama

If you have already cleared into Panama, you will still need to visit the Port Captain's office with a copy of your Cruising Permit, a printed crew list (they have forms available if you don’t already have one), a copy of all crew passports, your Zarpe from the last Panamanian port and a copy of the boat’s registration document. Immigration will also want a copy of your crew list and passports. There should be no charge.

Note: For the latest updates from cruisers on immigration fees charged here, see the following report.

Canal Transit

If intending to transit the Canal, see here for the correct procedure to follow once clearing-in to Panama has been completed.

It is considered dangerous to walk anywhere at any time, day or night, so a taxi should be used at all times to visit the various offices.

Last updated April 2018.


Visiting yachts have a choice of staying at the marina at Shelter Bay (advisable to book in advance) or anchoring out at the designated yacht anchorage.

Shelter Bay Marina

Shelter Bay Marina is situated in a picturesque place, albeit rather isolated: great hiking, birding, tropical flora and fauna all within a five minute walk.

The marina provides a bus service to both Panama City (30 mins) and the big shopping centre in Quatros Altos. Demand for this service is high, so it's likely only one crew member will be able to use this service per day. Taxis into town are US$35 each way. The supermarket at the shopping centre does have a free bus back to the marina if you spend over $300.

For feedback from cruisers on SBM and detailed marina information see this report.

Anchoring Options

The well known yacht anchorage area (the Flats) is no longer in use due to an ongoing Port Project in that area.

Now there is a new designated yacht anchorage in the West anchorage, 100 meters south of the Beacon marker, near Shelter Bay Marina up to Sheamey beach area. It is not marked by buoys at this time. For boats who wish to anchor while provisioning, arranging for a canal transit or to conduct other business, this anchorage remains the safest option. Take care with the reef going in/out from Shelter Bay (see details above), plus there are yellow markers in place near the Aeronaval Station marking a reef near the shore.

There is a very small (unofficial) anchorage area off the Club Nautico Colon, on the east side of Colon at Manzanillo Bay. This anchorage however is not secure, there are frequent wakes, and the anchorage is exposed to the north - consequently it encounters severe swells in certain conditions. In addition, the Club's landing area is no longer available to yacht crews at anchor and security will deny you access. This is a private club. It is also not permitted to enter town at the close-by Cruise Ship Terminal.

Cruisers report that Largo Remo Island just a couple miles east from Colon breakwaters, has a sheltered anchoring corner (avoid shipping lanes into Las Minas), and someone is attempting to install inexpensive moorings and make a little marina out of it.

It is also possible to anchor in the Rio Chagres (about 6 miles south of Shelter Bay). This has fresh/brackish water and is reported to have fewer bugs than the mangrove-lined Shelter Bay complex. To access Colon for provisioning one can meet taxis at the dam (also referred to as the Tarpon Club - an old nightclub nearby) at the head of the river (about $15 with 4 persons and bags).

Portobello is also easy access to Colon and a nice place to anchor, although bringing large loads from the shopping centers is not so easy.

Getting Ashore
For yachts in the designated yacht anchorage, it is possible to take the dinghy ashore at Shelter Bay Marina for a weekly fee to use the dinghy dock. More details to come.

Cruisers VHF Net - Caribbean side of Panama
Shelter Bay Marina
VHF Channel 77 every morning at 7.30am

Alligators are present here (up to approx. 4ft long). Alligators (Caimanes) are a common feature of the Panama coastline, and you may be fortunate enough to see a 13 footer in Gatun lake while crossing the canal, but these are rare. It's also important to be aware that there are manatees, should you be carrying out any underwater jobs.

Last updated July 2018.

Shelter Bay Marina
Location 09° 22.23'N, 79° 56.86'W ,
Fort Sherman, Building 30 , Shelter Bay, Colon
Tel:+ (507) 433-3581 Fax:+ (507) 433 3681 ,VHF Channel 74
Opening hours: Office Hours 08:00 - 17:00
Situated next to the San Lorenzo National Park, located inside the military area: 86 berths, 200 ft dock for mega-yachts, Wi-Fi (extra), laundry, transport to/from Colon, van service to Panama City. Fuel, chandlery, LPG refills, clearance services, bar & restaurant, pool, gym, 24hr security.
Boatyard, run by the marina. 100 ton haulout facility, dry storage yard, range of contractors. Cruisers have reported having items stolen from their locked boats in the secure area.
MAILING ADDRESS - Yacht in Transit "Boat Name", Shelter Bay Marina, Fort Sherman, Building 30, Colon, Panama.

Yacht Clubs

Club Nautico Colon
City of Colon, east by Manzanillo Bay, Colon, Panama R.P
Position 09°21.9 N, 79°53.6 W.
Small private sportfishing club. Restricted shallow area immediately off the Club has room for approx. 5 cruising boats to anchor, however this is not a designated anchorage. Surrounded by commercial shipping activities. See other cautionary notes above under docking. Dinghy landing no longer possible.
Russ Goedjen
Russ Goedjen says:
Aug 30, 2018 10:35 PM

The issues in Colon are real, the city itself is a mess, construction of new sewers and water lines has most streets torn up, It causes flooding and creates a permeant traffic jam. Crime remains an issue as it has in the past. Garbage collection is hampered by the construction and the list goes on. We are expanding our services for canal transits to ensure that none of our customers has to go into Colon.

The Canal has moved anchorage F, the designated anchorage of small craft. “Normally 300ft or less”, it includes just about anything too small to anchor outside the break water. As the event described by Captain Ben (below) occurred. the Canal were in the process of dredging a new anchorage F, closer to Shelter Bay Marina, to 8 meters. Consequently, vessels were temporarily directed to anchor of the City of Colon in a very unpleasant anchorage exposed to the swells and near the public dock, which has numerous security issues.

A month ago, the new anchorage F was opened for use, close to Shelter Bay Marina. Needless to say, we are concerned about the security issues this presents. The anchorage will be used by commercial vessels as well as yachts. Until now we have had very few dinghy visits, only this one, and none from the tenders of the merchants and the vendors to these small vessels.

So, let me address both issues mentioned by Captain Ben: Dinghy Dock Fees and Fuel.

Dinghy Dock Fees:
We are in the process of constructing a Dinghy Dock to be able to offer a proper docking spot for the tenders arriving from the new anchorage area. Along with it some packages are being revised in order for customers that arrive via tender can use our services and facilities.
Going from SBM to Colon in a cab has a $50.00 back and forth cost, so I understand a $25.00 daily fee for use of our bus for up to 2 crew (depends on availability), is not as exorbitant as Captain Ben comments on in his review. Packages being developed will give access to our Bus Service, Bathroom facilities, showers with hot water and a Wi-Fi code. In addition line handlers, lines and fender pick up will be included in the Dinghy Dock Fees.
As you know we have Port Captain and Immigration Offices on Site to better serve SBM customers, these operations are in part being funded by SBM so the Dinghy Dock Fee will cover their arrival to clear as well. The charge being established may even be waived if the customer consumes a minimum at our facilities, in the Bar, Restaurant, Mini Market or Chandlery.
This anchorage being closer to SBM will be an opportunity for us to provide additional services to current and new customers and get to know a more budget oriented Cruiser group.

We believe the vessel in question pumped 10 gallons of diesel at our facilities. Diesel was pumped directly to his tank as per our records and a sample of diesel pumped to his vessel was provided to him and another was sent to the lab for additional testing. This procedure is carried out for every fuel pump that is performed to vessels directly to their tank. We only pumped 10 gallons, so the issue that arose on his vessel has to be related to the bad sea conditions he may have endured in his trip from Cartagena and motoring 200 miles. He only pumped 10 gallons so it’s difficult to attribute the damage to us.
In the end Captain Ben is not blaming us, but just mentioning we serve bad fuel is definitely a killer for us. SBM in the last year, served more than 900 vessels and this is the only issue reported. I contacted the 5 previous customers and the next 5 customers and none of them reported any issue. So, I am 100% certain we have not provided dirty fuel. In addition, it is the same fuel we use in our equipment and we have not had any problems.

Russ Goedjen
Director Shelter Bay Marina

Mi Ben
Mi Ben says:
Aug 10, 2018 02:46 AM

This is an advice to everyone who think about stop in Critobal - Colon: My advice is not stop there. We knew before we go how dangerous city it is, but this out of the question.

We stop there as we need fuel to continue our trip towards Bocas. We refueled in the only marine still alive there: Shelter bay. The other one was already closed, good situated and reasonable prices... but there is instead a cargo terminal. Club Nautico do not allow us even to get in through the doors....

After getting refueled, we set sail to Bocas. After a night our injection pump stopped to work. We asked for refuge in Colon bay returning back as our only chance in this moment, asking to get into the bay with sails. Very bad decision. They refused to allow me to get in with sails, and after I had to remind them there is an old custom to help any boat from the sea looking
for refuge with problems in the engine, they finally accepted.

They command me to anchor in "la playita". The worst place in the city, close to the worst slum among the bad slums. There is no possibility to go ashore from this place, as there is a private dock and they don't allow you to use it, as other guys paid for that exclusive business to carry with people from/to the boats. The only way is to pay 20 dollars to some guys in a dinghy each time they pick you you up and back, using the same dock forbidden to your dinghy. Do not trust in them. If you have a problem better go out, even you are in a bad position.

The whole city is surrounded by a breakwater with big stones, so it is impossible to disembark with the dinghy. Any facility to cruisers. Only a small beach, in the north of the city, very far from la playita. Anyway the place can scare by this own. It is close to club nautico, that's why I reached it, but they refuse even to let me in.I asked them to go inside and they told me "I don't have problems!!"

After a few days sleeping in my cockpit as sentinel, I move the boat towed to shelter bay anchorage, before asking to authorities, trying to find a little more kindness within my pains... Just few days after that, some yacht was boarded by thiefs in la playita. It was in local newspaper, they were captured.

In Shelter bay, anchored outside, we wanted to go ashore to the marina to have a drink, use their bus or buy something we needed in their shops, as we were still
working on the broken engine. We didn't go to use the facilities without pay. We know everything has a cost and someone should support that, but we are surprised that cost, in my opinion, were too much expensive. They asked us for 25$ every day we go there, every day of a week, or 35$ if it is for a single day. This is my first time in my cruiser days, I was anchored outside a marina and I should pay half the price of dockage. In all the rest of marinas
I visited before, they understand you are going to make expenses surely so they will profit on it, so they don't have this thinking.

But the key point is I was there not because I wanted to, but because of a problem I hadn't before I went to this place... So I can't prove the fuel for shelter bay is bad but I have some facts to say here:
- Last time I refueled in Cartagena, full tank. After that I make about 200 miles at engine without problems. I checked filters and they were ok in Portobello.
- I take fuel from Shelter Bay, and in about 15h of working the engine it stop to work, my filters dirty and full of water.
- I went to pump mechanics. The pump was full of debris, mud, sand and water. More than 500$ to fix it.
- I picked up some of that fuel to a jerry can, out of the fuel tank, and filter again with a funnel filter, and I could see (I have a video)that there were debris at the end, more than the normal case.
- Afterwards, I bought other fuel outside the marina, in a petrol station, in Colon. I did the same check with the funnel. There weren't debris. Very clean.
- Some guy living in the marina said me he never refuel there as in his opinion that fuel comes from big boats and it is not so good as small boats needs. Maybe it is only gossip...
but the fact is in shelter bay they don't have a petrol station itself, they use a petrol boat, external company, not always there.

Anyway I´m not stating again, the problem is or not is in the Shelter bay fuel station. It could be debris and water already inside my tank and mixed with old fuel and with bad weather and big waves this night. I just give this info to you, to know that happened to me, to be cautious,
take care and use pre-filters funnel or somehow, and check your filter at your engine before and after refuel.
Even it could be also Club de pesca in Cartagena, the previous refueled place. But sure one out of the two, gives me the bad fuel.

I haven't submit an official complaint because I have not firm evidence about the issue.
This is not a revenge, only advice for others, you should keep an eye and in the event they have the same problem can help me to know more. Also, for the company to have more test or procedures to avoid such situations. I have already spent 1000$ dollars in the problem, and still not finised .Besides the money waste, the time and money not earned, and our... life time.

I have more and more things, most of them bad, to say about Colon and what happened to us there... just one thing more: better not go to AMP in Colon to make papers: in our case, a corrupt civil servant asked for extra money as I wanted the paper that Friday and he blackmailed me refusing to do it, or if not pay, I should wait until Monday. So better not go on Friday and with rush...

My impression is they are ahore a river of gold "cruising" close to their noses, but for any reason they don't care about us.


Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Nov 20, 2017 09:38 PM

Reported by CSSN - Theft:
DATE: 2017-11-01 23:00
Location Detail: Ft. Sherman Shelter Bay Marina
DETAILS: Whilst moored at B dock in Shelter Bay Marina, a black folding bicycle was left (set up) and on its stand in the vessel’s cockpit, unlocked. At some point during the night the vessel was boarded and the bike was stolen.

vibesparre says:
Jun 14, 2016 09:25 PM

We would like to recommend Thorsten Boehnke and his girlfriend Laura. Thorsten is a thorough and competent person who will help you with most boat repairs. He helped us A LOT with fiberglass work and refitting our keel after a grounding. Thorsten does things right and in a professional manner.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Jun 02, 2016 10:50 AM

Posted on behalf of CDElahunt (who posted this on the main Panama page):
Shelter Bay Marina now has an excellent Sail Loft,that is able to undertake all sail and canvas repairs. They also make dodgers(sprayhoods), biminis, covers and all things canvas. Speak to April she is a very helpful Canadian/Brit, who understands your needs and works to tight deadlines. A great place to get everything sorted Sail and Canvas wise before crossing The Pacific.
The marina has also recently announced that it wants cruisers to paint their boat names on The old Theatre Building and leave a permanent reminder, much like Las Palmas and The Azores. It seems like a good idea as it is often the last place boats stop in The Atlantic, before transiting the Canal and crossing The Pacific.

NautiBuoy says:
May 11, 2016 04:22 AM

Thorsten Boehnke
Shelter Bay Marina - liveaboard We had an excellent experience with Thorsten and Laura who are multi lingual, talented, helpful and have a real 'can do' attitude. Really nice people who care about dong a good job and go that extra mile to get things sorted. The main job was fitting a hydrovane but they also help sort a few other issues too. Can highly recommend them.

Paul Sommers
Paul Sommers says:
Mar 05, 2015 11:54 PM

Need an agent for a Panama Canal transit? I recommend Olivier Van Neste (contact via Ninfa Pitters [email protected]) Olivier arranged the transit,lines, and tires (for fenders), and accompanied us on a perfectly painless transit. He is ver easy to get along with and his fees were very reasonable. I was very happy with his services.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Nov 11, 2014 02:21 PM

October 2014: New Ferry Service Begins Operating Between Panama, Cartagena, and Bocas del Toro. Full details at:
Phone: (507)380 0909 in Panama.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Aug 18, 2014 05:48 PM

Hi Jack, advice from a cruising contact of ours in Panama is that there is nothing to be gained by advising the authorities on arrival that the yacht will be shipped out. It's better to arrive and clear in as normal and leave the option open where airline tickets can be purchased.
Regulations in Panama are a somewhat grey area and often vary from port to port.
Recommendation is to clear in on arrival as normal (as if leaving by sea after stay in Panama). You cannot avoid having to obtain a cruising permit and the Immigration formalities. When ready to ship the yacht, clear out with Port Captain and Immigration and at that time airline tickets should be on hand.

Jack Dale
Jack Dale says:
Aug 15, 2014 01:47 PM

Our crew are departing in Panama and flying home. The boat is being shipped to Canada. Is it required / advisable to have airline tickets? One member is waiting until the boat is loaded before coming home and does not yet have a ticket.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Apr 15, 2014 03:15 PM

Posted on behalf of D. Laurin, S/Y Vimy:
I want to inform the yachting community about a top notch Electrical Engineer who is working both in Shelter Bay Marina (Colon - Panama) and out of Panama City/Balboa.
He is the first seriously professional electrical trained person that I have encountered in many years of cruising. This is the first time that I have bothered to make a comment about a Trade here or anywhere.
Name: Tom Valentine
Company: Marine Electric
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 507 -6666 2598

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Jan 16, 2014 02:24 PM

Comment from SV Gentle Rain: Jan 11, 2014
I stored my boat at Shelter Bay Marina from April 2013 to Dec 2013.
Arring back I found my new 9.9 hp Yamaha 4 stroke engine and one of my solar panels stolen.
The boat was in their "secure" yard surrounded by an electric fence.
We checked the fence and it is NOT connected to the electricity - I have photos to prove this.
Not a great recomenadation. I don't want to leave my boat there again.
Catherine, S/v Gentle Rain

Reply from Shelter Bay Marina:
We acknowledge that we have a serious issue to deal with to ensure that vessels are properly protected. The electrical fence is fully functioning once again with additonal measures to avoid tampering.

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Venezuela to Canada (15 Sep 2009)

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Anchoring in Panama (20 Jun 2009)

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Panama to Windward Islands (15 May 2009)

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Panama to Callao, Peru in June (27 Apr 2009)

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Panama To The Galapagos (10 Feb 2009)

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Cruising and Enjoying the San Blas Islands – April 2008 (10 Jun 2008)

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Cruising Report: Panama Canal Transit (09 Jun 2008)

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Panama to Victoria, B.C. (14 May 2008)

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USA to Panama in April (14 May 2008)

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Advice On Panama Transit (14 May 2008)

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Panama: To use an agent or not? (02 May 2007)

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Cruising Report on Sapzurro (15 Jan 2007)

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Panama Canal - Using an agent (26 Jun 2006)

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Positive Experience From Panama Canal To Galapagos (11 Apr 2005)

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Is A Late Transit Of Panama Canal Feasible? (12 Nov 2004)

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New Comprehensive Cruising Guide for Panama (24 Feb 2003)

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Eastern San Blas (19 Aug 2002)

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Eastern Caribbean and now the Pacific: The Coconut Telegraph SSB Net extends its reach

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Panama: Tightening up of how Cruising Permits are issued

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Panama season starting soon

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Panama, Balboa: Diablo Heights now the only official Immigration Office

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Great New Service for noonsite users: Get notified of cruising news, reports and country updates as they are posted

Great New Service for noonsite users: Get notified of cruising news, reports and country updates as they are posted  (23 May 2013)

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Panama, Shelter Bay Marina: Boatyard Manager Vacancy  (18 Mar 2013)

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Panama, Balboa Yacht Club: Pacific Puddle Jump Party, March 9, 2013  (18 Jan 2013)

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Panama, Colon: Protests over land sell-off  (23 Oct 2012)

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Panama: Increased Canal Tolls Effective from October 1st 2012  (18 Aug 2012)

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Panama: Dinghy Licence for Local Residents  (18 Jul 2012)

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Panama, Bocas del Toro: American Couple Brutally Assaulted And Robbed On Their Sailboat Near Isla Colon  (09 Jul 2012)

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Panama Canal: ACP Announces Delay in Implementation of Toll Increase  (30 Jun 2012)

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Panama Immigration: If going to Panama, find out first the best place to clear in.  (26 Jun 2012)

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Honduras: Doublehanders Boarded and Robbed by Pirates  (14 Jun 2012)

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Panama: Row over Proposed Toll Increases  (30 May 2012)

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Visiting the Galapagos? Reduce your Human Footprint  (18 May 2012)

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Panama: Good News about Immigration Fees - with Update  (09 May 2012)

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Panama Canal Transit - Limited Advisors creates Backlog  (21 Apr 2012)

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Panama, Colon, Club Nautico: Skipper tied up and Robbed  (08 Apr 2012)

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Panama: Latest on Transit Waiting Times  (05 Apr 2012)

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Panama: Latest Transit Information - Further Updates  (20 Mar 2012)

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Panama: Waiting Time for Canal Transits Increases  (01 Mar 2012)

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Panama: Marine Scene Marina – New Mega Facility in the Planning  (04 May 2011)

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Panama Canal Temporarily Closed to All Traffic - Update  (11 Dec 2010)

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Panama: Skipper Killed and Crew Wounded in Yacht Attack - Further Updates  (11 Jul 2010)

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Panama: New Regulations Covering Cruising Permits - Effective July 1st 2010  (02 Jul 2010)

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Panama - Warning of ACP Canal Toll increase 2011   (30 Apr 2010)

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Panama Canal - Official Agent Listing Available Soon  (21 Oct 2009)

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Transit Fees for the Panama Canal  (02 Jun 2009)

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The Panama Cruising Permit - "Permiso de Navegacion"  (18 May 2009)

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Update on the Panama Canal  (13 Mar 2009)

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Panama Canal Transit Season - Update on Waiting Times  (21 Feb 2009)

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Panama: All Visiting Yachts Now Required to Pre-Register Arrival Information  (11 Feb 2009)

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Panama Canal Transit Season - Current Waiting Times  (09 Feb 2009)

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Confusion in the San Blas Islands  (17 Sep 2008)

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Is the Panama Canal back to Normal?  (20 Jun 2008)

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Waiting Times at Panama Canal Worsen  (16 Apr 2008)

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Galapagos Restrictions  (03 Nov 2006)

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Spies, Crooks and Others Along the Way: Noonsite Book Of The Month  (10 Feb 2006)

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More News - Good and Bad - From Panama  (21 Sep 2005)

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Panama Canal Authority Tightens Screws On Yachts  (16 Sep 2005)

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Panama Canal Raises Fees But Yachts May Not Be Affected  (19 Aug 2002)