(Editor’s Note – This original post from December 2015 has been updated to reflect Caravan’s current Panama tour details.)
The Port of Balboa Panama is Central America’s busiest port and is located on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal in the Balboa District, which is part of Panama City. Both the town of Balboa and the Port of Balboa were named after the Spanish Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
But who was Balboa?
Vasco Balboa – Discovered the Pacific Ocean
Panama City is full of rich heritage that dates all the way back to 1513 when Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first to cross the Isthmus of Panama. To his delight Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean. Hew was the very first explorer to make it to the Pacific coast after traveling the Atlantic Ocean and exploring the New World, then crossing by land to the Pacific side of Central America.
Vasco Balboa Facts
Born in 1475 in Badajoz, Spain, Spanish explorer Vasco Balboa was one of four brothers. Most of his childhood is unrecorded, although he was the descendent of Lord Mason of the Balboa Castle.
Perhaps Balboa was inspired by Christopher Columbus’s successful voyages the ‘New World’ in the early 1500s when he decided to begin his own journey to find out what the New World had to offer. Balboa joined Rodrigo de Bastidas’ expedition, which was licensed to discover and bring back New World treasures for Spain’s king and queen. In 1501, only 9 years after Columbus discovered America, Balboa sailed across the Caribbean Sea and along the east coast of Panama in exploration of South America.
The crew eventually ended up sailing to Hispaniola (the large island we now know as Haiti and the Dominican Republic) because Balboa’s ship was too small to return to Spain. Balboa settled in Hispaniola as a pig farmer and planter. When debt overcame his livelihood, Balboa needed to escape and did this as a stowaway on one of Martin Fernandez’s expeditions. When he was discovered on the ship, Balboa’s knowledge of the area he traveled 8 years earlier kept the crew from getting rid of him.
With much adversity, trials, and attempts to settle in the area, Vasco Balboa set out in 1513 to “discover the South Sea”. He had a few men to support the expedition who had a little information about the Isthmus of Panama. When he started out Balboa had only 190 Spaniards, a couple Native guides, a small brigantine, and ten canoes. The crew grew in size as they traveled across Panama and just 25 days after starting the expedition, Balboa stood in the mountain range along Chucunaque River, where he could see the South Pacific Sea from the summit point.
Traveling more than 68 miles, Balboa and his team reached the South Sea waters on September 29th, 1513. The purpose of the Balboa expedition was more than just reaching the Pacific Ocean; the main purpose was to find gold-rich kingdoms and to conquer the gold and pearls it contained. And this Balboa did.
Panama’s Vasco Balboa Statue
The significance of Vasco Balboa to the people of Panama is huge.
Today along Panama City’s bay front, visitors can see the statue of Vasco Balboa. In this bronze monument, donated by the King of Spain, Balboa is standing on top of the world holding a sword in his right hand and a large Spanish flag in his left. The statue pays tribute to Balboa as he is claiming the Pacific Ocean for the Kingdom of Spain. Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens in Vasco Núñez de Balboa Park, along Balboa Avenue, beautifully surround the Balboa statue.
In addition to the Balboa statue:
- Panama’s currency is called the Balboa, and his image appears on many of Panama’s coins.
- Panama City’s main port is called the Port of Balboa, which is the main entrance to the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean.
- Finally, there are numerous streets and public parks throughout Panama that are named after Balboa.
Caravan All Inclusive Panama Vacations
As a locally owned and family operated all inclusive tour company in Chicago, Caravan Tours has been offering fully guided tours of North and Central America since 1952. All of Caravan’s Central America tours are conducted by local, knowledgeable tour guides.
Although Caravan offers a fully escorted all inclusive Panama Tour, the package no longer includes an official visit to Balboa Park. While in Panama City, Caravan travelers are encouraged to make their own visit to the Balboa monument before or after their tour ends!
Call our Caravan toll free line today at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to book your next Panama vacation!