Portobelo, also spelled Puerto Bello is situated along the Caribbean Sea coast, about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Colón. The name Portobelo, meaning “beautiful harbour,” was given by Christopher Columbus in 1502; Founded in 1597, the village of Portobelo grew to become a strongly fortified town at the north end of the old Gold Road. As a point of transshipment and exchange for the colonial merchandise of Spain and South America, Portobelo was famous for its annual fairs, as well as notorious for its high prices, congested quarters, and tropical fevers.
Once the busiest city in the New World, the abandonment by Spain of the treasure fleet system and fairs in the 18th century, the building of the Panama Railroad (now the Panama Canal Railway) in the 1850s, and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought about its eclipse. Nowadays, Portobelo’s Spanish fortification ruins are of great historical interest and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. Tourism is of some importance to the local economy, especially during the festival of Cristo Negro (Black Christ) held each October.