Panama's Colon is best known as the gateway to the Miraflores Locks, where visitors can watch the Panama Canal, one of the world's greatest feats of engineering, in action. The famous canal is only one of the region's many attractions, however. Colon is home to the world's first transcontinental railway, and its magnificent red and gold trains traverse Central America from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single afternoon. The country's vast, virgin rainforest is home to sloths, 10,000 plant species and 900 species of birds, including harpy eagles.
The city was founded in 1850 by Americans working on the Panama railroad and was named Aspinwall after one of the builders of the railway until 1890. Colón is the Spanish form of Columbus; the name of the neighboring port of Cristsbal is Spanish for Christopher. After completion of the railway in 1855, Colón overshadowed the older Caribbean ports of Panama, and with the first plans for the isthmian canal it took on additional prestige. Built on a swampy island, the city was notoriously unhealthful and often scourged by yellow fever until Colonel William C. Gorgas, in charge of sanitation during the canal construction, gave it a new system of waterworks and sewerage and drained the surrounding swamps.
Three modern ports make Colón one of the most important ports of the Caribbean Sea.