Coinshooting in Porto Bello, Panama

Buried Treasure and pirate treasure in panama

Have you ever wondered what it would be like in Treasure Hunter's heaven? See for yourself, go to Porto Bello in Panama. Whether you're an expert coin shooter, a dowsing rod magician, a SCUBA diver with a gold thumb, or merely one of us easy-going metal detectorists who like to get out in the sunshine and combine exercise with healthy living...go to Porto Bello where there is treasure waiting for you.


Coinshooting in Porto Bello, Panama

capture of porto bello and its vast treasurePorto Bello is located on the north coast of Panama and is a veritable well-spring of Spanish colonial coins, artifacts, and collectibles. It's easy to get to, along a coastal scenic route that carries you through small towns and rain forests. Once you arrive in Porto Bello you'll find it to be one of the most beautiful treasure hunting sites on the Spanish Main. There's no doubt it's a unique place, with the heyday of old Spanish colonial fortresses that still line both sides of the harbor.

During Spanish colonial times, Portobelo (often spelled Porto Belo, Porto Velo, Puerto Bello, or Porto Bello in various Spanish documents) was considered to be one of the finest harbors in all of the Spanish West Indies. During one of his exploratory voyages in 1502, Christopher Columbus was so impressed with the natural beauty of the bay and its surrounding hills with their lush tropical vegetation and palm ferns that he named the site "Puerto Bello" (beautiful port). It would be almost 100 years before it would gain real prominence.

treasure map of porto bello panama with forts and castlesAt first Nombre de Dios, several miles to the east, would be the port used by Spanish galleons as they gathered the Peruvian gold and silver to take back to Spain. But in 1595 an English attack on the port, as well as the silting in of the bay, caused the Spanish to move to Porto Bello. By 1597, the new port was well established and became the focal point of the Spanish sea-going trade and commerce in the New World for the next two centuries. It became necessary to fortify the town, and the hills surrounding the port seemingly made this a very defensible place.

The terminus for the Royal Road, the Camino Real, that ran from one coast of Panama to the other, was now shifted from Nombre de Dios to Porto Bello. It is also along this road that hoards of silver coins have been recovered over the years, and there are hoards yet to be discovered. Go for it, Treasure Hunters!

porto bello panama treasure and castleWhen the Spanish galleons dropped anchor at Porto Bello, the feria (the great commercial trading fair) began and merchants plied their trades, with jugglers, prostitutes, and magicians roaming the streets. Unfortunately, it gained a reputation as a pest-hole. Many died there, and it is reasonable to assume that some of those who never made it out of Porto Bello probably buried their wealth in and around what are today's ruins.

It is also known that when corsairs or buccaneers, including the English, sailed into port with guns already, the local inhabitants, merchants, and landowners, hid their worldly treasures in gardens, nooks and crannies, and even down their cisterns to keep it from being taken. Have you ever tried to retrieve something from the bottom of a cistern filled with sand and mud? A metal detector works, but in the early Spanish days they could only grope around by hand.

So Porto Bello is a TH-er's dream come true. And even if you never find a single coin, you've experienced the ambiance of a part of history that served as the funnel of Peruvian gold and silver, the pesos that changed the course of Spanish history. Let's hope a few fell off the wagon along the way for you.

his article and more valuable information is available in Treasure Quest Magazine, July - Aug.1998