Nombre de Dios

Nombre de Dios is a small village located on the Atlantic coast of Panamá, in the Province of Colón down the coast form Portobelo. The area where Nombre de Dios stands today was inhabited by native groups and may have been first visited by Europeans in 1501. Rodrigo de Bastidas, Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Nuñes de Balboa sailed along the Panamanian coast in that year, but it is not known if they reached the bay where Nombre de Dios is situated.
Columbus sailed along this coast in November of 1502 and may have lost a caravel, the Vizcaína, near the bay of Nombre de Dios. The next European to visit this area may have been Diego de Nicuesa in 1510. Nicuesa ordered the construction of a settlement on the shores of the bay, making Nombre de Dios the first European village built in Tierra Firme.


 Fig. 8 - Nombre de Dios (Photo: Filipe Castro)

This settlement was abandoned soon after, however, and in 1511 its settlers moved to Santa María la Antigua de Darién - a little town founded by Balboa and Martin Fernandez de Enciso to the east of Nombre de Dios, near the mouth of the Darién River.
The settlement of Nombre de Dios was re-established by Diego de Albites in 1519, and connected by a trail through the isthmus to the city of Panamá, established on the Pacific Coast in the same year by Pedro Arias de Avila. After the conquest of Peru this road across the isthmus was gradually paved, becoming the famous Camino Real, which was crossed by mule trains carrying the rich commerce of the New World, envied by the whole Europe.

Fig. 9 - Nombre de Dios in the 16th century (courtesy INAC)

Nombre de Dios never prospered, perhaps due to its difficult climate. Although the city was teeming with life when the mule trains arrived and the cargos were shipped to Cartagena, Havana and Spain, during the rest of the year there was only a small resident population.

 Fig. 10 - Nombre de Dios in the 17th century (from Kagan, R.l., Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000)

In 1572 the English privateer Francis Drake attacked Nombre de Dios but was shot and had to retreat before he could take and loot the city. The year after he tried in vain a cross-country attack on Panamá City, but managed only to capture a mule train near Nombre de Dios. The attack party could only carry away a portion of the loot.
In 1595 Drake attacked Nombre de Dios again, burning it to ground. He then tried to take Portobelo but was defeated. During this expedition the English privateer got sick and died soon after in 1596.

Fig. 11 - Nombre de Dios in 1909 (from

Today Nombre de Dios is a charming small village with a laid-back atmosphere and a beautiful landscape, with the tropical forest descending from the mountains into the bay.

Citation information:

Filipe Castro,
2004, Playa Damas Project: History of the Shipwreck, World Wide Web, URL,

Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University.