In 1514 Balboa built a crude road, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by cutting a path through the jungle. This road was about 30 - 40 miles long, and soon after the building of the town of Panamá, was abandoned. There were no permanent villages built along the route, which contributed to it demise.
1515, Captain Antonio Tello de Guzmán used the overland trail between Antigua and the Gulf of San Miguel. At the native village of Panamá, (a Cueva word meaning "Place of Abundant Fish"), the natives told Guzmán of a trail, going north, all the way to Porto Bello, past the site of the abandoned town of Nombre de Diós. This trail had been used by the natives for centuries, and was well laid out.
In 1517 Gaspar de Espinosa built the road that Alvitez had discovered. Espinosa used 4000 natives as slave labor to build the road.
Smooth river stones were laid on the trail. These stones were covered with clay, and packed, to make a smooth surface. The Río Chagres was bridged with very large boulders and large trunks were shaved flat, making a road bed for the bridge.
By August of 1519, cobbled stone road, approximately 3 feet wide ran from Nombre de Diós to Panamá. Nombre de Diós, lacked a good defensible harbor, and a road was later built to connect Nombre de Diós to Puerto Bello in the 1590's. This road, El Camino Real, was about 50 miles long, and was wide enough, to allow two carts to cross one-an-other traveling in opposite directions. The Spanish spared no expense in the construction of this road.
In 1521, a Spaniard wrote the King describing his trip across the Isthmus from Nombre de Diós to Panamá. He related that the first part of the journey was the most difficult because of the rivers, the mountains, and the thick forest. The trip from Panamá to San Lorenzo and then Porto Bello, was easier then the return trip. This was OK, since the purpose of this route was to insure that the treasures reached the Caribbean safely. This road served the Spanish well for more than three centuries.
In 1671, this legendary trail was the route used by Henry Morgan to sack Panama City.
During the 1849 Gold Rush in California, the Las Cruces Trail was used again. 49er's used the Panamá Route, to get to California. The Las Cruces Trail, had not been maintained for a long time, so was very difficult to navigate, even for the sure footed mule. At best, this trip took 4 days; but usually took much longer. Some travelers are known to have taken several weeks, to make the crossing. The trekker had to face Yellow Fever, Malaria, and Chagres Fever, great swarms of mosquitoes, snakes and bugs along the way. Once they finally arrived in Panamá City, they would have to wait for a ship to take them to California.
The only reminder today of the passage of the mule trains along the Camino de Cruces, other than the old mule shoes that can still be found along the trail, are footing points etched by the mules in the soft shale stone that forms the base of stretches of the trail as it climbs and descends the hills through the jungle.
Large portions of the remarkably well preserved old Spanish colonial trail transverse deep ravines. The mules were forced repeatedly to use of the same footing points as they climbed or descended. Mule footing points have been found in several locations on the trail. They are quite prominent and it is easy to see the shape of the mule shoes. The ascending footing points are deep and round. The descending points are longer and more shallow with the mule’s hooves sliding and forming a trough until a catch hold was reached.
The Soberania National
Park borders the Panama Canal and contains 9.5 kilometers of the Camino
de Cruces. Outside of the park, the Camino de Cruces is under increasing pressure
from land development, particularly the closer it gets to Panama City.
Ecotourism in Panama