70 Interesting Facts About Panama

Panama, or the Republica de Panama, is a beautiful country of tropical rainforests, small villages, sandy white beaches and the most cosmopolitan international city in Central America. Their Pan-American Highway and 21 airports makes travel throughout the country quite easy.

The capital, Panama City, is both a vibrant metropolitan area as well as a gateway to nearby beaches and tropical escapes. Panama is a regional hub of trade, immigration and, above all, tourism. For those who are considering a visit there, here are 70 interesting facts about Panama.

The country of Panama is the isthmus connecting Central America to South America. Bisecting the nation at its narrowest and lowest point is the Panama Canal, providing ships a faster way of traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and back again.

10 Interesting Facts about the Panama Canal

Fact 1. The earliest recorded mention of a canal through Panama was made by Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. In 1534 he wanted a route to be devised that would ease the danger and length of the voyages of Spain’s ships traveling between Peru and Spain. Thomas Jefferson encouraged the Spanish to consider this idea in 1788.

Fact 2. The Panama Railway was build by the United States across Panama in 1855. This railway largely determined the route the canal itself would later take.

Fact 3. A sea level canal system was not feasible in Panama due to its nine month long rainy season. It would have flooded out the canal.

Fact 4. A lock system was devised instead. Two French engineers, Armand Reclus and Lucien Wyre, published a French proposal for the canal in 1877. The French began the original construction in the 1880s but stopped when worker mortality and the rains took too high a cost.

Fact 5. The United States took over the initial construction from the French in 1904 and completed the canal ten years later. It officially opened on August 15, 1914, with the U.S. in control of the Canal Zone.

Fact 6. There are locks at each end of the canal to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, a man-made lake at 26 meters (85 feet) above sea level, and then back down to the opposite coast.

Fact 7. These original locks are 335 meters (110 feet) wide.

Fact 8. The 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties ceded U.S. control of the Canal Zone back over to the Panamanian government. The two countries controlled it jointly from 1977 to 1999.

Fact 9. Control of the Panama Canal passed back into their nation’s hands at midnight on the last day of the 20th century, December 31, 1999.

Fact 10. On June 26, 2016 the new and expanded third lane of the canal began commercial operations after a long construction period lasting from 2007 until 2016.

Panama’s history

Panama’s history is an ancient one. The native peoples established villages here long before the advent of Spanish and European explorers. Panama has been a colonial settlement, a part of Colombia, and a land many governments wished to control. Today it is an independent nation with a government that is a constitutional democracy.

Fact 11. Christopher Columbus visited in 1502 and Balboa arrived to explore the area in 1513.

Fact 12. Settled as a colonial area by the Spanish, it became their principal shipping point to and from Central and South America back to Spain in during its colonial days.

Fact 13. When Central America revolted against Spain in 1821, Panama joined the already independent country of Colombia. It would then spend the next 82 years struggling to gain its independence from Colombia.

Fact 14. When Colombia rejected the United States’ Canal proposal in 1903, Panama finally broke free and declared its independence, which the U. S. immediately recognized in order to back the new government.

Fact 15. The U. S. paid Panama $10 million for the Canal Zone and canal rights in perpetuity with an additional per annum of $250,000. Construction began in 1904. The U. S. also wielded considerable influence in Panama’s affairs. By 1955, the per annum had risen to $1,930,000.

Fact 16. In September of 1977 President Jimmy Carter and Panama’s General Omar Torrijos signed treaties returning to Panama gradual control of the Canal Zone until it was completely theirs by the end of the century. The treaties also guaranteed Panama’s neutrality in operating the canal and called for U. S. military bases to be phased out.

Fact 17. Seven years later, Panama’s first president elected by the people in 16 years was inaugurated in 1984. President Nicholas Ardito Barletta was a puppet of the head of the secret police, General Manuel Noriega.

Fact 18. Noriega replaced the president a year later with Vice-President Eric Arturo Delvalle and the U. S. indicted Noriega for drug trafficking in 1988. When Delvalle tried to fire Noriega, the general forced the national assembly to replace him with Manuel Solis Palma. Finally the assembly named Noriega “maximum leader” in December of 1989 and declared Panama and the United States to be at war.

Fact 19. Responding to the death of a U. S. soldier, the U. S. had 24,000 troops seize control of Panama City and attempt to capture Noriega. He surrendered on January 3, 1990, was taken to Miami and was later tried and convicted of drug trafficking. Elections have been held in Panama ever since.

Fact 20. Millionaire businessman Ricardo Marinelli was elected president in May 2009 and his Vice-President Juan Carlos Varela succeeded him in May 2014.

Facts about tourism and economy in Panama

Panama on map with neighboring countries
Panama on map with neighboring countries

When Panama is mentioned many people think of the Panama Canal. While the Canal is an important part of the country’s identity. Panama is much more than its most commercially productive venture (the Panama Canal.)

Agricultural exports plus international banking and trade also flourish here. Tourism is an important part of the nation’s economy and there is much for the visitor to experience and enjoy in this beautiful tropical country.

Fact 21. The revenue from the Panama Canal tolls represents a significant portion of the country’s GDP annually (Gross Domestic Product). Since 2010, in fact, Panama’s economy has been Latin America’s second most competitive economy as one of its fastest growing and most well-managed economies.

Fact 22. Panama exports bananas, pineapples, and watermelons. It also exports gold as well as iron and steel waste. Sugar and shrimp as exported too. Panama’s major trading partner’s are the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, China and Italy.

Fact 23. Panama’s natural resources include its mahogany forests, copper, shrimp industry and the hydro-power it generates from the Rio Chagres and the Rio Chepo. Agricultural products include bananas, coffee, rice, corn, shrimp, sugar cane, livestock and vegetables.

Fact 24. Tourism is growing in Panama. The Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is Central America’s largest and flights connect Panama to all parts of the world.

Fact 25. The monetary units of Panama are the U. S. dollar and the Balboa. Panama has its own coinage.

Fact 26. Panama has attractions for every member of the family and every age group. From history to art and culture; outdoor activities to water and beach sports; to nightlife and dining experiences, Panama has it all.

Fact 27. The penisula of Casco Viejo is a busy colonial neighborhood with historical ruins and cobblestone streets. This is the site of the original 1519 Panama City, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fact 28. The Miraflores Visitors Center at Miraflores Locks — Panama Canal has large observation decks from which to watch the movement of vessels through the canal itself. It also offers exhibition halls, a refreshment stand, a gift shop and a nice restaurant. A historical mural of the tremendous effort it took to build the canal is mounted in the rotunda of the Panama Canal Administration Building and open to the public.

Fact 29. The spectacular Biomuseo is itself a work of modern art and houses exhibits that tell the story of how the Isthmus of Panama and its emergence affected the history of the world. It includes the Gallery of Biodiversity, the Panamarama, The Surge Bridge, The Grand Exchange, aquariums, galleries, observation posts and a cafe.

Fact 30. The Panama Canal Museum is part of Panama’s Old Town district and is a public non-profit institution. It contains ten permanent exhibits and several temporary ones each year. Additionally, Panama City offers the Panama History Museum, the Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Museum of Colonial Religious Art as well as others.

Fact 31. Ecotourism is popular and Panama is home to the most diverse wildlife population of all the countries in Central America. Bird watching is thrilling, with almost 1,000 bird species to observe from the tiniest Volcano Hummingbird to the Harpy Eagle, the largest bird on the continent. Over a third of Panama is Natural Park land. Dolphin Sails and Whale Watching cruises, and Sea Turtle observations are also available.

Fact 32. Surfing and snorkeling are popular on the sandy beaches on both the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts of Panama. All the beaches are public property in this country. Visitors also enjoy Coiba National Marine Park, Taboga Island, the Pearl Islands and the Bay of Panama.

Fact 33. Bicycling is popular on the Amador Causeway, a six kilometer long path that is bordered by the ocean on both sides. Hiking on any of a number of established trails is popular as well. Summit National Park includes a botanical garden in addition to well-marked paths.

Fact 34. Camping, canoeing and kayaking are all popular in the many National Parks. Most of the rivers, such as the Rio Grande, the Manoni River and the Chagres are Class II, III, and IV waters.

Fact 35. Panama’s Buenaventura Golf Course is arguably the best in all of Latin America. This 18-hole par 72 course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and includes gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

The younger members of the family will be interested in some other attractions and local residents of Panama.

Fact 36. Skateboarding is popular with the local people and there are several skate parks in or near Panama City. The Coastal Strip 3 Skatepark and Skatepark Chorrera are open to the public while the Skatepark Punta Chamo is a private one in the Nitro City resort.

Fact 37. The Rod Carew Stadium is home to the national Panama Metro professional baseball club. There are eight other professional regional teams in Panama. Baseball is Panama’s national sport. More than 140 Panamanian players have played pro ball in the U.S, including Ron Carew and Carlos Ruiz.

Fact 38. The Gamboa Cable Car ride is an aerial car that takes you for a several kilometers-long ride through and above the jungle canopy to the top of Cerro Relado from which you can bird and animal watch as you ride. Frequently spotted are coatimundis, howler monkeys, capybaras, slothes, toucans, parrots, and motmots.

Fact 39. The highest point in Panama is the Volcan Baru (a dormant volcano) that is 3,475 meters (11,401 feet) high.

Fact 40. There are almost 500 rivers in Panama. Three hundred of them empty into the Pacific Ocean and the rest empty into the Caribbean Ocean.

People of Panama

Visitors to Panama City may be surprised to discover it is home to almost half of the nation’s total population of approximately 3,600,000 people. The rest live in smaller towns and villages throughout Panama’s five regions and ten provinces. Here are some interesting facts about Panama and its people.

Fact 41. Seventy percent of today’s people in Panama are mestizos. The mestizos (from a Spanish word meaning “mixed”) are a mixture of European (Spanish) and Indian ancestry (Amerindian). They form the largest and most influential populations in many Latin American countries and Panama is no exception.

Fact 42. Amerindian and mixed (West Indies) people form fourteen percent of the Panamanian population with whites only ten percent and Amerindians eight percent.

Fact 43. The indigenous groups of people are the Kuna, the Embera, the Waonan, Ngobe, Bugle and the Nassau plus the Terribe groups.

Fact 44. Spanish is the official national language of the people of Panama although many are bilingual and speak both Spanish and English. In some areas, Amerindian dialects are still spoken.

Fact 45. Once educated only in Jesuit schools, today all children receive a public education. The literacy rate in Panama is an impressive 94.1 percent.

Panamanian culture, food and crafts

Each of Panama’s ten provinces, five regions and three indigenous peoples areas have rich and varied cultural traditions, dress, music and food. Explore these interesting facts about Panama culture, food and native crafts.

Fact 46. The sale of native crafts, popular with tourists, helps support the people and their villages. Colorful Molas are the elaborate embroidered panels made by the Kuna women and used as the front and back panels of their blouses.

Fact 47. Tagua Nut carvings of animals are also popular with the tourists and for export. Also known as corozo or vegetable ivory, it is a very desirable substitute for elephant ivory (now illegal) and is a renewal resource. Buttons were made of the tagua nut and exported throughout much of the 19th century. The Wounaan and Embera tribes produce a sustainable income from their carvings of animals like dolphins, turtles, birds, monkeys and many others as well as producing jewelry pieces from the nuts.

Fact 48. The women of these tribes also make beautiful baskets from the nahuala plant’s fibers as well as from the chunga palm’s. Each basket is a piece of tribal folk art made from the plants of the Darien Rainforest.

Fact 49. The men of the Wounaan people have for generations produced amazing wood carvings from cocobolo wood. It comes from a special indigenous hardwood tree in the Darien rainforest. Cocobolo is quite hard and highly polished with beautiful variations in its natural colors and grains. The wood ranges from a golden yellow color to rich reds or browns and even to black, depending on the tree from which it is harvested.

Fact 50. Panamanian cuisine is a combination of Spanish, Native American and African ingredients and dishes. The dishes typically have milder flavors than those of pungent Caribbean food. Staples of a Panamanian diet are fruit, rice, plantains, wheat flour, beef, chicken, seafood, pork and yucca/cassava.

Fact 51. Two Panamanian dishes are Sancocho, a special stew with an assortment of vegetables and packed with meat (usually chicken); and Carimanola, a fried yucca roll stuffed with boiled eggs and meat filling. Tamales and empanadas are also popular.

Fact 52. Popular side dishes include yucca frita and plantains. Yucca fritas are fried yucca root that taste like a tropical version of french fries. Plantains are served three ways. Patacones are fried green plantains cut crosswise and served salty; Maduros are ripen fried plantains that are a bit sweeter; and Tajadas, which are baked plantains cut lengthwise and covered with cinnamon. All are delicious.

Fact 53. For dessert, try a piece of Pasel de Tres Leches (Tres Leches Cake). This is a cake that is soaked in three different kinds of milk (leche): cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Also have a Panamanian snow cone, a Raspados, topped with the sweet syrup flavor of your choice and condensed milk. Sometimes molasses or malt powder is added as well.

Fact 54. Panama grows and serves its own world class coffee as well as local beers, including Atlas, Balboa, Soberana and Panama Cerveza. Beer is inexpensive at around a dollar in restaurants. There are several micro breweries in the country as well.

Fact 55. The population of Panama is 85 percent Roman Catholic. The two largest public holidays revolve around church related events: Christmas and Carnaval. A Christmas parade is held in Panama City on December 25 with floats and a marching band of drummers. Afterwards carols are sung around a huge tree. Carnaval is a ritual celebrated for the five days prior to Ash Wednesday. A queen is chosen and other festivities occur.

Fact 56. Over 400,000 Panamanians hold on to their native cultures and languages.

Fact 57. The dominant culture in Panama has Spanish origins and national pride runs very deep, as demonstrated by the following popular saying: “puento del mundo, corazon del universo” (bridge of the world, heart of the universe).

Fact 58. The extended family is the most important social unit for the native population and the city dwellers. There are almost no elderly care facilities in Panama because families care for their own. The extended family is their backbone.

Fact 59. Personal appearance and basic good hygiene are valued by the Panamanian people. Showing good manners, being polite and treating others with respect is expected and important. Don is used as a courtesy title for men and Dona for women.

Fact 60. Shirts and pants (or a dress) should be worn in public. Bathing suits are only for the beach and this law is enforced.

More information about Panama

There is much to learn about, see and do in this remarkable country. let’s learn a few more facts.

Fact 61. Panama is about the size of the state of South Carolina.

Fact 62. The rainy season there lasts for nine months, from mid-April until November, so plan accordingly.

Fact 63. Panama has a well-established ex-patriot population which is growing as more and more international retirees find it an ideal home for their retirement.

Fact 64. Panama has been strongly influenced by years of connection with the United States, as evidenced in their dress and the popularity of American music there.

Fact 65. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the modern world’s seven wonders.

Fact 66. It takes six to eight hours to travel through the canal.

Fact 67. The United States estimates 5,600 workers died of disease (yellow fever) and accidents during the U.S. building phase of the canal.

Fact 68. The Panama Canal serves more than 144 of the trade routes in the world.

Fact 69. President Woodrow Wilson sent a signal from the White House by telegraph on October 10, 1913 that triggered the explosions that flooded the center of the Panama Canal and jointed the Atlanta Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Flag of Panama
Flag of Panama (Note: Divided into four, equal rectangles; the top quadrants are white (hoist side) with a blue five-pointed star in the center and plain red; the bottom quadrants are plain blue (hoist side) and white with a red five-pointed star in the center; the blue and red colors are those of the main political parties (Conservatives and Liberals respectively) and the white denotes peace between them; the blue star stands for the civic virtues of purity and honesty, the red star signifies authority and law.) Source – CIA

Fact 70. The Panamanian flag is also red, white and blue, as is the United States’.

Quick/fast country facts about Panama

Capital CityPanama City
(8°58′N 79°32′W)
Largest CityPanama City
(8°58′N 79°32′W)
Total area75,420 sq km
Population3,705,246 (July 2016 est.)
Official LanguageSpanish
BordersColombia and Costa Rica
CurrencyBalboa (PAB)
United States dollar (USD)
ReligionRoman Catholic
Life expectancy78.6 Years (2015)
Life expectancy at birth indicates the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.
GDP - per capita (PPP)$21,800 (2015 est.)
Climatetropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)
Terraininterior mostly steep, rugged mountains with dissected, upland plains; coastal plains with rolling hills
Natural resourcescopper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower
Agricultural land30.5%
Birth rate18.1 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)
Death rate4.9 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)
Sex ratio1.01 male(s)/female (2016 est.)
Government typepresidential republic
National symbolharpy eagle
National colorsblue, white, red
National anthem"Himno Istmeno" (Isthmus Hymn)
Industriesconstruction, brewing, cement and other construction materials, sugar milling
Exportsfruit and nuts, fish, iron and steel waste, wood
Importsfuels, machinery, vehicles, iron and steel rods, pharmaceuticals
Time ZoneEST (UTC−5)
Internet country code.pa
Calling Code+507
Drives on theRight