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 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.