70 Interesting Facts About Panama

Last updated on March 8th, 2020

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Tagua Nut Necklaces With Earrings.
Tagua Nut Necklaces With Earrings.

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.

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.

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.

Seafood ceviche, typical dish from Panama.
Seafood ceviche, typical dish from Panama.

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.

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.

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.

Pastel de tres leches slice (tres leches cake) over a wooden surface.
Pastel de tres leches slice (tres leches cake) over a wooden surface.

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.

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 microbreweries in the country as well.

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.

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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. 

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

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

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

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

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 joined the Atlanta Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

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

Panama – country at a glance

Capital CityPanama City
Largest CityPanama City
Areatotal: 75,420 sq km
land: 74,340 sq km
water: 1,080 sq km
Population4,337,768 (2022 est.)
Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Official LanguageSpanish
BordersColombia and Costa Rica
CurrencyBalboa (PAB)
United States dollar (USD)
ReligionRoman Catholic
Life expectancy at birth77.62 Years (2022)
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.
Climatetropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)
Literacy rate95.4%
Terraininterior mostly steep, rugged mountains with dissected, upland plains; coastal plains with rolling hills
Mean elevation360 m
Lowest pointPacific Ocean 0 m
Highest pointVolcan Baru 3,475 m
Natural resourcescopper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower
Agricultural land30.5%
Birth rate17.99 births/1,000 population (2022 est.)
Death rate6.11 deaths/1,000 population (2022 est.)
Sex ratio1.02 male(s)/female (2022 est.)
Government typepresidential republic
PresidentLaurentino Cortizo
Vice PresidentJose Gabriel Carrizo
National symbolharpy eagle
National colorsblue, white, red
National holidayIndependence Day (Separation Day), 3 November (1903)
National anthem"Himno Istmeno" (Isthmus Hymn)
Industriesconstruction, brewing, cement and other construction materials, sugar milling
Exports$20.18 billion (2020 est.)
refined petroleum, copper, bananas, ships, coal tar oil, packaged medicines (2019)
Imports$17.41 billion (2020 est.)
ships, refined petroleum, crude petroleum, tanker ships, packaged medicines (2019)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$25,400 (2020 est.)
Time ZoneEST (UTC−5)
Internet country code.pa
Calling Code+507
Drives on theRight
Table last updatedAugust 10, 2022