70 Interesting Facts About Panama - The Fact File (2023)

Last updated on March 8th, 2020

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 make 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

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

Flag of Panama

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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.

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

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.

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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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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 partners are the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, China, and Italy.

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.

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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.

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

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.

27. The peninsula 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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(slow-moving tropical American mammals that hangupside down from the branches of trees using their long limbs and hooked claws), toucans, parrots, and motmots.

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

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.

Continue reading on the next page…

FAQs

What are 10 interesting facts about Panama? ›

11 Fascinating Things You Didn't Know About Panama
  • There's a rainforest in the capital city. ...
  • You don't have to change currency here. ...
  • Its population figures are crazy. ...
  • The sun rises and sets over two different oceans. ...
  • It's home to the oldest operating railroad. ...
  • It has two independence days.
Nov 29, 2017

What does Panama have about 800 of? ›

Waterways: 800 km navigable by shallow draft vessels; 82 km Panama Canal (2011). Ports and harbors: Balboa, Cristobal, Colon. Airports: 117 (2013). International disputes: none.

What was Panama famous for? ›

The country is best known for the Panama Canal, a man-made waterway, opened in 1914. The canal cuts through the country, linking the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic) with the Pacific Ocean.

What are 4 interesting facts about Panama? ›

Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic. The canal generates fully one-third of Panama's entire economy. "A man, a plan, a canal; Panama." is a palindrome. Panama was the first Latin American country to adopt the U.S. currency as its own.

How old is Panama? ›

Pre-Columbian period

The Isthmus of Panama was formed about three million years ago when the land bridge between North and South America finally became complete, and plants and animals gradually crossed it in both directions.

Do you flush toilet paper in Panama? ›

In Panama, they don't flush toilet paper down the toilet. The little trash bin they have next to every toilet is there for a reason and you should use it. Most businesses have septic systems and flushing any materials down the toilet will mean more regularly cleaning the tanks out.

What language does 14% of Panama speak? ›

Language. The official language of Panama is Spanish, with about 95 percent of the population speaking this as their first language. English is also widely spoken in Panama by about 14 percent of the population.

Is Panama rich or poor? ›

Although Panama has a high GDP per capita, the reality is that most of the income in the country is concentrated among the wealthy few. For instance, in 2000, the nation's per capita GDP was US$3,513.
...
Panama - Poverty and wealth.
GDP per Capita (US$)Panama
2,572
2,709
2,887
2,523
5 more columns

How much is a bottle of Coke in Panama? ›

The price is 0.79 USD. The average price for all countries is 0.94 USD. The database includes 92 countries. (USD / 0.500 l, Source: GlobalProductPrices.com. )
...
Panama - Coca-Cola - price, September 2022.
Panama - Coca-Cola - price, September 2022
USD0.791
EUR0.746
1 more row

What is Panama famous food? ›

Sancocho

When in search of traditional food in Panama, it doesn't get more iconic than the country's national dish: Sancocho. Broth, vegetables, chicken, and a side of rice are a few of the key ingredients in this typical Panamanian soup, but it's the abundant use of local culantro spice that reigns supreme.

How did Panama get its name? ›

Indeed, the name “Panama” itself comes from an old indigenous word meaning “abundance of fish.” With that said, despite the lack of influence from the larger pre-Columbian civilizations, Panama's indigenous peoples were not fully-isolated. The region then, as now, was still part of a great Pan-American trading route.

What Old Panama called? ›

Panamá Viejo (English: "Old Panama"), also known as Panamá la Vieja, is the remaining part of the original Panama City, the former capital of Panama, which was destroyed in 1671 by the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan.

What are 3 benefits of the Panama Canal? ›

Panama Canal expansion and its benefits

The Panama Canal expansion project would largely decrease the instances of bottlenecks, lower the average transit times by rendering raised capacity and allow for transit of Post-Panamax vessels.

How old is the Panama Canal? ›

The Panama Canal officially opened on August 15, 1914, although the planned grand ceremony was downgraded due to the outbreak of WWI. Completed at a cost of more than $350 million, it was the most expensive construction project in U.S. history to that point.

How old is the Panama Canal today? ›

The United States spent almost $500 million (roughly equivalent to $13.5 billion in 2021) to finish the project. This was by far the largest American engineering project to date. The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914, with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.

What are 5 important cities in Panama? ›

Best Cities to Visit in Panama
  • Panama City. Panama City. Panama City is known as the capital, and arguably the most popular city in Panama. ...
  • Chitre. Chitre. ...
  • Santiago. Santiago. ...
  • David. David. ...
  • Colon. Colon. ...
  • Penonome. Penonome. ...
  • Portobelo. Portobelo. ...
  • La Palma. La Palma.
Jan 3, 2023

How long did Panama last? ›

Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years (1513–1821) and its fate changed with its geopolitical importance to the Spanish crown.

Why is Panama so rich? ›

The economy of Panama is based mainly on the services sector, which accounts for nearly 80% of its GDP and accounts for most of its foreign income. Services include the Panama Canal, banking, commerce, the Colón Free Trade Zone, insurance, container ports, and flagship registry, medical and health and tourism.

Who owned Panama originally? ›

For nearly 300 years Panama was a colony of the Spanish Empire. In 1821 Panama left the Spanish Empire and became a part of Colombia. Over the years Panama tried to leave Colombia but was unable to. In 1903 Panama finally declared independence and signed a treaty with the United States.

Can you drink tap water in Panama? ›

In most places, the water in Panama is safe to drink. The Panama Canal Company had a high standard for hygiene, and as a result the water is clean in Panama City and much of the rest of the country. Bocas del Toro is one of the few places in Panama that does not have reliably safe water.

Is it rude to tip in Panama? ›

In Panama, tipping is not compulsory, but is good etiquette and supplements the low wages of the employee. If you're happy with your service, it is standard to leave a 10% gratuity. If you are thrilled with your service, you are welcome to leave more.

What should you not wear in Panama? ›

Avoid short skirts and revealing tops, and in the main it's best to stick to more neutral colors. If you're going to visit any religious sites then be sure to cover your shoulders and bare legs – your pashmina can come in handy for this too.

What is the most important tradition in Panama? ›

The carnivals

The Carnival is one of the most anticipated events for all Panamanian and it is held over a four day period before Ash Wednesday and ends with the Entierro de la Sardina ('Burial of the Sardine').

What is the biggest problem in Panama? ›

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor remains a serious problem despite some government efforts to combat it. Both Panamanian and migrant workers in certain sectors—including the agricultural sector, where many workers are Indigenous people—are subject to exploitative working conditions.

Do they drink milk in Ecuador? ›

Milk consumption in Ecuador is 110 liters per inhabitant each year, which still represents a small amount compared to a recommended consumption of 180 liters per person per year.

Where is Ecuador for kids? ›

Ecuador is located in the western corner at the top of the South American continent. Ecuador is named after the Equator, the imaginary line around the Earth that splits the country in two. Most of the country is in the Southern Hemisphere. Ecuador is roughly the size of Colorado and is bordered by Colombia and Peru.

What are 5 interesting facts about Cuba? ›

8 Interesting and Little-Known Facts about Cuba
  • Christmas was banned for 30 years. ...
  • Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. ...
  • Dominoes is a national Cuban past-time. ...
  • Burning Rag Dolls is a New Year's Eve tradition. ...
  • Cuba is home to the smallest bird in the world. ...
  • Hitch-hiking is a common way of travelling.
Jun 7, 2019

Does Nicaragua have Santa Claus? ›

Christmas. Celebrating Christmas is a mixture of traditional Nicaraguan practices with other elements that have become Christmas icons all over the world. Christmas has two main characters: one is Santa Clause or 'Santa' and the other is Baby Jesus. The climax of this celebration is midnight of December 24th.

What are 2 traditions in Panama? ›

Panama is known for its joyful, music-rich religious festivals and for boisterous holidays such as its pre-Lenten Carnival, marked by dancing, drinking, and casting away care.

What are 3 major holidays in Panama? ›

Panama's national public holidays are: January 1 New Year's Day. January 9 Martyrs' Day. Carnival Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Does Panama have a Santa Claus? ›

And yes, Santa Claus is in Panama: they call him Papa Noel.

Is there high crime in Panama? ›

Whether you're comparing crime statistics, tourist guides, or travel advisories for the region's different countries, you'll find that Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America.

Is Panama a rich or poor country? ›

Although Panama has a high GDP per capita, the reality is that most of the income in the country is concentrated among the wealthy few. For instance, in 2000, the nation's per capita GDP was US$3,513.
...
Panama - Poverty and wealth.
GDP per Capita (US$)Panama
2,572
2,709
2,887
2,523
5 more columns

What language is spoken in Panama? ›

Spanish is the official native language of Panama. But what kind of Spanish do they speak? There are many types of Spanish, but Castilian Spanish is spoken in Panama due to Spain's influence in Panama.

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