Panama is in the southernmost, narrowest part of the Central American isthmus, and forms a bridge between the North and South America continents. Its canal on the other hand allows sea-going vessels to connect two oceans. It is here that the Pacific Ocean is most easily reached, which is why soon after the discovery of the Americas this territory became an international centre of trade. Large numbers of ships with cargo from South America docked here. This is why the Panama Canal was built here and run by the United States of America until 1999. Today the canal works under the authority of the independent state of Panama.
One of the richest Latin American countries, a large part of Panama’s wealth originates from the fees paid by cargo shippers to use the canal. However, in contrast to this, like most similar countries it has a deep gap between social classes, an uneven distribution of assets, lack of welfare provision, gaps in infrastructure, pollution of the environment, and neglected provincial towns.
The country’s official name:
Republic of Panama, in Spanish: República de Panamá
Panama City, in Spanish: Ciudad de Panamá
3,405,813 (2010 census)
29,157 sq miles (75,517 km2)
The country is an unusually varied melting pot of national groups. Mestic (70%), amerindian (14%), black (12%) and white (4%). Before the arrival of the Spanish, several dozen amerindian tribes live in Panama. Today seven remain: the Kuna, the Guaymi, the Bribri, the Teribe, the Embera, the Wounaan and the Bokota. Each tribe kept up its culture and traditions. The Guaymis are the most numerous (125 000 people) and the Kunas (70 000) and these two have the biggest political influence. Besides these there are significant numbers of Asians, and sizable diasporas from the Middle East and Europe.
Official language and other languages:
Official: Spanish, spoken by 90% of the residents
Languages spoken by aboriginal peoples: Kuna, Guaymi, Bribri, Teribe, Embera, Wounaan and Bokota.
Other languages: Panamanian Creole English, several languages spoken in the Chinese community, educated people and those working in tourism, along with most of the African-descended population speak English.
GMT – 5, which puts the country, depending on European summer or winter time, either 6 or 7 hours behind the Central European time zone.
Balboa (plural: Balboas); 1 balboa (BAP) = 1 American dollar (USD). Loose change is in balboa cents or US cents, for paper money the US dollar is used.
110-120 Volts and 60 Hz.
Gross domestic product:
GDP on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) is total: 44,360 billion US dollars, per capita: $12,577 US dollar (figures dating from 2010)
Panama’s climate is a tropical equatorial climate marked by small fluctuations in temperature, making it very pleasant for foreign tourists. There are two seasons, the dry and the rainy seasons, which locally take the place of summer and winter. The dry season lasts from the end of December until the beginning of May, and the rest is the rainy season. However in the territory between the Caribbean coast and the Pacific Ocean quantities of rainfall differ substantially from month to month. This makes it possible for the country to be comfortable for tourists to visit for almost the whole year, within predictable patterns of weather. After sunrise in every season and every part of the country in general the sun shines. After sunset the whole country experiences cool breezes.
The coldest month is October (average temperature 26 °C), and the warmest month is April (average temperature 28 °C). The heaviest rainfall is in October (21 rainy days). At this time showers are frequent. The driest month is March (2 rainy days). It being the dry season does not mean that it never rains and likewise in the rainy season it is not permanently raining. In general during the rainy season the number of sunny hours is high. The temperature is lower in the hilly regions. On the western side of the Talamanca Hills it sometimes freezes, but never snows.
Hurricanes don’t arrive on Panama’s coasts. This is a big advantage over other tropical tourist resorts. The humidity content of the air is extremely high, sometimes reaching 70%, which is due to the influence of sea currents.
Flora and fauna:
Most of the surface of Panama was originally covered by primeval rain forest, which is here and there broken by grassy, brushwood plant cover. Cordilleras can be found over five thousand feet (1500 meters) higher in the evergreen woods of the hills. Higher than this the commonest types of tree are oaks and alder trees. At the foot of the chain of hills, subtropical evergreen forest can be found all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. In the country along the edge of the sea, tropical forest covers the ground up to heights of two thousand feet (600 meters) The western part of the country, the Darien region, has similar upland forests with the most varied ecosystem of the American tropics, which are officialy registered by the UN as part of the world’s heritage. On the sea coasts and the parts most accessible from there is dense rain forest, along with islands covered in coconut palm trees. The Kuna is one of the most extensive contiguous rainforest areas in the country. Since the 1940s total area of forest has been reduced by half. This forest destruction has caused incalculable damage to the ecosystem. Among these is the repeated flooding which causes serious problems for rural settlers. By today however the tourism sector has started to see the value of rare wildlife and unspoilt rainforest.