Panama Overview

Panama is a narrow strip of land that connects North and South America.

At several places it spans less than a hundred miles from its Atlantic coastline to its Pacific shores.

Hundreds of small islands that form the Bocas del Torro and San Blas Archipelagos ring the northern coastline.

Most of Panama's people and economic activity are located in the central region surrounding the Panama Canal.

Panama has plant and animal life more diverse than almost anywhere else on Earth. More species of birds live in Panama than in all of North America and Canada combined.

Panama’s coasts and islands are protected with many coral reefs, which are home to a diversity of marine species and are excellent sites for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.

Prehistoric inhabitants of the Americas crossed Panama to reach South America and continued to migrate back and forth, sharing trade goods and culture and using the rich natural resources of the isthmus.

Spain used Panama as a major commercial center for its American colonies; shipping trade goods and African slaves to Peru and thousands of tons of silver and gold to Spain.

The most dominate features of Panama are the forested, volcanic-in-origin, mountains that extend from its Costa Rican border to Colombia, South America.

The eastern third of Panama (the Darien province) is a sparsely populated and composed of rain forest, rivers and swampy lowlands bordered by high mountain peaks.

Panama has 15 national parks, five of which are forest preserves.

Over 1,500 islands are located within Panama’s territorial waters. (Over 1,000 in the Caribbean and nearly 500 in the Pacific).

Over 500 rivers run through the country.

The Panama Canal took almost 10 years to build, with a labor force of over 75,000 men and women, at a cost of nearly $400 million dollars. It opened to maritime traffic on August 15, 1914.

In the Canal Zone, Panama is only 80 Kilometers long. In 1922 only 2736 transits were recorded. In 2002 the canal saw 13,000 crossings—11,862 of which were made by oceangoing vessels. Today the Panama Canal employs more than nine thousand people and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Up until 40 years ago, Panama’s Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world. In the past, Gatun Lake flooded nearly 262 square kilometers of forest, villages and original railroad lines.

On several occasions Panama was the victim of piracy, lead by pirates such as Henry Morgan and Francis Drake.

Archeological excavations carried out by the Smithsonian Institute have found remains of pottery and shells. These imply that there was human existence in Panama that dates back to 300 years before Christ.

The gold and silver from Peru and other countries in the Americas were transported to a Panamanian town called “Name of God” in Colón Province by way of the Camino Real. From there they were transported to Europe.

It was on Panamanian soil that Spain founded the first city of the New World- Santa María la Antigua de Darién.