50 Fascinating Facts about Panama

Panama is a narrow country that links Central and South America. It has borders with Costa Rica to the west and Columbia to the east, while its coasts face the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The Panama Canal, an impressive feat of human engineering, cuts through the center of the country, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to create an essential shipping route. Revenue from the canal continues to represent a significant portion of the country's GDP, and Panama is the second-most competitive economy in Latin America. Panama City is the capital, where modern skyscrapers, casinos and nightclubs contrast with colonial buildings and the rainforest of the Natural Metropolitan Park. Panama's motto is 'Pro Mundi Beneficio', which means 'For the Benefit of the World.'

Panama Facts

Before the building of the Panama Canal, the Isthmus of Panama separated North and South America.
Before the colonisation by Spain in the 16th century, Panama was inhabited by various American Indian tribes. Two of these, the Cuevas and the Coclé were completely wiped out by European diseases against which they had no immunity.
The earliest Panamanian artefacts (hunting tools and pottery) date back to around 2500 BC.
Spain tried to rule Panama from 1538, but there was fierce resistance from American Indians, and Spain found it difficult to control the country.
The English also wanted a bite of the cherry and in 1572 and 1573 Sir Francis Drake organised a series of raids on Panama.
In 1671 mercenary, Henry Morgan, working for the British, burned down Panama City, one of the most important New World towns for the Spanish.
Panama indirectly contributed to the union of Scotland and England in. Towards the end of the 17th century, Scotland tried to establish a colony called Caledonia in the Isthmus of Panama. It was financed by 20% of the money circulating in Scotland, The Darien Scheme as the project was know was brought to ruin by English and Spanish military response. It is the resulting debt that Scotland was left that led to the Union of Scotland and England in 1707.
Panama became independent from Spain on the 28th November 1821.
When Panama achieved independence it initially joined with Ecuador, Venezuela and Nueva Granada to form a ‘Republic of Gran Colombia’. In 1831 this was dissolved. Nueva Granada and Panama and stayed together and became Colombia. In 1903 Panama seceded from Colombia.
A French construction Company under promoter De Lesseps first tried to build the Panama Canal towards the end of the nineteenth Century. Projections and planning were inadequate. Disease from mosquitoes were a contributory cause of failure.
Americans eventually took over the Canal building project in 1904 and completed it in 1914.
No Panamanians whatsoever had any say in this.
Three locks in the Panama Canal lift ships to 85 feet above sea level in the mountainous areas.
The Canal was officially opened on the 15th August 1914.
At a cost of $350 million dollars, it was the most expensive construction project that had been built at that time.
As many as 6000 workers at a time had been working on progressing a single area.
A measure of Panamanian Control of the Canal was obtained in 1977 under a treaty signed with President Jimmy Carter.
Full Panamanian Control was gained over the canal on the 31st December 1999. A condition had been the signing by the Panamanians of a treaty guaranteeing neutrality of the Canal.
The Canal is Panama’s main source of revenue.
In 2012 Panama earned a net1.26 billion dollars out of a turnover of 2.4 billion dollars.
Although the Balboa is the official currency (pegged at 1:1 US dollar) the US dollar is accepted as legal tender. This has the advantage of eliminating exchange risks for Americans who go to live in Panama.
The “Panama Papers” the famous leak in 2016 of 11.5 million documents needed 400 journalists to sort through them.
The Panama Papers revealed that the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca set up 214,000 shell companies that facilitated all manner of money laundering relating to money from drug dealing, human trafficking, terrorism and all sorts of different criminal activity.
Mossack Fonseca was involved in a $20 million investment fund set up by the father of former British Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Panama first began to gain a reputation as a tax haven in 1919 when it started registering foreign ships in order to help Standard Oil avoid US taxes.
During the Prohibition, Panama registered US ships were allowed to serve alcohol legally.
Half of Panama’s 8 million people live in the capital, Panama City.
65% of Panama’s population is made up of Mestizos – a mix of indigenous American Indians and Spaniards. 12.3 are native American Indians, 9.2% are Afro Panamanian (in part descendants of slaves from Africa and in part descendants of immigrants who came to help build the Panama Canal. 6.8% are Mulatto who have at least one white and one black parent or ancestor. The remaining 6.7% are white – the smallest minority.
On the 20th December 1989, the United States invaded Panama, allegedly in the defence of democracy and to combat drug-trafficking.
The UN Technical Assistance Mission to Panama declared in 1995 that 20,000 people had been displaced by American bombings.
Panama’s climate is hot and humid and supports numerous rain forests.
More than 10,000 species of plant grow in Panama. Included are 1200 separate kinds of orchids.
1500 different types of tree grow in Panama.
20 kinds of parrots and parakeets live in Panama.
Panama’s jungles are home to five species of big cats: pumas, jaguars and jaguarundis, margays and ocelots
Large tropical fish populations are to be found along Panama’s reefs. They include whale sharks, sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins.
Capybara, the worlds largest rats choose Panama for their home.
Geffroy’s Tamarin, a small monkey, can be found only in Panama and Colombia.
Panama’s culture is diverse as is logical from its history. It is a mix of Indigenous, Spanish and African. The Tamborito dance, for example, derives from a Spanish dance with which have been blended rhythms and movements traditional to indigenous Panamanians.
Yuca, or Cassava in Spanish, is a Panamanian root crop that resembles the potato, though more carrot-like in shape.
Sancocho is Panama’s National dish. Particularly as a chicken soup containing Yuca and Culandro (coriander). It is usually eaten with rice.
Sanocho means “Stew” and is said to be a great cure for hangovers.
One of Panama’s traditional dishes is called “Old Clothes” (Ropa Viejas). The full name is Ropa Vieja y Arroz con Coco. That is shredded beef with coconut rice in English.
“Bien me sabe” (Seems good to me) is the name given to a popular dessert made mainly of honey, egg yolks and ground almonds.
When public education in Panama began around 1903, the authorities had a very elitist view on how education should be handled. It was generally considered that a child should be given a different education according to his class and the social position he was expected to fill in adulthood.
More than 70% of the Panamanian population was illiterate in 1923. By 1980 the figure was down to 13% for children aged more than 10.
The Kuna are an indigenous American Indian Tribes inhabiting the San Blas Islands in Eastern Panama. They consider the islands to be theirs, but they are quite welcoming to visitors.
Qualified divers have the opportunity of swimming practically under the Panama Canal at the Gatun Lake where they can see old submerged railroads used during the Canal’s Construction.
Catholicism, brought in by the Conquistadores, is the Official main religion of Panama, but all religions are accepted.
Panama’s Tocumen International Airport is the largest Airport in Central America.

Panama's long history and culture stretches back to Pre-Columbian period, through the Spanish colonial era and to the independent country it is today. Panama is now a popular tourist destination, and is also a favorite destination for retirees. The country has a well-developed infrastructure compared to many other Central and South American nations; however, there are is still considerable income inequality. Panama's cultural life is mainly derived from the European music and art brought by the Spanish. Combined with the traditions of African and Native American culture, Panama now offers a unique cultural heritage of its own that includes festivals, dance, crafts and cuisine.


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