Panama is a transatlantic country connecting Central and Southern America by both land and water. The country sits at a vital geographic location as it serves the role of a bridge between the two American continents.
The country has existed in alliance with other nations throughout its history and finally became a sovereign state in 1903. However, Panama is most famously known for the Panama Canal that joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Panama, officially known as the Republic of Panama, is a small country covering an area of 75,417 km2 or 29,119 sq. miles. Panama City is the capital of Panama and the largest city which is home to almost half of the country’s 4 million population.
The country sits in the middle with Costa Rica to its west and Colombia to the southeast. The other two sides have the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean thus giving rise to its strategic importance in the region.
Craving to know more? Here are 15 amazing facts about the country.
Captivating Facts about Panama
1. The original inhabitants of Panama were indigenous tribes like the Cueva people
The nationals of Panama are known as Panamanians.
However, before the country became a Spanish colony, it was inhabited by various indigenous tribes like the Chibchan, Chocoan and Cueva people all of whom had their own cultures and traditions. These indigenous people still make up about 13% of the population in Panama today.
2. The country was a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years
Spanish colonists first arrived in the country during the 16th century. A Spanish explorer named Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived in the nation and ‘claimed’ it for the King in 1513.
After this, the country continued to serve as a part of the European country for nearly 3 centuries. In 1821, Panama finally broke away from Spain and joined an alliance of Central American countries.
3. In 1821, Panama joined the Republic of Gran Colombia
After breaking off as a Spanish colony, Panama joined the collection of Central American nations known as the Republic of Gran Colombia, more commonly referred to as Greater Colombia.
The amalgamation included modern-day Ecuador, Granada, Nueva, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela. This alliance lasted until 1831 after which Panama and Nueva became parts of the Republic of Colombia.
4. The Panama Canal was a US endeavor that cost 25,000 lives and took a decade to build
One of the biggest reasons that Panama is known today is due to the Panama Canal, an artificial 82 km waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans while dividing North and South America.
The building of the Canal started in 1904 and was finally completed in 1914. The Canal was further expanded in 2016. It was funded and operated by the US until 1977, when under the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, it was finally handed over to the Government of Panama.
Building of the artificial canal was a humongous feat for mankind. France had eventually started construction of the Canal in 1881 but had to stop work due to high mortality rate and low investor confidence.
The conditions of not just the construction sector during that time but also the tropical climate of Panama made the task extremely treacherous with laborers constantly dying from landslides or diseases like malaria and others.
5. A postage stamp was influential in deciding where the Panama Canal would be built
When the US took over construction of the Panama Canal in 1904, there was a dispute about whether it should be built in Panama or Nicaragua instead. US Senators couldn’t come to a conclusion among themselves.
This is when Philippe Bunau-Varilla sent every Senator a postage stamp of Nicaragua depicting one of the country’s numerous volcanoes.
Luckily, Panama had none and the Senators finally concluded that it was safer to build the Canal in this country. The stamp is available for public viewing at the National Postal Museum in Washington DC.
6. The natural landscapes in Panama are mesmerizing and diverse
Panama may not have any active or dormant volcanoes but it has one of the most mesmerizing natural landscapes anywhere in the world.
The country has an extremely hot and tropical climate with average annual rainfall of about 1900 mm. This is one of the reasons why the Panama Canal was so hard to build.
However, the country is diverse in terms of natural wonders with the second largest rainforest of the continent located in Panama.
7. There are 365 islands in the San Blas archipelago
Speaking of natural landscapes, the San Blas Archipelago also known as the ‘San Blas Islands’. They consist of 365 islands which correspond with the days of the year, making it an interesting number.
This collection of land masses is located towards the Atlantic Ocean side of Panama and is part of the territories that fall under the control of this country. They are beautiful tourist destinations and if you are feeling adventurous, you can visit one island every day of the year.
8. Of the six big cats that are native to Central America, five are found in Panama
There are six big cat species that are native to Central America. Of these, five roam freely through the wilderness of Panama.
The species include cougars, margays, jaguars, ocelots and jaguarundis.They are magnificent sites to behold especially in their natural habitat – another reason to visit Panama if you are that soul that loves wildlife.
9. Did you know? US Senator John McCain was born in Panama
One of the most famous US politicians was Senator John McCain. He served as a Senator for Arizona from 1987 to his death in 2018.
He was the Republican candidate in the Presidential election during Barack Obama’s first term in 2008 but was defeated.
One fact that not many people know about him is that he was born in Coco Solo, Panama. He also served as a Navy officer in the US military and was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict.
10. The first Smithsonian Research Institute outside the US is in Panama
The Smithsonian Institution, commonly known as the Smithsonian, is a group of museums and research centers and is the largest organization of its kind founded in the US.
It was founded on August 10th, 1846. In 1910, researchers from the institute were invited to Panama to study the flora and fauna.
This was during the construction of the Panama Canal and it served as the first step towards establishment of the first Smithsonian Institution outside the US.
11. The Bridge of the Americas is another marvel of human construction in Panama
Spanning more than 1600 m, the steel structure connects Northern and Southern America through a land route.
Construction was started on the bridge in 1959 and was initially called the Thatcher Ferry Bridge until its possession was handed over to Panama in 1979.
It carries nearly 35,000 vehicles every day and up till 2004, when the Centennial Bridge was constructed, it remained the only non-swinging bridge that connects North and South America. The bridge was built at a cost of nearly $20 million.
12. Panama is the only country in the world where you can watch the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic Ocean
You get a glimpse of the beauty and diversity that Panama offers. Since it is essentially a strip of land, people can witness the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and watch it set over the Atlantic Ocean.
Just knowing this fact is fascinating but witnessing it with your own eyes is another experience entirely.
13. Coca Cola was first sold outside the US in Panama
Coca Cola is a US drink that was first produced and sold in the country. However, the first country outside America where the famous soda was sold is Panama. T
his happened in the year 1906. Today, Coca Cola is available in more than 200 countries worldwide.
14. Panama’s Museum of Biodiversity was the first building designed by Frank Gehry
One of the most strikingly vibrant buildings in Panama is the Museum of Biodiversity. Also known as ‘Biomuseo’ it is the only work of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry in Latin America.
Frank Gehry has designed some amazing buildings that are all works of art in themselves. The Museum of Biodiversity tells the story of how the Isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, bringing North and South America together.
15. The Isthmus of Panama is believed to have contributed to human evolution
The Isthmus of Panama is a narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
It is naturally formed and evidence exists to show that it was the reason for the Earth’s climate to shift and become suitable for human life.
Panama in All Its Glory
Panama is a beautiful and fascinating country that has a lot to offer for tourists. From natural to man-made attractions, from culture to traditions, you will be mesmerized with what you find if you choose to visit the country. Here is a video depicting some of the most amazing sights in Panama with 4K resolutions for the best virtual experience.
Panama continues to play a vital role in the world’s trading and tourist dynamics today. With the Panama Canal connecting a frequently traveled trade route, the country provides numerous opportunities for economic and visiting activities.
It is definitely worth visiting if you are looking for an adventure close to home.
Hi I’m Jay. I grew up in Seattle, Washington and live in Los Angeles, California. I have travelled to 23 countries so far and planning to go explore more countries soon! My Favorite trips so far have been to Israel, Japan, Rome, Iceland and Australia. I started this site to share my love of travel with everyone and build a community of like-minded, free thinking, free exploring people.