|Republic of Panama
República de Panamá (Spanish)
|Motto: "Pro Mundi Beneficio" (Latin)
"For the Benefit of the World"
|Anthem: Himno Nacional de Panamá (Spanish)
(and largest city)
|Ethnic groups||58.1% Mestizo
14% Black and Mulatto
7.1% other (2000) 
|-||Vice President||Juan Carlos Varela|
|-||from Spain||28 November 1821|
|-||from Colombia||3 November 1903|
|-||Total||75,517 km2 (118th)
29,157 sq mi
|-||July 2009 estimate||3,360,474 (134th)|
|-||May 2000 census||2,839,178|
|GDP (PPP)||2008 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2008 estimate|
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.840 (high) (58th)|
|Currency||Balboa, U.S. dollar (
Panama, officially the Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá; pronounced [reˈpuβlika ðe panaˈma]), is the southernmost country of both Central America and, in turn, North America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital is Panama City.
Panama is an international business center, and has the third or fourth largest economy in Central America. It is also the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America.
There are several theories about the origin of the name "Panama". Some believe that the country was named after a commonly found species of trees. Others believe that the first settlers arrived in Panama in August, when butterflies abound, and that the name means "many butterflies" in an indigenous language.
The best known version is that a fishing village and its nearby beach bore the name "Panamá," which meant "many fish." Captain Antonio Tello de Guzmán, while exploring the Pacific side in 1515, stopped in the small indigenous fishing town. This was communicated to the Crown and in 1517 Don Gaspar De Espinosa, a Spanish lieutenant, decided to settle a post there. In 1519, Pedrarias Dávila decided to establish the Empire's Pacific city in this site. The new settlement replaced Santa María La Antigua del Darién, which had lost its function within the Crown's global plan after the beginning of the Spanish exploitation of the riches in the Pacific.
Blending all of the above together, Panamanians believe in general that the word Panama means "abundance of fish, trees and butterflies". This is the official definition given in Social Studies textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education in Panama. However, others believe the word panama comes from the Kuna word "bannaba" which means "distant" or "far away". Kunas are one of the native tribes of the country. Ultimately, the etymology of the word Panamá is not very clear.
The Isthmus of Panama was formed in a very long process that started 20 million years ago, up to about 3 million years ago when the isthmus finally closed and plants and animals gradually crossed it in both directions (Mayo 2004: 9-10). Dolores Piperno (1984) has located the human occupancy of the isthmus at around the Late Glacial Period (cited in Mayo 2004: 13). Olga Linares (1979: 21-43) points out in turn that the existence of the isthmus had an impact on the dispersal of people, agriculture and technology throughout the American continent from the appearance of the first hunters and collectors to the era of villages and cities (cited in Cooke and Sánchez 2004: 3).
Richard Cooke and Luis Sánchez (2004: 4, 41-42) emphasize the permanence of peoples in the terrestrial bridge of Central America, and the higher probability that Pre-Columbian peoples in the isthmus satisfied their needs by the exchange of goods, by commercial exchange and through social relationships with neighbouring communities, rather than by long distance exchanges (Cooke and Sánchez 2004: 41).
Dendrograms proposed by genetists and linguists and available information about styles and iconography of ceramic and stone objects point to a successively complex dispersal of a population of millenary permanence in the isthmus and neighbouring areas (see, for example, Corrales 2000, cited in Cooke and Sanchez 2004: 39). Cooke and Sánchez (2004: 4) argue therefore that Panama is a singular example of diversity and endemism, and that Christopher Columbus’ observations (1501–02) that ‘although dense, every (village) has a different language and they don’t understand one another’ (quoted in Jane 1988) describe the ethnographic phenomenon of scattering and diversification of peoples that had inhabited the isthmus for several thousands of years.
The earliest traces of these indigenous peoples include fluted projectile points. Central Panama was home to some of the first pottery-making villages in the Americas, such as the Monagrillo culture dating to about 2500–1700 BC. These evolved into significant populations that are best known through the spectacular burials of the Conte site (dating to c. AD 500–900) and the beautiful polychrome pottery of the Coclé style. The monumental monolithic sculptures at the Barriles (Chiriqui) site were another important clue of the ancient isthmian cultures.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Panama was widely settled by Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples, among whom the largest group were the Cueva (whose specific language affiliation is poorly documented). There is no accurate knowledge of the size of the indigenous population of the isthmus at the time of the European conquest. Estimates range as high as two million people, but more recent studies place that number closer to 200,000. Archeological finds as well as testimonials by early European explorers describe diverse native isthmian groups exhibiting cultural variety and suggesting people already conditioned by regular regional routes of commerce.
Rodrigo de Bastidas, sailing westward from Venezuela in 1501 in search of gold, was the first European to explore the isthmus of Panama. A year later, Christopher Columbus visited the isthmus and established a short-lived settlement in the Darien. Vasco Nunez de Balboa's tortuous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513 demonstrated that the Isthmus was, indeed, the path between the seas, and Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace of Spain's empire in the New World. Gold and silver were brought by ship from South America, hauled across the isthmus, and loaded aboard ships for Spain. The route became known as the Camino Real, or Royal Road, although it was more commonly known as Camino de Cruces (Road of the Crosses) because of the abundance of gravesites along the way.
Panama was part of the Spanish empire for 300 years (1538–1821). From the outset, Panamanian identity was based on a sense of "geographic destiny," and Panamanian fortunes fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the isthmus. The colonial experience also spawned Panamanian nationalism as well as a racially complex and highly stratified society, the source of internal conflicts that ran counter to the unifying force of nationalism.
In 1538 the Real Audiencia de Panama was established, initially with jurisdiction from Nicaragua to Cape Horn. A Real Audiencia (royal audiency) was a judicial district that functioned as an appeals court. Each audiencia had oidores (Spanish: hearer, a judge).
Panama was the site of the ill-fated Darien scheme, which set up a Scottish colony in the region in 1698. This failed for a number of reasons, and the ensuing debt contributed to the union of England and Scotland in 1707.
When Panama was colonized, the indigenous peoples who survived many diseases, massacres and enslavement of the conquest ultimately fled into the forest and nearby islands. Indian slaves were replaced by Africans.
The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540–1740) while contributing to colonial growth; the placing of extensive regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its jurisdiction; and the pivotal role it played at the height of the Spanish Empire -the first modern global empire- helped define a distinctive sense of autonomy and of regional or national identity within Panama well before the rest of the colonies.
In 1744 Bishop Francisco Javier de Luna Victoria y Castro established the College of San Ignacio de Loyola and on June 3, 1749 founded La Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Javier. By this time, however, Panama’s importance and influence had become insignificant as Spain’s power dwindled in Europe and advances in navigation technique increasingly permitted to round Cape Horn in order to reach the Pacific. While the Panama route was short it was also labor intensive and expensive because of the loading and unloading and laden-down trek required to get from the one coast to the other.
The Panama route was also vulnerable to attack from pirates (mostly Dutch and English) and from 'new world' Africans called cimarrons who had freed themselves from enslavement and lived in communes or palenques around the Camino Real in Panama's Interior, and on some of the islands off Panama's Pacific coast. During the last half of the Eighteenth century and the first half of the Nineteenth century, migrations to the countryside decreased Panama City’s population and the isthmus' economy shifted from the tertiary to the primary sector.
In 1717, the viceroyalty of New Granada (northern South America) was created in response to other Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region. The Isthmus of Panama was placed under its jurisdiction. But the remoteness of Santa Fe de Bogota proved a greater obstacle than the Spanish crown anticipated as the authority of New Granada was contested by the seniority, closer proximity, previous ties to the viceroyalty of Lima and even Panama's own initiative. This uneasy relationship between Panama and Bogota would persist for century or two.
Modern Panamanian history has been shaped by its transisthmian canal, which had been a dream since the beginning of Spanish colonization. From 1880 to 1890, a French company under Ferdinand de Lesseps attempted unsuccessfully to construct a sea-level canal on the site of the present Panama Canal.
On the other hand, the Panamanian movement for independence can be indirectly attributed to the abolishment of the encomienda system in Azuero, set forth by the Spanish Crown, in 1558 because of repeated protests by locals against the mistreatment of the native population. In its stead, a system of medium and smaller-sized landownership was promoted, thus taking away the power from the large landowners and into the hands of medium and small sized proprietors.
The end of the encomienda system in Azuero, however, sparked the conquest of Veraguas in that same year. Under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez, the region of Veraguas passed into Castillan rule in 1558. In the newly conquered region, the old system of encomienda was imposed.
On November 10, 1821, the Grito de La Villa de Los Santos (Cry for Independence) occurred. It was a unilateral decision by the residents of Azuero (without backing from Panama City) to declare their separation from the Spanish Empire. In both Veraguas and the capital this act was met with disdain, although on differing levels. To Veraguas, it was the ultimate act of treason, while to the capital, it was seen as inefficient and irregular, and furthermore forced them to accelerate their plans.
The Grito was an event that shook the isthmus to the core. It was a sign, on the part of the residents of Azuero, of their antagonism towards the independence movement in the capital, who in turn regarded the Azueran movement with contempt, since the separatists in Panama believed that their counterparts in Azuero were fighting selfishly for their right to rule, once the peninsulares (spaniards born in the Iberian peninsula)were long gone.
It was an incredibly brave move on the part of Azuero, which lived in fear of Colonel José de Fábrega, and with good reason: the Colonel was a staunch loyalist, and had the entirety of the isthmus' military supplies in his hands. They feared quick retaliation and swift retribution against the separatists.
What they had not counted on, however, was the influence of the separatists in the capital. Ever since October 1821, when the former Governor General, Juan de la Cruz Murgeón, left the isthmus on a campaign in Quito and left the Veraguan colonel in charge, the separatists had been slowly converting Fábrega to the separatist side. As such, by November 10, Fábrega was now a supporter of the independence movement. Soon after the separatist declaration of Los Santos, Fábrega convened every organization in the capital with separatist interests and formally declared the city's support for independence. No military repercussions occurred because of the skillful bribing of royalist troops.
In the first eighty years following independence from Spain, Panama was a department of Colombia. The people of the isthmus made several attempts to secede and came close to success in 1831, and again during the Thousand Days War of 1899–1902. When the Senate of Colombia rejected the Hay-Herran Treaty, the United States decided to support the Panamanian independence movement. In November 1903, Panama proclaimed its independence and concluded the Hay/Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States. The treaty granted rights to the United States "as if it were sovereign" in a zone roughly 10 miles wide and 50 miles long. In that zone, the U.S. would build a canal, then administer, fortify, and defend it "in perpetuity." In 1914, the United States completed the existing 83-kilometer (52-mile) canal. The early 1960s saw the beginning of sustained pressure in Panama for the renegotiation of this treaty.
From 1903 until 1968, Panama was a constitutional democracy dominated by a commercially oriented oligarchy. During the 1950s, the Panamanian military began to challenge the oligarchy's political hegemony.
Amidst negotiations for the Robles-Johnson treaty, Panama held elections in 1967. The candidates were Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, Antonio González Revilla, and Engineer David Samudio, who had the government’s support. Samudio was the candidate of Alianza del Pueblo (“People’s Alliance”), Arias Madrid was the candidate of Unión Nacional (“National Union”), and González Revilla was the candidate of Democracia Cristiana (“Christian Democrats”) (see Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 508).
Arias Madrid was declared the winner of elections that were marked by violence and accusations of fraud against Alianza del Pueblo. On October 1st, 1968, Arias Madrid took office as president of Panama, promising to lead a government of “national union” that would end the reigning corruption and pave the way for a new Panama. A week and a half later, on October 11th, 1968, the National Guard (Guardia Nacional) ousted Arias and initiated the downward spiral that would culminate with the United States' invasion in 1989. Arias, who had promised to respect the hierarchy of the National Guard, broke the pact and started a large restructuring of the Guard. To preserve the Guard’s interests, Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos Herrera and Major Boris Martínez commanded the first coup of a military force against a civilian government in Panamanian republican history (see Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 523).
The military justified itself by declaring that Arias Madrid was trying to install a dictatorship, and promised a return to constitutional rule. In the meantime, the Guard began a series of populist measures that would gain support for the coup. Amongst them were the freezing of prices on food, medicine and other goods until January 31st, 1969, the freezing of renting prices, the legalization of the permanence of squatting families in boroughs surrounding the historic site of Panama Viejo. Parallel to this, the military began a policy of repression against the opposition, who were labeled communists. The military appointed a Provisional Government Junta that would arrange new elections. However, the National Guard would prove to be very reluctant to abandon power and soon began calling itself El Gobierno Revolucionario (“The Revolutionary Government”).
During Omar Torrijos’s control, the military regime transformed the political and economic structure of the country by initiating massive coverage of social security services and expanding public education. The constitution was changed in 1972. For the reform to the constitution, the military created a new organization, the Assembly of Corregimiento Representatives, which replaced the National Assembly. The new assembly, also known as the Poder Popular (“Power of the People”), was composed of 505 members selected by the military without the participation of political parties, which had been eliminated by the military. The new constitution proclaimed Omar Torrijos the “Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution,” and conceded him unlimited power for six years, although, to keep a façade of constitutionality, Demetrio B. Lakas was appointed president for the same period (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 541).
Torrijos' death in 1981 altered the tone but not the direction of Panama's political evolution. Despite the 1983 constitutional amendments, which proscribed a political role for the military, the Panama Defense Forces (PDF), as they were then known, continued to dominate Panamanian political life. By this time, General Manuel Noriega was firmly in control of both the PDF and the civilian government.
In the 1984 elections, the candidates were Nicolás Ardito Barletta Vallarino, supported by the military in a union called UNADE; Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, for the opposition union ADO; the ex-General Rubén Darío Paredes, who had been forced to an early retirement by Noriega, running for Partido Nacionalista Popular PNP (“Popular Nationalist Party”), and Carlos Iván Zúñiga, running for Partido Acción Popular (PAPO) meaning “Popular Action Party”). Nicolás Ardito Barleta was declared the winner of elections that had been clearly won by Arnulfo Arias Madrid. Ardito Barletta inherited a country in economic ruin and hugely indebted to the IMF and the World Bank. Amidst the economic crisis and Barletta’s efforts to calm the country’s creditors, street protests arose, and so did military repression.
Meanwhile, Noriega's regime had fostered the development of a well-hidden criminal economy that operated as a parallel source of income for the military and their allies, providing revenues from drugs and money laundering. Towards the end of the military dictatorship, a new wave of Chinese migrants arrived on the isthmus in the hope of migrating to the United States. The smuggling of Chinese became an enormous business, with revenues of up to 200 million dollars for Noriega’s regime (see Mon 167).
The military dictatorship, at that time supported by the United States, perpetrated the assassination and torture of more than one hundred Panamanians and forced into exile at least another hundred dissidents (see Zárate 15). Noriega also began playing a double role in Central America under the supervision of the CIA. While the Contadora group conducted diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in the region, Noriega supplied the Nicaraguan Contras and other guerrillas in the region with weapons and ammunition (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 602).
On June 6th, 1987, the recently retired Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera, resentful for Noriega’s violation of the “Torrijos Plan” of succession that would turn him into the chief of the military after Noriega, decided to denounce the regime. He revealed details of the electoral fraud, accused Noriega of planning Torrijos’s death, declared that Torrijos had received 12 million dollars from the Shah of Iran so that Panama would give the exiled Iranian leader asylum, and blamed Noriega for the assassination by decapitation of opposition leader Dr. Hugo Spadafora (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 618).
On the night of June 9th, 1987, the Cruzada Civilista (“Civic Crusade”) was created and began organizing actions of civil disobedience. The Crusade called for a general strike. In response, the military suspended constitutional rights and declared a state of emergency in the country. On July 10th, the Civic Crusade called for a massive demonstration that was violently repressed by the “Dobermans,” the military’s special riot control unit. That day, later known as El Viernes Negro (“Black Friday”), left six hundred people injured and another six hundred detained, many of whom were later tortured and raped.
United States President Ronald Reagan began a series of sanctions against the military regime. The United States froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the summer of 1987 in response to the domestic political crisis in Panama and an attack on the U.S. Embassy. Yet these sanctions did little to overthrow Noriega but instead severely damaged Panama’s economy. The sanctions hit the Panamanian population hard and caused the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to decline almost 25 percent between 1987-1989 (see Acosta n.p.).
On February 5th, 1988, General Manuel Antonio Noriega was accused of drug trafficking by federal juries in Tampa and Miami.
In April 1988, American President Ronald Reagan invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, freezing Panamanian government assets in all U.S. organizations. In May 1989 Panamanians voted overwhelmingly for the anti-Noriega candidates. The Noriega regime promptly annulled the election and embarked on a new round of repression.
On 19 December, President George H. W. Bush decided to use force against Panama, declaring that the operation was necessary to safeguard the lives of American citizens in Panama, defend democracy and human rights, combat drug trafficking, and secure the functioning of the Canal as required by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (New York Times, A Transcript of President Bush's Address n.p.).
Operation Just Cause was justified by the United States as necessary to secure the functioning of the Canal and re-establish democracy in the country. Although described as a surgical maneuver, the action led to civilian deaths whose estimated numbers range from 400 to 4,000 during the two weeks of armed activities in the largest United States military operation after the Vietnam War. For some commentators, the action was not intended only to rid Panama of the dictatorship but served also to reinforce United States authority over the region right at the end of the Cold War, as well as use Panama as practice field for weapons and strategies that would shortly after be used in the Gulf War (Cajar Páez 22).
The urban population, living below the poverty level, was greatly affected by the 1989 invasion, becoming the ‘collateral cost’ of the democratization of the country. As pointed out in 1995 by a UN Technical Assistance Mission to Panama, the bombardments during the invasion caused the displacement of 20,000 persons. The most stricken district was El Chorrillo where several blocks of apartments where completely destroyed. El Chorrillo had been since Canal construction days a series of wooden barracks; these easily caught fire under the United States attack. According to the Technical Mission, the displaced were segregated to unfinished USAID dwellings, far from communications and basic services, or were sent back to live in El Chorrillo's new low-standard multi-family buildings constructed hastily by the Panamanian government in replacement of their lost homes (see Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, n.p.). As stated by respondents in a 2005 survey conducted in El Chorrillo, after the invasion, crime and drug trafficking increased, and living conditions in the neighborhood worsened. Coleen Acosta points out that “the intervention added further to (Panama’s) economic decline. Some sections of Panama City were heavily damaged, leaving thousands homeless, and subsequent looting left businesses with damages in the hundreds of millions. The economic damage caused by the invasion and subsequent civil disobedience has been estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars (...) Unemployment rose to record highs as the government infrastructure was left in chaos. According to the Chamber of Commerce, 10,000 employees lost their jobs in the aftermath of the war (n.p.).
The U.S. troops involved in Operation Just Cause achieved their primary objectives, and Noriega eventually surrendered to U.S. authorities. He completed his sentence for drug trafficking charges in September 2007. In August 2007, a U.S. federal court in Miami found Noriega extraditable to France, where he was convicted in absentia for money laundering. Noriega remains in custody pending the outcome of his legal challenges to the certificate of extradition issued in August 2007.
Panama's Electoral Tribunal moved quickly to rebuild the civilian constitutional government, reinstated the results of the May 1989 election on December 27, 1989, and confirmed the victory of President Guillermo Endara and Vice Presidents Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon.
During its five-year term, the often-fractious government struggled to meet the public's high expectations. Its new police force was a major improvement over its predecessor but was not fully able to deter crime. Ernesto Pérez Balladares was sworn in as President on September 1, 1994, after an internationally monitored election campaign.
Perez Balladares ran as the candidate for a three-party coalition dominated by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the erstwhile political arm of military dictatorships. Perez Balladares worked skillfully during the campaign to rehabilitate the PRD's image, emphasizing the party's populist Torrijos roots rather than its association with Noriega. He won the election with only 33% of the vote when the major non-PRD forces splintered into competing factions. His administration carried out economic reforms and often worked closely with the U.S. on implementation of the Canal treaties.
On September 1, 1999, Mireya Moscoso, the widow of former President Arnulfo Arias Madrid, took office after defeating PRD candidate Martin Torrijos, son of Omar Torrijos, in a free and fair election. During her administration, Moscoso attempted to strengthen social programs, especially for child and youth development, protection, and general welfare. Moscoso's administration successfully handled the Panama Canal transfer and was effective in the administration of the Canal.
The PRD's Martin Torrijos won the presidency and a legislative majority in the National Assembly in 2004. Torrijos ran his campaign on a platform of, among other pledges, a "zero tolerance" for corruption, a problem endemic to the Moscoso and Perez Balladares administrations. Since taking office, Torrijos has passed a number of laws making the government more transparent. He formed a National Anti-Corruption Council whose members represent the highest levels of government, as well as civil society, labor organizations, and religious leadership. In addition, many of his closest Cabinet ministers are non-political technocrats known for their support for the Torrijos government's anti-corruption aims. Despite the Torrijos administration's public stance on corruption, many high-profile cases, particularly involving political or business elites, have been acted upon.
Panama's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Panama is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
For all people national elections are universal and mandatory for all citizens 21 years and older. National elections for the executive and legislative branches take place every five years. Members of the judicial branch are appointed by the head of state. Panama's National Assembly is elected by proportional representation in fixed electoral districts, so many smaller parties are represented. Presidential elections do not require a simple majority, and Panama's last three presidents were elected with the support of only 30–40% of voters.
Since the U.S. friendly invasion and the end of the 21-year military dictatorship, Panama has successfully completed three peaceful transfers of power to opposing political factions. The political landscape is dominated by two major parties and many smaller parties, many of which are driven by individual leaders more than ideologies. Former President Martin Torrijos is the son of former military dictator Omar Torrijos. He succeeded Mireya Moscoso, the widow of Arnulfo Arias. Panama's most recent national elections occurred on May 3, 2009 with Ricardo Martinelli being elected. He was sworn for a five-year term in Panama City on July 1, 2009.
Panama is divided into nine provinces, with their respective local authorities (governors) and has a total of ten cities. Also, there are five Comarcas (literally: "Shires") which house a variety of indigenous groups.
Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its location on the Isthmus of Panama is strategic. By 2000, Panama controlled the Panama Canal which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to the North of the Pacific Ocean. Panama, at 75,420 sq km, is ranked 124th worldwide on the basis of land size.
The dominant feature of the country's landform is the central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands related to the Andean system of South America. The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic intrusions.
The mountain range of the divide is called the Cordillera de Talamanca near the Costa Rican border. Farther east it becomes the Serranía de Tabasará, and the portion of it closer to the lower saddle of the isthmus, where the canal is located, is often called the Sierra de Veraguas. As a whole, the range between Costa Rica and the canal is generally referred to by geographers as the Cordillera Central.
The highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú (formerly known as the Volcán de Chiriquí), which rises to 3,475 metres (11,401 ft). A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia where Colombian guerrilla and drug dealers are operating with hostage-taking. This and forest protection movements create a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Patagonia.
Panama's wildlife holds the most diversity of all the countries in Central America. It is home to many South American species as well as North American wildlife.
Nearly 500 rivers lace Panama's rugged landscape. Mostly unnavigable, many originate as swift highland streams, meander in valleys, and form coastal deltas. However, the Río Chagres (Rio Chagres) is one of the few wide rivers and a source of enormous hydroelectric power. The river is located in central Panama. The central part of the river is dammed by the Gatun Dam and forms Gatun Lake, an artificial lake that constitutes part of the Panama Canal. The lake was created between 1907 and 1913 by the building of the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River. At the time it was created, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world, and the dam was the largest earth dam. It drains northwest into the Caribbean Sea. The Kampia and Madden Lakes (also filled with water from the Río Chagres) provide hydroelectricity for the area of the former Canal Zone.
The Río Chepo, another source of hydroelectric power, is one of the more than 300 rivers emptying into the Pacific. These Pacific-oriented rivers are longer and slower running than those of the Caribbean side. Their basins are also more extensive. One of the longest is the Río Tuira which flows into the Golfo de San Miguel and is the nation's only river navigable by larger vessels.
The Caribbean coastline is marked by several good natural harbors. However, Cristóbal, at the Caribbean terminus of the canal, had the only important port facilities in the late 1980s. The numerous islands of the Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro, near the Beaches of Costa Rica, provide an extensive natural roadstead and shield the banana port of Almirante. The over 350 San Blas Islands, near Colombia, are strung out for more than 160 km along the sheltered Caribbean coastline.
Panama has a tropical climate. Temperatures are uniformly high—as is the relative humidity—and there is little seasonal variation. Diurnal ranges are low; on a typical dry-season day in the capital city, the early morning minimum may be 24°C (75°F) and the afternoon maximum 29°C (84°F). The temperature seldom exceeds 32°C (90°F) for more than a short time. Temperatures on the Pacific side of the isthmus are somewhat lower than on the Caribbean, and breezes tend to rise after dusk in most parts of the country. Temperatures are markedly cooler in the higher parts of the mountain ranges, and frosts occur in the Cordillera de Talamanca in western Panama.
Climatic regions are determined less on the basis of temperature than on rainfall, which varies regionally from less than 1.3 to more than 3 metres per year. Almost all of the rain falls during the rainy season, which is usually from April to December, but varies in length from seven to nine months. In general, rainfall is much heavier on the Caribbean than on the Pacific side of the continental divide. The annual average in Panama City is little more than half of that in Colón. Although rainy-season thunderstorms are common, the country is outside of the hurricane belt.
Panama's tropical environment supports an abundance of plants. Forests dominate, interrupted in places by grasslands, scrub, and crops. Although nearly 40 percent of Panama is still wooded, deforestation is a continuing threat to the rain-drenched woodlands. Tree cover has been reduced by more than 50 percent since the 1940s. Subsistence farming, widely practiced from the northeastern jungles to the southwestern grasslands, consists largely of corn, bean, and tuber plots. Mangrove swamps occur along parts of both coasts, with banana plantations occupying deltas near Costa Rica. In many places, a multi-canopied rain forest abuts the swamp on one side of the country and extends to the lower reaches of slopes in the other.
Panama had a population of 3,360,474 in 2009. As of the year 2000, the majority of the population, 50.1%, was Mestizo. African and Mulattos were together the largest minority, accounting for 22%. For the remaining groups the percentages were: native Central American 6.7%, European 8.6%, Asian 5.5%, and other 7.1%. The Amerindian population includes seven indigenous peoples: the Emberá, Wounaan, Guaymí, Ngöbe Buglé, Kuna, Naso and Bribri. More than half the population lives in the Panama City–Colón metropolitan corridor.
The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. Spanish is the official and dominant language. About 93% speak Spanish as their first language, though there are many citizens who speak both English and Spanish or native languages, such as ngabere.
Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above all a melting pot and a separated country. This is shown, for instance, by its considerable population of Afro-Antillean and Chinese origin. The first Chinese immigrated to Panama from southern China to help build the Panama Railroad in the 19th century. They were followed by several waves of immigrants whose descendants number around 50,000. Starting in the 1970s, a further 80,000 have immigrated from other parts of China as well. One in every five Panamanians has Chinese heritage. Most of the Panamanian population of West Indian descent owe their presence in the country to the monumental efforts to build the Panama Canal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Panama is the smallest Spanish-speaking Latin American country in terms of population.
The most common religion in Panama is Roman Catholicism – various sources estimate that 75–85% of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic and 15–25% percent as evangelical Christian. The Bahá'í Faith community of Panama is estimated at 2.00% of the national population, or about 60,000 and is home to one of the seven Baha'i Houses of Worship. Smaller religious groups include Jewish and Muslim communities with approximately 10,000 members each, and small groups of Hindus, Buddhists and Rastafarians. Indigenous religions include Ibeorgun (among Kuna) and Mamatata (among Ngöbe Buglé).
The culture of Panama derived from European music, art and traditions that were brought over by the Spanish to Panama. Hegemonic forces have created hybrid forms of this by blending African and Native American culture with European culture. For example, the tamborito is a Spanish dance that was blended with Native American rhythms, themes and dance moves. Dance is a symbol of the diverse cultures that have coupled in Panama. The local folklore can be experienced through a multitude of festivals, dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. Local cities host live Reggae en Español, Cuban, Reggaeton, Kompa, Colombian, jazz, blues, salsa, reggae and rock performances.
Outside of Panama City, regional festivals take place throughout the year featuring local musicians and dancers. Another example of Panama’s blended culture is reflected in the traditional products, such as woodcarvings, ceremonial masks and pottery, as well as in its architecture, cuisine and festivals. In earlier times, baskets were woven for utilitarian uses, but now many villages rely almost exclusively on the baskets they produce for tourists.
An example of undisturbed, unique culture in Panama stems from the Kuna Indians who are known for molas. Mola is the Kuna Indian word for blouse, but the term mola has come to mean the elaborate embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna woman's blouse. Molas are works of art created by the women of the Central American Cuna (or Kuna) tribe. They are several layers of cloth varying in color that are loosely stitched together made using an appliqué process referred to as "reverse appliqué".
According to the CIA World Factbook, Panama has an unemployment rate of 5.6%. According to the ECLAC, the poverty rate is 28.6% as of 2006 and is expected to decline to 11% by 2009, in spite of the Global financial crisis of 2008 - 2009. A food surplus was registered in August 2008, and infrastructure works are progressing rapidly. On the Human Development Index Panama is ranked at number 58 (2008). The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Panama will be the fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2009. It was the second fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2008, after Peru.
Since taking office in 1994 President Ernesto Perez Balladares advanced an economic liberalization program designed to liberalize the trade regime, attract foreign investment, privatize state-owned enterprises, institute fiscal discipline and privatized its two ports in 1997 and approved the sale of the railroad in early assets. Panama joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a banking reform law was approved by the legislature in early 1998 and dismantled the Central bank. After two years of near stagnation the reforms began to take root; GDP grew by 3.6% in 1997 and grew by more than 6% in 1998. The most important sectors which drove growth were the Panama Canal and the shipping and port activities of The Colon Free Zone which also rebounded from a slow year in 1996.
Panama's economy is mainly based on a well developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading and private industries, because of its key geographic location. The handover of the Canal and military installations by the United States has given rise to some construction projects. A referendum regarding the building of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal was approved overwhelmingly (though with low voter turnout) on 22 October 2006.
The official estimate of the building of the third set of locks is US$5.25 billion. The canal is of economic importance since it pumps millions of dollars from toll revenue to the national economy and provides massive employment. The United States had a monopoly over the Panama Canal for 85 years. However, the Torrijos-Carter Treaties signed in 1977 began the process of returning the canal to the Panamanian government in 1999.
The Panamanian currency is officially the balboa, fixed at parity with the United States dollar since independence in 1903. In practice, however, the country is dollarized; Panama has its own coinage but uses U.S. dollars for all its paper currency. According to the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, Panama's inflation as measured by weight CPI was 2.0% in 2006. Panama has traditionally experienced low inflation, as it shares currencies with the U.S.
The balboa replaced the Colombian peso in 1904 following the country's independence. The balboa has been tied to the United States dollar (which is legal tender in Panama) at an exchange rate of 1:1 since its introduction and has always circulated alongside dollars.
Panamanian banknotes, denominated in balboas, were printed in 1941 by President Arnulfo Arias. They were recalled several days later, giving them the name "The Seven Day Dollar." The notes were burned after the seven days but occasionally balboa notes can be found with collectors. These were the only banknotes issued by Panama and U.S. notes have circulated both before and since.
The high levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the world Western Hemisphere. Last year the zone accounted for 92% of Panama's exports and 64% of its imports, according to an analysis of figures from the Colon zone management and estimates of Panama's trade by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama's economy is also very much supported by the trade and exportation of coffee and other agricultural products.
The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the governments of the United States and Panama was signed on October 27, 1982. The treaty protects U.S. investment and assists Panama in its efforts to develop its economy by creating conditions more favorable for U.S. private investment and thereby strengthening the development of its private sector. The BIT with Panama was the first such treaty signed by the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere. A Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and Panama was signed by both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or implemented the agreement.
Tourism in the Republic of Panama kept its growth during the past 5 years due to the government offering tax and price discounts to foreign guests and retirees. These economic incentives caused Panama to be regarded as a relatively good place to retire in the world. Real estate developers in Panama have increased the amount of tourism destinations in the past five years because of the interest for these visitor incentives. The number of tourists arriving between January and September 2008 was 1,110,000, 13.1% or 128,452 visitors. This was a significant increase to the 982,640 travelers who had arrived in the same period of 2007, a year that beat all records regarding the entry of tourists into the country.
The arrival of tourists from Europe to Panama grew by 23.1% during the first nine months of 2008. According to the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), between January and September, 71,154 tourists from the Old Continent entered the country that is 13,373 more than figures for same period last year. Most of the Europeans who have visited Panama were Spaniards (14,820), followed by Italians (13,216), French (10,174) and British (8,833). From Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, 6997 tourists arrived. Europe has become one of the key markets to promote Panama as a tourist destination.
In 2007 1.445.5 million entered into the Panamanian economy as a result of tourism. This accounted for 9.5% of gross domestic product in the country, surpassing other productive sectors.
Panama´s Law No. 8 is still the most modern and comprehensive law for the promotion of tourism investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. In so-called Special Tourism Zones, Law 8 offers incentives such as 100% exemption from income tax, real estate tax, import duties for construction materials and equipment, and other taxes. Panama has declared different parts of the country as Special Tourism Zones which are benefited with multiple tax exemptions and tax holidays.
|Institute for Economics and Peace||Global Peace Index||59 out of 144|
|United Nations Development Programme||Human Development Index||60 out of 182|
|Transparency International||Corruption Perceptions Index||84 out of 180|
|World Economic Forum||Global Competitiveness Report||59 out of 133|
|Currency||Panamanian Balboa (PAB) US Dollar (USD)|
|Population||3,039,150 (July 2006 est.)|
|Language||Spanish (official), English|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 85% Protestant 15%|
Panama  is a country in Central America with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, with Colombia (and South America) to the southeast and Costa Rica (and North America) to the northwest. It's strategically located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America. It controls the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via Caribbean Sea with North Pacific Ocean, one of the most important shipping routes in the world.
To understand the small Isthmus of Panama, it is best to view it by its provinces. Panama has a tropical climate, but temperatures change dramatically between the coasts; and from the low lands to the mountainous region of Boquete. Temperatures are uniformly high—as is the relative humidity—and there is little seasonal variation. Diurnal ranges are low; on a typical dry-season day in the capital city, the early morning minimum may be 24°C and the afternoon maximum 29°C. The temperature seldom exceeds 32°C for more than a short time. Temperatures on the Pacific side of the isthmus are somewhat lower than on the Caribbean, and breezes tend to rise after dusk in most parts of the country. Temperatures are markedly cooler in the higher parts of the mountain ranges, and frosts occur in the Cordillera de Talamanca in western Panama. Climatic regions are determined less on the basis of temperature than on rainfall, which varies regionally from less than 1.3 to more than 3 meters per year. Almost all of the rain falls during the rainy season, which is usually from April to December, but varies in length from seven to nine months. In general, rainfall is much heavier on the Caribbean than on the Pacific side of the continental divide. The annual average in Panama City is little more than half of that in Colón. Although rainy-season thunderstorms are common, the country is outside the hurricane track. (The information above was written by Wikipedia Panama )
For ease of reference, Panama's many provinces can be grouped as follows:
Highlands--This area is north, west of Panama City; near the Pacific Ocean and Costa Rica. The main city is David; with an international airport and daily flights that connect to Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and San Jose, Costa Rica. The town of Boquete is the most famous area in Chiriqui. Known as the "Valley of the Flowers" and the Eternal Spring. It is fast becoming a world class adventure destination, as well as, the premier coffee growing region. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown on the slopes of the Volcan Barú.Pacific Gulf-includes Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui and Coiba National Marine Park, both known for world-class sport fishing, surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling
Atlantic Coast Caribbean
|Kuna Yala & San Blas Islands
|Comarca de Ngöbe-Buglé
Panama´s strongest attraction is its diversity. In less than five days you can visit it all: beach, mountain, modern city and historic ruins. While in Panama city don´t miss the four "must do": the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo, Casco Antiguo (also known as Casco Viejo) and the jungles surrounding the Canal area.
Panama Viejo was the first city of Panama, founded by the Spanish back in 1519. It was the first city founded at the Pacific and it became rapidly a prosperous point where gold from the southern colonies would make it to the Caribbean and later on to Europe. It was attacked by pirates several times, the last of them by Pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it forever in 1671. In 1673, a new city was built, but this time using the knowledge painfully acquired by experience. The Spanish by then knew well the risks of settling cities in tropical swamps: mosquitoes, tropical diseases and difficulty to defend its territory. The second city was founded at the opposite side of the bay in very different conditions: a rocky peninsula easy to defend and with crossed winds that would ensure the health of its inhabitants. This city is known today as Casco Antiguo, and it is here where the Republic of Panama was born as it is known today.
Currently a UNESCO protected site, Casco Antiguo (or Casco Viejo) is Panama City´s second touristic destination and the reason is that its buildings reflect the diversity of Panamanian society. Although a Spanish colonial city, because of several fires and the influence of merchants from all around the world, it became a vibrant city with styles ranging from Caribbean to French and even Art Deco. Today, Casco Antiguo undergoes an interesting revitalization process. Boutique hotels have started to appear, and some of the best bars and restaurants of the city can be found here. It has also become Panama City´s artistic center with the recurrent art events and shows such as the Panama Jazz Festival, the Music Festival, Sobresaltos Dance Festival and many others.
Parque Soberania, Parque Chagres and Parque Metropolitano: fifteen minutes away from modern Panama City, you´ll be able to hike primary and secondary tropical rainforests. There are several activities you can do here, from birdwatching at Gamboa´s Pipeline Road to fishing at the Gatun Lake or visits of the caves at Madden. For those interested in research, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute offers visitors educational tours to Barro Colorado Island, one of the most studied jungles in the world.
A visit to the Panama Canal is probably the most important item in the traveler´s list. There are several ways you can experience the canal, it will depend on your level of interest. For the curious visitor, there are two museums devoted to it: the Canal Museum at Casco Antiguo, featuring Panama´s history as a crossroads of cultures, oceans and a bridge between continents and a second museum is located at the Miraflores Locks. This museum shows the technical aspects of the Canal. You can observe the transits at the balcony of the restaurant on the top.
Another way to experience the Canal is to cross it. Either partial crossing which takes four hours or complete crossing which might be done in eight, in both cases it is recommendable to hire a guide that is knowledgeable in history of the Panama Canal.
Although the Panama Canal is the most famous destination in Panama, travel outside the City is growing in popularity. Adventure travelers can take a bus or short flight, and in just a few days, can see both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
The ease of travel and wide array of experiences are making Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world. In just one week, visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life. The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami and has established commerce, arts, fashion and dining. Fodors, Frommers and National Geographic have all recently began publishing guides for Panama, only the second country in Central America, behind Costa Rica, to have such extensive travel coverage.
Panama is known as the "Crossroads of the Americas" due to its privileged position between North and South America. The indigenous meaning of the country's name, "abundance of fish", reflects Panama's reputation as a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and eco-tourists alike. As the isthmus connecting two massive continents, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse. For example, Panama was recently named the country with the most bird species in the world; over 900. Panama's many indigenous tribes are still thriving, living in the same ancient manner as their ancestors, making its cultural fabric an exceptionally rich.
Panama's government has strong ties to the United States and strongly supports business, development and tourism. The International Monetary Fund applauds the country's diversified economy and predicts it to have one of the strongest GDP growth rates in the world for the next several years. Panama is known for its highly developed international banking sector, with about 80 banks from several countries establishing local branches, including HSBC, BBVA and Citi Bank. Currently undergoing expansion, the Canal continues to drive Panama's service-based economy and remains one of the most important transportation links in the world. In addition to the country's strong economic base, Panama's physical infrastructure, including modern hospitals, airports and roads, is much more highly developed than its Central American neighbors.
Panama boasts a large expat community; about 25,000 US citizens live in the country. It is worth spending some time reading up on Panama and communicating with locals, expats and fellow travelers alike before arriving in the country. Consider joining some local forums or blogs for expats or the Central America Forum. Many of the local blogs can give you the most current info on: floods, earthquakes, trail closings, and the best restaurant reviews.
What the travel experts are saying about Panama:
Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, most of Panama enjoys temperatures that are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures in the 90s and nighttime around 70. Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season, called winter or invierno (May to November); short dry season, called summer or verano (December to April). The most popular time to travel to Panama is December through March, when lack of humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it ideal for travelers.
During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall. Take an umbrella as officials have recently banned the canopies due to health and safety they are therefore not easily available apart from dodgy-dealers called Bob or "ninja", as he is called on the streets. watch for out for that bad boy.
Most areas are quite warm, but a few places, such as Boquete, Cerro Punta and El Valle can get a little chilly at night. You definitely want a heavy rain-proof jacket if you're going to the top of Barú since you will be above 3000m for a little while.
Natural hazards (apart from the umbrella) : Occasional severe storms and forest fires in the remote Darien area. Hurricane-strong winds are only a very small possibility in Panama. Because of its geographic position, it is very unlikely that Panama could be in the path of any hurricane, unlike the other Central American countries.
Interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills Highest point : Volcan Barú, Chiriqui Province 3,475 m. On a clear day they say you can see both oceans from the peak.
With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.
On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999.
Citizens of many countries, US citizens included, may enter Panama without a visa, but are required to purchase a tourist card on arrival (cost US$5, allows a 90-day stay as of March 2009). The cost is $13 (US) for a visa stamp to enter at Bocas del Toro, when arriving by airplane, as of May 2008. Entry requirements are proof of:
In practice, border officials may be lax about checking clean-cut travelers coming from the USA or other developed countries.
International flights arrive at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), which lies about 20 miles east of Panama City (from all countries) or David Airport (from Costa Rica in AirPanama ). Panama City's PTY is well connected with the Americas and has non-stop flights to almost 20 countries in the region. Neighbor Colombia is specially well served with daily flights to more than 7 cities, including Bogota, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena.
From Tocumen, you will have to taxi, bus, or rent a car to get to the city. Airport taxis use set rates, and can be shared--the transportation information booth in the lobby will help you make arrangements. There are a couple of hotels near the airport where you can spend the night at relatively high prices (US$60).
If you are short on cash you can catch a bus to the downtown of the city for .25 balboa. Just walk towards the highway and cross the street towards the bus shelter. Make sure you get the bus that says "Via España".
The country has more private airstrips per square mile than any other country in the world, and it is technically feasible for the adventurous private pilot to fly to one of them, either directly or through country hopping through Central America. Many of the remote interior regions of the country are best accessed by private plane, although a combination of hiking and canoeing can get you to most places, too. If you are flying a private aircraft into Panama, it is important to verify where you can clear customs and immigration--not all airstrips are equipped to clear you.
Business jet FBO services are available in Panama City (Albrook and Tocumen), David (by appointment), Howard, and Bocas del Toro.
You can drive across at Paso Canoas (Pacific side), but be aware that it is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) and disorganized border crossings in Central America. It is very easy to accidentally drive across the border without realizing it. The various offices at the border are randomly scattered throughout the bordertown, and you can do quite a bit of trekking while finding them, as they don't look distinct from the surrounding buildings in any way. This is one crossing where it is definitely worth your money to hire a tramitator, or helper, to assist you through the stations, if you do not speak Spanish.
There are also road crossings at Rio Sereno (Pacific side) and Sixaola/Guabito (Atlantic side). The Rio Sereno crossing sees very little traffic, so make sure all your papers are in order, as police can be very strict.
You will not be allowed to leave the country without your car (i.e. change your mind, abandon the car, and fly home) without getting a stamp on your passport proving that you have paid the proper impuestos (importation taxes) on your vehicle. Expect to be stopped frequently by police, but don't worry, they are usually more curious about seeing a foreign car than interested in a bribe.
If you have car trouble in Panama, you will find dealers with service departments for almost all of the major car manufacturers from the USA (All), Europe (almost all) and Japan (All). Most of them, like in the USA require appointments to service your car. Most of the service personnel in all of the car dealers are manufacturer certify. If you need car repairs and do not want to go to a dealer to save some money or you have an emergency repair, you can find good independent mechanic services/shops in all of the major cities by looking in the yellow pages(paginas amarillas), in addition to towing services. If you need parts for your vehicle, you can find a great number of autopart stores for all major car manufacturers in the yellow pages (paginas amarillas)too.
The use of "shade tree mechanics" and parts from junkyards are the same as in the USA; these options are for do-it-yourself type of persons.
You can't cross from Panama to Colombia by bus--the Darien Gap begins at Yaviza, where the Interamericana runs out.
If you're coming in from Costa Rica, however, things will be a bit easier. There are three possible entry points, the main one being Paso Canoas. Panaline and Ticabus, among others, can get you straight from San Jose, Costa Rica to David or Panama City. The trip from San Jose is quite cheap, but takes about 18 hours. If you want to see things in between, you can also go by local buses, although the trip will take much longer.
If you want to save time yet not pay US$280 or so for a SJO-PTY airplane ticket with COPA or TACA, you could consider taking the bus from San Jose to Changuinola and fly from there to Panama city. That flight takes about one hour and costs US$70 (Jun. 2007). Check the website of Aeroperlas.com for flight schedules.
Keep in mind that Panamanian law requires you to have a return ticket to get into Panama. The border guard may not check, but you never know. A return flight from San Jose, Bogotá or Abu Dhabi won't work. The return ticket has to originate from within Panama. If you run into this problem, you can always buy a return ticket from the bus driver. In general, if you're having a hot-tempered day, it may not be a good day to cross any borders. Some border officials in Central America seem to love being sticklers about their crazy rules if they decide they don't like you.
Many cruise lines have the Panama Canal on their itineraries. You can make tours on Panama City or Colon City and take part in many packages. Recommendation is to take the Panama Canal Railway from Panama to Colon or vice versa. This train goes back since 1855 and it was the first interoceanic train in the American Continent. It has been rebuilt recently and it has very nice carts.
It is possible to arrange for passage on banana boats traveling from Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, but such passage is recommended only for the truly adventurous, as the boats are often structurally unsound, terribly over-burdened, and are very likely to be smuggling drugs as well.
Private sail boats also provide service between Panama and Cartagena in Colombia. Fare can vary from US$300-400, and the trip takes usually four nights/five days including a 2 days stopover in San Blas Islands. The best way to find a boat is to ask around in hostels in Panama City popular with backpackers. Expect to wait several days to find a boat, if at all.
The easiest and cheapest way to reach Panama by boat from Colombia is by ferry from Turbo to Capurganá (COP$ 49000, daily around 8AM) and by small boat from Capurganá to Puerto Obaldia (COP$ 20000). From there by plane to Panama City (USD 85) or by boat to Colon and Carti (USD neg).
It is possible to hike across the Darien Gap from Colombia with the help of trained guides, but this route is generally considered one of the most dangerous in the world. A large percentage of attempts have ended with the trekkers dead as victims of Colombian guerrillas or the oppressive jungle environment, which is considered the densest and most difficult to breach in the world. Despite the bravado-filled tales of backpackers who will try to convince you that real travelers aren't afraid to cross the Gap, it really is a very dangerous trip and the Panamanian police are not interested in going in to look for you if you get into trouble.
The guidebook "Getting to Know Panama," by Michele Labrut, gives the following advice for surviving in the Darien.
"Do not go naked into the water, some very undesirable protozoans can get into you. Do not drink untreated water. Never stray from the group, you can easily lose your bearings and get lost. If this happens, stay right where you are, do not panic. Shout or scream at intervals.
It must be noted, however, that the rest of Panama has delicious, drinkable water.
There are two kinds of buses in Panama. The ones you find on the highway, and "city buses". The highway buses are constantly making journeys from terminals in Panama city to different destinations along the Pan American Highway, and back to the terminal. They're pretty frequent, and the buses will pick you up or drop you off at any point along their route, and most of them are air conditioned. The roughly linear shape of the country makes it ideal for a bus system, so ideal in fact that you don't really need to rent a car to get around most areas. Take a bus to the intersection on the Pan American highway that you want. You can get on a bus any place on the Pan American highway going towards Panama City, but all trips originating from within the city require a ticket. The Grand Terminal in the city is large and modern, and will remind you of an American shopping mall or airport (it actually is a shopping mall, Albrook Mall, too). Schedules for all Panama are listed here .
If you want to get on a bus, stand by the side of the road, hold you out your arm and make obvious pointing motions toward the ground. If you're on the bus and want to get off, yell "parada!" or tell the driver in advance. You'll get the hang of it pretty quick. The locals are very helpful with tourists on buses, and may offer help.
The highway buses are very cheap, count on a fare of about US$1 per hour traveled, sometimes less. One exception is fares from Tocumen airport, which both buses and taxis charge through the roof for (by Panamanian standards), simply because they can.
City buses are different. in which is call "Diablos Rojos" or "Red Devils" They are crowded, decoratively painted school buses, often without air conditioning, with a flat rate of 25 cents to any location in Panama City. They can be fun, but have a reputation for being dangerous, both in driving and the likelihood of encountering criminals. They can be fun to take a couple of times, but once you've done it, best to take a taxi, which won't be that much more expensive anyways. They definitely have a particular style apart from other Central American countries. They look as if a bunch of 60's hippies decided to drive as far south as they could go in school buses, and when they could go no further, they stopped and started a bus company. If you like Salsa Music, you'll be happy as a clam on these buses. Most locals aren't.
If your destination actually happens to lie far off the bus route, or if you just want to be lazy, taxis are also a decent way to get around in Panama. They're not expensive at all, usually US$1.50 per ride within most of the city; and unlike the urban taxis you may be used to, they can take you way out into the country. A taxi ride from Tocumen airport to Panama City, at a minimum of US$20, can easily exceed your taxi fares for the rest of your trip combined. If you share a taxi ride with other passengers going from the airport to the city, your fare per person can be cheaper, at around US$12. You can save quite a bit of money by taking the bus to the Gran Terminal, but even the bus fares will be higher than normal.
Panama is in the south of Central America and can easily be discovered independently. The road system of Panama is in very good condition (for Central and South American standards). You can rent a car and drive it around the country if you are an excellent defensive driver. While traveling by car you can discover attractions which are hardly or even not to reach by public transportation.
Panama City is more difficult to navigate than any big city in the United States, with terrible traffic jams at rush hours, few signs for names of streets, poor street design, and a lack of traffic lights at busy intersections. You must be aggressive about positioning your car to get anywhere, yet highly alert to erratic and irrational behavior by others. Drivers have little respect for or even knowledge of traffic laws, and drivers from North America or Western Europe will be stunned by their recklessness. In the rest of the country, driving is mostly stress-free.
The Pan American Highway is paved for the entire length of the country, and has many roads which branch off to towns off the highway, most of which are paved, and most of the rest are still easily navigable in a sedan. However, road engineering standards are low, so be on the lookout for off camber turns, deep potholes, and sharp turns with no warning. It is highly recommended to drive well informed about your route. Use the detailed information which cochera andina provides on its site when planning your trip and check out road conditions, distances and travel times. On the road, don’t forget to take also a good road map with you. It is important to note that if you are in a traffic accident in Panama, you are required by law to remain with your vehicle until a policeman arrives. In typical Panamanian logic, you are also not allowed to move it to the side of the road, but must stop right where the incident occurred, even if this is the middle of a busy street.
For driving in Panama you need the driver’s license of your country but to avoid trouble at police controls it is better to have an international driver's license with you as well. The traffic rules are almost the same as in Europe or the U.S. Road signs are frequent. The speed limits are 40 km/h within cities, 80 km/h outside and 100 km/h on the highways. You will find gas stations all over Panama. A lot of stations are open around the clock. You get gas of three types: unleaded, super and diesel.
Booking private aircraft charters are available through online and local companies.
It is advisable to check the tail number of any aircraft chartered in Panama. All registered aircraft authorized for public charter work (air taxi) will have a letters after their numeric tail number (e.g. HP-0000TD). This signifies the aircraft is insured for charter work and is subjected to more inspections and increased maintenance requirements.
If you cross the border from Costa Rica into Panama, you will notice a large change in the dialect. True to its Caribbean orientation, Panamanian Spanish sounds much closer to Puerto Rican than Tico or Nicaraguan Spanish. For students of Mexican or European Spanish, it may take a little getting used to. However, it is very easy to understand and it is by no means more difficult than other Spanish Speaking countries. Panamanians tend to pronounce "h" instead of "s" and to not pronounce certain D's at the end of certain words. But is part of the slang, Panamanians are fully capable of speaking proper Spanish, and they are aware of the use of the Slang.
Panama City has a different dialect, more "Chombo Style" in which they mix English words with Spanish. Although educated Panamanians try to speak proper Spanish, they are very proud of their dialect and would rather use it unless it is a formal conversation or public speaking.
Panama has a lot more indigenous culture than some neighboring countries. In Kuna Yala you will hear the native Kuna language spoken. In the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, as well as in Chiriqui or Bocas del Toro, you might hear the native Ngöbe-Buglé (Guaymí) language, although the Ngöbe and the Buglé are very quiet around foreigners. If you ask directions from one of them, you will probably just get a hand or lips pointed wordlessly in the right direction.
Much of the Caribbean Coast of Panama was settled by Jamaicans. More recently, the descendants of those settlers seem to be speaking more Spanish, but a lot of them still speak English, albeit a very Caribbean variety, called Guari Guari.
Until only a few years ago, the canal was controlled by the USA. The US has given the canal back to Panama, but many people in Panama City and other areas near the canal still speak English as a second language. Surprisingly, English is not as common as you would think for how long the Americans spent in the country. It's not so common for people working in shops or people in the street to speak English. As likely as not you'll be surprised by the amount of homeless people speaking English as compared to the general population. This is due to the fact that many are descended from Caribbean workers bought across to help build the canal. That being said, there are a number of English News and Blog  sites to help with your travels.
Panama is home to the hemisphere's largest free trade zone, the Colon Free Zone . There are also a number of large, American-style malls, such as Multicentro , Albrook Mall , and Multiplaza Pacific . However, prices vary widely from mall to mall - Albrook is quite cheap, while Multiplaza is home to designer boutiques and very high prices. Generally Panama is a good place to buy consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics.
Traditional Panamanian crafts can be found most cheaply at artesania markets, such as the YMCA in Balboa and the market in Panama Viejo. In Panama City, the best handicrafts can be found at REPROSA. Panama's best-known craft is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna. Molas can also be bought from vendors on the seawall in Casco Viejo. Other Panamanian crafts include carved tagua nuts, cocobolo carvings of animals, and woven palm-fiber baskets. There is a smaller craft market in El Valle, which specializes in soapstone carvings and other central Panamanian crafts.
Panama uses the Balboa and the US Dollar as its currencies. The balboa is equivalent to the US dollar and has exactly the same value, but in reality the Balboas only exist as coins that are equivalent to the US coins. There are no 1, 5, 10, 20, or 100 Balboa bills because the US Dollar bills are used freely in Panama in that role. If you're traveling on US Dollars, which is a very good idea in Central America, it will be very easy to pay with US dollars in Panama. The US Dollars may be called Balboas as a denomination, but the US Dollar has been the official currency since 1904.
If you're from the US, one oddity about Panama will be change. Panama mints its own coins in the same weights and sizes as US coinage, but with Panamanian stampings. Because a legal treaty (1904) between US and Panama the Panamanian coinage is completely interchangeable with standard US coinage in Panama. You may get a handful of change back with a conquistador on the quarter and an Indian on one of your pennies, but Lincoln on the other penny and Roosevelt on the dime. Panama also still mints half dollars. You may hear these half dollars called pesos, so don't think you've accidentally ended up in Mexico. Some of Panama's coins are made by the US Mint.
Incidentally, if you run short on change in the United States, Panamanian coins work in parking meters, payphones, vending machines, etc.
You can typically use a credit card at all hotels in the capital, as well as medium-sized regional cities (David, Las Tablas, Colon, Santiago, Bocas del Toro, etc.). Restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores in major cities will also usually take credit, or even debit cards. However, outside the capital using your card could be difficult.
US ATM cards worked in Panama up through the first part of this year, but some banks' cards are no longer functioning. Though Panamanian ATMs function on the Cirrus/Plus system, they may not take cards with the Interlink symbol. Make sure you're carrying a lot of cash (especially small bills) and understand how to take cash advances out on your credit card. Traveller's checks are not widely used.
Many businesses do not accept US$50 or US$100 bills at all. Most of those that do will ask for your passport and store your data/serial numbers of your notes in a special book. The reason is that many US$50 and US$100 bills have been counterfeited.
There are 75 banks in Panama . Opening hours vary widely from bank to bank. On weekdays, all banks are open until at least 3PM, and some until 7PM On Saturdays many banks are open until noon, and some branches located in shopping centers are also open on Sundays.
In the larger cities you can find all types of food ranging from the French haute cuisine to the freshest sushi. There are Arabic restaurants, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican... whatever you're in the mood for.
Outside of the cities, the selection is largely Panamánian with bountiful seafood and beef due to the abundance of cattle farms and the fantastic fishing in the area. Panamanian cuisine is a mix of several cultures. Reminiscent of the country's Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish influences, the dishes take on a complete character of their own. If you get tired of eating beans or gallo pinto in the rest of Central America, you might want to head towards Panama. Since Panama has a little more Caribbean influence than other Central American countries, you'll see a lot more plaintain than beans here. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and a type of squash or other native vegetable. If Panamanian food has to be summed up in one word, that word would be culantro, which is a local plant that tastes like cilantro, except that it has a much stronger flavor.
A typical plate in a humble, family restaurant can range from $1.25 up to 5.00, including your choice of meat: mondongo (beef intestines), fried or baked chicken, pork, beef and sometimes fried fish; rice, beans, salad: cabbage, carrot & mayonnaise; beet salad; green salad; potato or macaroni salad; and patacones (fried green plantains). The Panamanians also enjoy their "chichas" (fruit, water & sugar), of which there is always a selection, ranging from tamarindo, maracuya(passionfruit), mango, papaya, jugo de cana(sugar cane juice), or agua de pipa(juice from young green coconuts). If you like your food picante, Panama may not be the place for you. They definitely have several hot sauces, but the emphasis is not on the heat.
You can get excellent food really cheap if you look around. The equivalent of a 5-star meal with drinks can be US$8-30 in some places.
National beers are produced (Balboa, Atlas, Soberana, Warsteiner, Panamá), but don't measure up to a good import. Balboa is probably the best of the domestic brands, however, Atlas is the most commonly purchased; many women favor Soberana. Beer can cost as low as .30/cents per 12 oz. can in a supermarket or anywhere from $ .50 in a local town bar up to $2.50 in upscale bars.
Music is definitely one of the highlights of Panama. Salsa music seems to permeate everything in the Latin parts of the country. Reggaeton originated in Panama and is also very popular and is known by the name Plena. There are over 100 radio stations in Panama broadcasting online, some in English . In Bocas del Toro, you will hear a lot of Reggae with Spanish lyrics. Check out the summer music festival in Las Tablas.
How the Panamanians love their "fiestas"! They know how to let loose and have a genuinely good time, dancing, conversing and drinking.
Carnaval is the main celebration in the country. It is held 40 days before the Christian Holy Week, running through the weekend and ending on Ash Wednesday (February 21-24 in 2009). The largest celebration being held in the province of Azuero, in the town of Las Tablas, where two streets compete with separate queens, activities, parades and musical performances.
The party begins on Friday with a presentation, parade and crowning of the queens, a fireworks show; with drinking in the streets legal, the party begins and doesn't stop until 5AM.
Every carnival day has a theme: Friday is the Opening, Saturday is International Day, Sunday is Pollera day, Monday is costume day, Tuesday is the Queens day and on Wednesday is the "entierro de la sardina"(the sardine burial) before 5AM.
Many discos and bars fill the Capital City. The area known as "Calle Uruguay" has probably a dozen or so nice discos and bars within a 2 block radius, and is the best place for partying. Great spot for "bar hopping". There are also very nice discos and bars on the "Causeway" or "El Amador".
Panama’s hotel accommodations are as diverse as its geography. Panama City has as much glamour and glitz as New York City, without the high price tag. You can find 5 star high rise hotels in the heart of downtown; or you can venture out to the smaller neighborhoods, were old Canal military barracks have been converted into B&B’s. Bocas del Toro has your typical island cabanass and small hotels, some literally right on the water (similar to the cabanas in Bali). The Chiriqui Province, in the western lowlands, has small hotels on some of the outer islands, and an Eco-Preserve in Chorcha where you can spend the night in Jungle Hammocks with the monkeys. In the western highlands, around Boquete, there are hostels for $5 a night, and 5 star hotels for $300+ a night. No high rises here, but small very artsy boutique hotels and casitas.
Panama offers many universities and high schools that are bi-lingual and world class. There's an ongoing project called City of Knowledge , that consists of several educational programmes in the old installations of a former US military base (Clayton), including a Spanish language school . There is also a school at Justo Arosemena who teaches mainly to German speaking people, but it might be worth a glance at the UDI-Universidad del Istmo 
There's also a Florida State University branch , as many other alternatives.
Most of Panama is very safe. People in rural areas are generally extremely friendly and very helpful. If you want to visit Latin America, but are paranoid about security, Panama might be a good place to cut your teeth. One exception is the border region between Panama and Colombia, which is considered extraordinarily dangerous due to Colombian rebel groups and drug traffickers.
However, as with most countries, there are a few spots that warrant some caution. Most of the city of Colon is considered dangerous, and some neighborhoods in Panama City are a bit sketchy, in particular El Chorrillo, Curundu and El Marañón, poor and crime-ridden areas. The old colonial quarter, Casco Viejo (also called San Felipe) has a lingering bad reputation among travelers and some Panamanians, but is gentrifying rapidly. During the daytime, San Felipe is perfectly safe for foreigners. At night, the main streets and plazas, as well as the district of bars and restaurants toward the point, are also safe, but visitors should exercise caution as they move north along Avenida Central towards Chorillo.
Panama is well known for its excellent medical care, making it a recent hot spot for medical vacations.
Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for all visitors over 9 months of age travelling to the provinces of Darien, Kunayala (San Blas) and Panama, excluding the Canal Zone. Most countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination before permitting travellers to enter from Panama.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control  state that risk of malaria exists in rural areas of Bocas del Toro, Darién, and San Blas provinces; no risk in Panama City or in the former Canal Zone. NB: Chloroquine is no longer effective for San Blas Province.
Dengue fever is endemic, particularly in the province of Darien.
Tap water is safe in virtually all cities and towns, with the exception of Bocas del Toro, where bottled water is recommended.
Female travelers should be aware that the moisture and heat of the tropics can encourage yeast infections. 3-day and 5-day treatment courses are available in pharmacies, but must be purchased from the pharmacist.
There are many hospitals that can give tourists first class attention. Many can take international insurance policies, though your insurance company may require you to pre-pay and submit a claim form. Verify with your company prior to travel what the requirements are for filing a foreign claim, as you will not typically be provided with a detailed receipt (one that includes diagnosis and treatment codes) unless you ask for it. Here are some of the best ones in Panama City:
Farmacia Arrocha, a drugstore chain, has branches throughout the country. Gran Morrison department stores also often operate pharmacies.
The new 911 system is now operational for medical emgergencies only. Most coverage is in and around Panama City. However, during major holidays or national festivals, 911 units are stationed around the country especially in Las Tablas, David, Chitre, and Santiago.
Medical evacuation flights are not as organized as in the EU, Canada, and the US. Until a dedicated helicopter emergency service is operatonal, the only choice for fast evacuation from the interior is to charter either a small plane or helicopter capable of holding a litter. Charges are billed to a credit card or paid in cash. Contact charter aircraft companies for a quotation. Typically, a medical flight on a small twin-engined plane from David to Panama City will cost $4,000. Helicopters are significantly more. A new private membership air medical transport service is now available. Tourist memberships are $10 for 90 days coverage.
Evacuation flights out of the country are normally provided by air ambulance services from Miami and range from $18,000 to over $30,000 depending on the patient's medical needs.
Travelers with a prior medical condition, or who are at risk, should check their insurance coverage for these flights. Do not assume that a credit card's travel insurance will cover the cost. Many only cover up to $1,000.
Panama has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America. this is due to the fact that most major submarine fiber cables cross the Panama Canal, either by land or water. Calls to the USA and Europe are between 4 and 10 cents a minute. The best way to make international calls from Panama is to buy prepaid telephone cards that are sold at every corner. The most popular is the TeleChip card. These cards work from everywhere and they even work from the USA, Mexico, Europe, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia etc.
Panama's country code is 507. All cellular numbers start with the number 6 and have 8 digits. Land line phone numbers have 7 digits.
Panamanians appear to care about their appearance. Don't try to dress to 'fit in', just be yourself.
That being said, there is no need to wear a suit everywhere, either. Just dress conservatively and nice. For men, a clean pair of jeans and ironed collared shirt will do nicely for most excursions, you could dress more casually or more formally depending on the situation. Shorts are considered extremely casual wear suitable only for the beach, although this attitude has begun to change in some areas. Also, the longer Bermuda shorts made of nice fabrics are viewed as appropriate in many places.
However there is a dress code to follow to enter in all banks and governmental institution as well as many stores and supermarket. If you enter these establishments with inappropriate dress like wearing Bermuda or skirts above the knee, security will probably refuse access and ask you to leave.
Think nice, neat, and clean, and you will already be showing a great deal of respect for locals.
If you are making a side trip to Boquete, especially during the rainy season (April thru November) please dress in layers, bring a light rain jacket, and waterproof hiking boots.
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This French entry was created from the translations listed at Panama. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Panamá in the French Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) July 2009
This Portuguese entry was created from the translations listed at Panama. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Panamá in the Portuguese Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) July 2009