28 interesting facts about Panama

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The most interesting facts about Panama include a canal that links oceans and one of the largest rainforests in the world.

Many interesting facts about Panama stem from the Panama Canal (Shutterstock)
Many interesting facts about Panama stem from the Panama Canal (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Panama
Capital city: Panama City
Population: 3,894,082
Area: 75,420 sq km
Major languages: Spanish, Ngabere, Buglere Panamanian English Creole
Time zone: UTC-5 (Eastern Time Zone)
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

Interesting facts about Panama

1. Located in Central America, Panama has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. It’s believed that indigenous groups such as the Kuna, Ngöbe-Buglé, Emberá, Wounaan and Naso were living in the area before the Spanish arrived.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

2. However, unlike the pyramid complexes of many Latin American countries, very few physical remains of these great civilizations have been found in Panama.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

3. The first European to explore Panama was Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

4. In 1502, Cristopher Columbus claimed the region for Spain and Panama remained under Spanish control until 1821.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

5. The country encompasses more than 1,600 islands located off its Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
(Source: Britannica)

A tropical island
A tropical island in Panama (Shutterstock)

6. In 1821 Panama became part of Gran Colombia. The short-lived republic (1819-1830) was created by revolutionary Simón Bolívar. It included the territories of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama as well as parts of northern Peru, western Guyana and northwest Brazil.
(Source: Britannica)

7. Following Gran Colombia’s demise, Panama became a state within Colombia.
(Source: Britannica)

8. In 1903 Panama separated from Colombia and became completely independent.
(Source: BBC News)

9. Panama is probably most famous for the Panama Canal. The canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and has long been a source of foreign interest.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

Many interesting facts about Panama stem from the Panama Canal (Shutterstock)
 Panama is most famous for its canal (Shutterstock)

10. In the 1880s French engineer and builder of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, attempted to build a canal linking the two oceans. It failed due to financial difficulties and the death of over 20,000 workers from tropical diseases.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com, BBC News)

11. In the early 1900s, the US bought the rights to build the Panama Canal and was given control of the Canal Zone. The canal was finally completed in 1914.
(Source: BBC News)

12. In 1999 Panama took complete command of the Panama Canal, ending nearly a century of US control over one of the world’s most important waterways.
(Source: New York Times)

13. The flag of Panama supposedly symbolises the two major political parties in government at the time it was created in 1904. The red was for the liberals, blue for the conservatives and white for peace between them. However, the colours and stars also suggest it was influenced by the design of the USA flag.
(Source: Britannica)

The flag of Panama
The flag of Panama (Shutterstock)

14. The US invaded Panama in 1989 to remove a former ally, military ruler Manuel Noriega, because of his authoritarian rule and use of the country as a hotbed for drug trafficking.
(Source: BBC News)

15. The Panama Hat is not actually from Panama, but Ecuador. The straw hats were woven along the Ecuadorian coast and then taken to Panama initially to be sold to canal workers and, after the canal opened, to affluent Westerners passing through the Canal.
(Source: Montecristi Panama Hats)

Panama hats
Panama hats are not from Panama (Shutterstock)

16. The narrowest point of the Americas is in Panama –known as the Isthmus of Panama. The absolute narrowest section is the point running between the mouth of the Nergalá River on the Atlantic shore and the mouth of the Chepo River on the Pacific coast. It is just 50km wide.
(Source: Britannica)

17. As such, it is possible to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset over the Pacific Ocean on the same day.
(Source: Britannica)

18. Furthermore, on the summit of Panama’s highest peak, Volcán Barú, it’s possible to see both oceans at the same time.
(Source: Conde Nast Traveler)

19. In 2016 Panama was at the centre of an international tax scandal. The ‘Panama Papers’ exposed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to conceal their wealth. The scandal revealed Panama as one of the most popular tax havens.
(Source: The Guardian)

20. Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon Basin.
(Source: BBC News)

21. The Panama rainforest covers over 40% of the country.
(Source: Rough Guides)

22. Panama’s capital, Panama City, even has a rainforest located within its city limits called Parque Natural Metropolitano.
(Source: Rough Guides)

The rainforest in the capital city
Panama City rainforest (Shutterstock)

23. The Panama Canal inspired mathematician Leigh Mercer’s famous palindrome, ‘A man, a plan, a canal: Panama’. A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as forwards.
(Source: Fred R Shapiro. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press: New Haven)

24. Panama has two independence days. The first (Día de la Independencia) is on 3rd November and celebrates its independence from Colombia in 1903. The second (Independencia de Panamá de España) is on 28th November and celebrates independence from Spain in 1821.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

25. Some of the most fascinating facts about Panama derive from its biodiversity. It has 218 mammal species, 226 reptile species and 164 amphibian species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

26. Panama also has the largest number of avian species in Central America – 940 in total.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

27. Finally, in terms of flora, Panama has over 10,000 species of plants which comprise around 1,200 orchid species, 675 fern species and 1,500 species of tree.
(Source: R St Louis et al. (2022) Lonely Planet Panama. Lonely Planet: London)

28. Panama is one of just 21 countries that do not have an army.
– Source: The Atlantic