Panamá officially called the Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá), is a country in Central America situated between North and South America. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half of the country’s 3.9 million people.
Panama was inhabited by several indigenous tribes prior to settlement by the Spanish in the 16th century. Panama broke away from Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1831, Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined, eventually becoming the Republic of Colombia. With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the total transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the 20th century, which culminated on 31 December 1999.
Revenue from canal tolls continues to represent a significant portion of Panama’s GDP, although commerce, banking, and tourism are major and growing sectors. Panama has the second largest economy in Central America, and is also the fastest growing economy and largest per capita consumer in Central America. In 2013, Panama ranked 5th among Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index, and 59th in the world. Since 2010, Panama remains the second most competitive economy in Latin America, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Covering around 40 percent of its land area, Panama’s jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants and animals – some of them to be found nowhere else on the planet.
There are several theories about the origin of the name “Panama”. Some believe that the country was named after a commonly found species of tree (Sterculia apetala, the Panama tree). 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 “an abundance of 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”.
Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. It mostly lies between latitudes 7° and 10°N, and longitudes 77° and 83°W (a small area lies west of 83°).
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’s total area is 74,177.3 km2.
The dominant feature of Panama’s geography 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 Panama 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, which rises to 3,475 metres (11,401 ft). A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darién 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.
The Chagres River
Main article: Panama Canal
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), located in central Panama, is one of the few wide rivers and a source of enormous hydroelectric power. 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. When it was created, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world, and the dam was the largest earth dam. The river drains northwest into the Caribbean. The Kampia and Madden Lakes (also filled 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.
Colón Harbor, 2000
Currently, the terminal ports located at each end of the Panama Canal, namely the Port of Cristobal and the Port of Balboa, are ranked second and third respectively in Latin America in terms of numbers of containers units handled. The Port of Balboa covers 182 hectares and contains four berths for containers and two multi-purpose berths. In total, the berths are over 2,400 meters long with alongside depth of 15 meters. The Port of Balboa has 18 super post-Panamax and Panamax quay cranes and 44 gantry cranes. The Port of Balboa also contains 2,100 square meters of warehouse space.
The Ports of Cristobal (encompassing the container terminals of Panama Ports Cristobal, Manzanillo International Terminal and Colon Container Terminal) handled 2,210,720 TEU in 2009, second only to the Port of Santos, Brazil, in Latin America.
Excellent deep water ports capable of accommodating large VLCC (Very Large Crude Oil Carriers) are located at Charco Azul, Chiriquí (Pacific) and Chiriquí Grande, Bocas del Toro (Atlantic) near Panama’s western border with Costa Rica. The Trans-Panama pipeline, running across the isthmus with a length of 131 km, has been operating between Charco Azul and Chiriquí Grande since 1979.
A cold climate is usual near and in the Panamanian highlands.
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 (75.2 °F) and the afternoon maximum 30 °C (86.0 °F). The temperature seldom exceeds 32 °C (89.6 °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 1,300 millimeters (51.2 in) to more than 3,000 millimeters (118.1 in) 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 belt.
Panama’s tropical environment supports an abundance of plants. Forests dominate, interrupted in places by grasslands, scrub, and crops. Although nearly 40% of Panama is still wooded, deforestation is a continuing threat to the rain-drenched woodlands. Tree cover has been reduced by more than 50% 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.
Spanish is the official and dominant language. The Spanish spoken in Panama is known as Panamanian Spanish. About 93% of the population speak Spanish as their first language, though many citizens who hold jobs at international levels, or who are a part of business corporations speak both English and Spanish. Native languages, such as Ngäbere are spoken throughout the country, mostly in their native grounds. Over 400,000 Panamanians hold their native languages and customs. Some new statistics show that as second language, English is spoken by 8%, French by 4% and Arabic by 1%.
Info collected by Wikipedia