The Panama Canal joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Photograph by Andoni Canela, Photolibrary
Children of the indigenous Emberás group wear brightly colored clothing while playing in a village in the Panama jungle.
Photograph by Adeliepenguin, Dreamstime
The Metropolitan Cathedral is in the historic district of Panama City, Panama.
Photograph by Ken Welsh, Photolibrary
An indigenous Kuna woman sells molas, which make up traditional dress, at a market in Panama.
Photograph by Ivan_Sabo, Shutterstock
OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Panama
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional democracy
CAPITAL: Panama City
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Spanish, English
AREA: 29,118 square miles (75,416 square kilometers)
MONEY: Balboa, U.S. dollar
Map of Panama
People and Culture
Most Panamanians are descended from indigenous, or native, people, Europeans, Afro-Caribbeans, and immigrants from all over the world.
The three largest indigenous groups in Panama are the Kunas, Emberás, and Ngöbe-Buglés and they still live in the remote areas of the country.
They have their own dialects and customs and most of them also speak Spanish.
The national traditional dress for women is a long, full white cotton dress decorated with colorful embroidery called a pollera. Men wear a traditional montuno, which is a white cotton shirt with embroidery and short pants.
Family is very important in Panama. Children attend school from ages 7 to 15. Most of Panama’s national holidays are religious occasions.
Panamanians eat rice with most of their meals. They also eat corn tortillas with meat and vegetables.
The country is very diverse with mountains, rain forests, beautiful white-sand beaches, and 1,500 islands. Darién Gap, from Panama City to Colombia, has about 12 million acres of rain forest, yet few Panamanians or tourists ever visit the area, which is only accessible by boat.
This remote nature preserve is threatened by development and the proposed extension of the Pan-American Highway through this region.
The national flower is a white orchid called the Flor del Espiritu Santo, or Flower of the Holy Spirit. There are over 1,400 tree species, including the square tree, which has a square shaped trunk and is found in the mountains west of Panama City.
Panama is home to many unique animals that are found only in Panama. The mysterious golden frogs have gleaming, shimmering skin and are thought to bring people good luck. The numbers of golden frogs is declining and so are the numbers of sea turtles.
Photograph by Peter Scott, Dreamstime
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
Under the constitution, there are three branches of government, including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Panamanians elect a president and a vice president every five years. The president picks a cabinet of ministers.
After years of government corruption, Panama instituted many laws to focus on human rights, and to make the government more transparent to its citizens.
Panama’s agricultural products are bananas, rice, corn, beans, and coffee.
Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined with Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela to form the Republic of Gran Colombia. When this republic dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia.
With U.S. backing, Panama split from Colombia in 1903 and signed a treaty, which allowed the U.S. to control a strip of land on either side of a new canal.
The Panama Canal, built by the United States after Panama's independence from Colombia in 1903, joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal was built by 75,000 workers between 1904 and 1914 and allows boats to sail between the two oceans without having to go all the way around the South American continent.
In 1999, Panama assumed full control of the Panama Canal.
In 1989 U.S. troops overthrew the country’s leader Gen. Manuel Noriega after he was found to be involved in drug trafficking. Panama's first woman president, Mireya Moscoso, was elected a few years later.