90 Crazy, Interesting & Fun Facts about Panama

¡Buenas!” Welcome to Panama, home of the world-famous Panama Canal. Have you ever wondered what else Panama is famous for?

Below you’ll learn 90 up-to-date, surprising, informative, and fun facts about Panama, a small country in Latin America. This will begin with some general facts about Panama, followed by random interesting facts, facts about the Panama Canal, and finally some historical facts.

Read on and enjoy!

General Panama Facts

  • Panama is the southernmost of the 7 countries that make up Central America.
  • Panama is a transcontinental country, meaning its land is on two continents. The western part is in the North American continent, while the eastern part is in the South American continent.
  • Some geographers consider the Panama Canal to be the dividing point between North and South America, with the Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal spanning the two continents.
Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal, with buildings of Panama City in background
The Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal, with Panama City in the background
  • Panama is shaped like a horizontal S.
  • Panama is bordered by Costa Rica to the west and Columbia to the southeast.
A bay with turquoise water on the coast of Panama
The coast of tropical Panama
  • Panama is an isthmus (narrow strip of land), with the Pacific Ocean to the south and Caribbean Sea of the Atlantic Ocean to the north.
  • Panama is only 48 km (30 mi) across at its narrowest point, and 185 km (115 mi) at its widest point.
  • Panama sits at a latitude of around 7 to 9 degrees N, similar to southern Thailand.
  • Nearly half the country’s population of 4.5 million live in the capital, Panama City, which has a metropolitan population of just under 2 million.
Skyline of Panama City on the coast
Panama City
  • People from Panama are called Panamanians (Panameños in Spanish).
  • 91.5% of Panamanians are Christian. 65% of them are mestizo (mixed European and indigenous), 12.3% indigenous, 9.2% black, 6.8% mulatto (mixed white and black) and 6.7% white.
  • Spanish is the official language of Panama.
  • Panama’s official name is República de Panamá (Republic of Panama).
The Panama flag
The flag of Panama
  • The Panamanian flag has red and white quarters, representing liberals and conservatives, and white spaces with stars on a white background, to represent the peace in which they operate.

Random Interesting Facts

  • Panama (along with Cuba) was the first country outside of the United States where Coca-Cola was bottled and sold, starting from 1906.
  • Panama City also has a Café Coca-Cola, the only in the world permitted to have such a name. It is the city’s oldest still-running café and restaurant in the city, dating to 1883, and an essential stop on most people’s Panama travel itinerary.
Front of Cafe Coca-Cola in Panama City
“Coca cola cafe, Panama City” by Kent MacElwee is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • Panama is the only country in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Atlantic and set on the Pacific from the same spot.
  • Panama’s 2 international borders run a total length of only 687 km (427 mi).
  • Panama had the highest average income in Central America in 2019, at $14,900 per person, but that fell to $11,900 in 2020 as a result of COVID.
  • Panama also had the highest HDI (Human Development Index), the fastest economic growth in the last 25 years, and is the most industrial city in Central America.
A sign that says "Bienvenidos a Panama" with the ocean in the background.
Welcome to Panama!
  • 80% of Panama’s economy is based on services, such as the Panama Canal, free trade zones, ports, banking, commerce, and tourism.
  • Panama exports bananas, shrimp, sugar, coffee, and clothing. The country also manufactures aircraft parts.
  • The official currency of Panama is the Balboa. It is named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first explorer to cross the Americas and reach the Pacific Ocean, which he did in Panama.
  • The US dollar is also a legal currency in Panama, and paper bills there only come in US dollars. Balboa coins have the same weight, dimensions, composition, and value as their USD equivalents.
A trail through the jungle in Panama
Much of Panama is covered with dense jungle.
  • Around 40% of Panama is covered in jungle.
  • Over 1400 islands belong to Panama, including 365 islands in he San Blas archipelago (one for every day of the year!)
  • Panama has more species of bat than any other mammal.
  • The Golden Frog is the national animal of Panama.
  • Other wildlife in Panama includes sloths, armadillos, anteaters, jaguars, pumas, caimans, and nearly 1000 bird species, including several found nowhere else on Earth.
A sloth hanging in the jungle in Panama
Panama is one of the best places in the world to see sloths.
  • There are three major volcanoes in Panama: Barú, El Valle, and La Yeguada. The latter last erupted in 1620.
  • Panama has 14 national parks, the largest of which is Coiba National Park, which encompasses Coiba island 38 smaller islands.
  • Panama has 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Coiba, Darrien National Park, Talamanca Range, and the cultural sites Portobelo-San Lorenzo fortifications and the Historic District of Panama.
  • Panama was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations and 61 founding members of the WHO.
  • Princess Angela of Liechtenstein, the first European member of royalty of African descent, is Panamanian.
A row of Panama hats
The “Panama Hat” was NOT invented in Panama.
  • The Panama Hat actually originated in Ecuador. The name came later in the 1850s when Ecuadorian hat makers moved to Panama to sell them there.
  • Edward Murphy Jr., the source of Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong will go wrong”) was an American who was born in the Panama Canal Zone (a US territory in Panama) in 1918.
  • John McCain, US senator and presidential nominee, was also born in the Panama Canal Zone, in 1936.
  • New York Yankees baseball player Mariano Rivera and boxer Roberto Durán are also from Panama.
  • The 1984 glam rock hit “Panama” by Val Halen was written about a car named Panama, not the country Panama.
Exterior of the colorful Biomuseo museum in Panama
The Biomuseo in Panama
  • The Biomuseo, a natural history museum in Panama, was designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Dancing House in Prague, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
  • The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is the only Smithsonian Institute based outside of the US. The institute administers Barro Colorado Island on Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal. It is one of the most studied tropical forests in the world.

Facts about Panama Canal

  • The Panama Canal is 82 km (51 miles) long.
  • The canal has locks on either end, which lift ships up to a raised portion of the canal. The locks were originally 33.5 m (110 ft) wide but were widened in 2016.
A ship and the locks on the Panama Canal
Locks that lift ships up on the Panama Canal
  • The locks lift ships up to human-made Gatun Lake, 425 km2 (164 mi2), largest in the world when it was first built. The lake makes up nearly half the journey on the canal, 32.7 km (20.3 mi).
  • Another 12.6 km (7.83 mi) are taken up by the Culebra cut, an artificial valley cut through the continental divide.
  • The cost for a ship to cross the Panama Canal ranges from around $1000 (small ships) to half a million dollars (large ships).
  • Around 10% of Panama’s GDP comes from tolls it charges ships to use the Panama Canal, earning over $2 billion per year.
Two ships on narrow passageways of the Panama Canal
Ships traveling through the Panama Canal
  • The Panama Canal saves ships 8000 nautical miles, 22 days of travel on average, when traveling from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • It takes 8 to 10 hours for a ship to cross the canal.
  • Around 13,000-14,000 ships cross the canal per year. Americans are the top users, followed by Chinese.
  • The largest passenger cruise ship to ever cross the Panama Canal was the 4000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, while the 369-meter Triton was the largest container ship ever.
A huge cargo ship traveling through the Panama Canal
A massive cargo ship on the Panama Canal
  • The idea of building a canal across Panama goes back as early as 1534, when Charles V (King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor) envisioned a route for getting from Spain to Peru faster.
  • The English philosopher Sir Thomas Browne and American Thomas Jefferson also suggested building such a canal.
  • In 1826, the US was already discussing plans to build the canal with Republic of Gran Columbia, which Panama was a part of. A various points, the US considered Nicaragua a better location.
  • In the mid- to late-1800s, the English and French failed in their attempts to build the canal. The French team included Gustave Eiffel, who built the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel and others were sentenced to prison for it, but the sentence was later overturned.
Aerial view of Lake Gatun on the Panama Canal
Lake Gatun on the Panama Canal
  • Hundreds of millions were spent on the project, and over 20,000 died in the construction attempts, sometimes called the “Panama Affair.”
  • Major obstacles to building the canal included the climate, thick rainforest, diseases, and lack of an ancient route.
  • Panama became an independent country in 1903, and soon after, granted rights to the US to build the canal.
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers built the Panama Canal from 1904 to 1914.
Black and white photo of workers building the Panama Canal
Construction on the Panama Canal in 1907
  • More than 130,000,000 m3 of material was excavated, on top of the 23,000,000 m3 already excavated by the French.
  • Construction was completed 401 years after Balboa had been the first European to cross Panama by land.
  • When the canal was opened, it had an immediate negative impact on the economies of Chile, Patagonia, and the Falkland Islands.
  • The first year saw around 1000 ships passing through the canal.
Black and white photo of Panama Canal locks when being built
Panama Canal locks nearing completion in 1912
  • In 1928, American Richard Halliburton paid 36 cents to swim the canal, the lowest price ever paid for a crossing.
  • The US continued to operate the canal and the Canal Zone around it until 1977, when Panama signed an agreement with Jimmy Carter to hand over control of the Panama Canal to Panama by 1999.
  • In 2004, the Panama Canal earned $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time.
A huge ship carrying many containers passing through the Panama Canal
The canal has been widened to handle larger loads.
  • From 2007 to 2016, Panama underwent an enormous expansion project widening the Panama Canal and doubling its capacity.
  • The locks were also widened to 55 m (180 ft) to allow even larger ships, called Neopanamax dimensions.
  • In 2010, the millionth ship crossed the Panama Canal, just 3 months before its 100-year anniversary.
  • The government has even built fake Embera Indian villages around the canal for tourists who do day trips to see the canal.
The back of a woman who is looking down on the Panama Canal
A tourist gazing at the Panama Canal
  • It takes less than an hour to visit the Panama Canal from downtown Panama City.

Historical Panama Facts

  • The Isthmus of Panama (land bridge between North and South America) was first formed about 3 million years ago.
  • Humans walked through Panama as early as 17,000 years ago and traveled on to South America.
An indigenous village by the river in Panama
An indigenous settlement in Panama
  • Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples in Panama included the Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva.
  • In 1501, the Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas sailed along the Caribbean coast of Panama, followed by Christopher Columbus a year later.
  • In 1519, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was the first European to cross the Americas and reach the Pacific coast, which he did in Panama, and Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá (present-day Panama City) became the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.
  • Panama broke away from the Spanish empire in 1821 and joined a powerful state called the Republic of Gran Columbia. 10 years later it became a part of Republic of Columbia.
  • Panama became an independent county in 1903, with assistance from the USA.
Panamá Viejo ruins with skyscrapers in the background
Ruins of Panamá Viejo, the original site of Panama City
  • Until 1968, Panama was ruled by an oligarchy that focused on commercial activities, including the Panama Canal.
  • In 1913, Robert G.Fowler made the first ocean-to-ocean flight in the world, which was done over Panama.
  • In 1968, there was a military coup, with populist Omar Torrijos emerging as the new leader.
  • In the 1980s, Panama’s relations with the US worsened.
  • The US invaded Panama in 1989 and removed dictator Manuel Noriega from power. He went to prison for 17 years in the US, then was extradited to France, and extradited again to Panama, where he eventually died while still incarcerated.
Downtown of Panama City
Panama City’s downtown today
  • After that, the US provided aid to Panama, but much of it was for the benefit of American businesses.
  • In 1999, Mireya Moscoso became Panama’s first female president. She oversaw the transfer of the Panama Canal to full control by Panama.
  • In 2011, Panama entered a free trade agreement with America.
  • In 2016, the Panama Papers were leaked, revealing Panama’s role as a tax haven for the ultra rich.
  • Laurentino Cortizo of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party has been the president of Panama since 2019.