Last update: November, 2009
GEOGRAPHY — Panama occupies a narrow Isthmus of 77,000 square kilometers,which
links North and Central America with the countries of the South.
The highway across the narrowest part is only 100 kilometers long...
a bather could take a dip in the Atlantic, get in his car and
be swimming in the Pacific in less than hour and a half.
The topography of Panama is rugged and mountainous.
A mountain chain travels lengthwise across the country and rises
to a height of over 3,000 meters in the west, where it is a prolongation
of the high mountains of Costa Rica. Panama's most towering peak
is Volcan Barú, an extinct volcano in the western province
of Chiriqui, at 3,475 meters. The mountain chain descends in uneven
fashion down to the metropolitan area where the Canal is carved
through hills about 100 meters high. To the east of the city the
mountains gradually ascend again until reaching 2,000 meters before
penetrating the Colombian frontier and eventually joining the
cordillera of the Andes.
Panama is different from other countries of
Central America because of the absence of active volcanoes. Volcan
Barú has been inactive for a very long time and although
the experts indicate that the isthmus of Panama, in common with
the rest of the Central American isthmus, and the greater part
of the Pacific coast of South and North America is in an area
classified as "suffering frequent seismic disturbances",
until now these disturbances have affected primarily the western
area (provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro), and only
been felt very mildly in the central or "metropolitan"
Apart from its privileged geographical position,
Panama has among its principal resources an abundance of water.
Some 150 rivers empty along the Atlantic Coast. Among the most
important are the Changuinola (140 kms.), the Indio (99 kms.),
and the Chagres (92 kms.). About 350 rivers flow into the Pacific.
The most important are the Bayano (280 kms.), the Chucunaque (242
kms.), and the Tuira (230 kms.).
In the jungle areas of Panama there is an extraordinary
variety of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. Marine life is
extremely abundant and varied along the coasts of both oceans.
Also there is a great diversity of trees, shrubs, grass and plants
throughout the isthmus.
LOCATION — Panama is located within the world's
torrid or tropical zone, between 7 and 9 degrees of northern latitude
and 77 and 83 degrees of western latitude.
CURRENCY — The local currency is the Balboa and
has the same value of one U.S. Dollar. Panama's own coins match
U.S. coins in size and value, and are thus acceptable in casino
LANGUAGE — Spanish is the main language. English is
widely spoken and understood in the cities.
ZONE — Eastern Stardard time. Daylight Saving
Time is not observed in Panama.
CLIMATE — As a tropical country, Panama enjoys
(suffers!) a hot climate. The temperature in Panama fluctuates
around 22 to 31 degrees centigrade nearly all the year. Temperatures
are higher in July and August in step with the northern summer.
In the highest areas of the country the average temperature is
about 19 degrees. A large part of the territory is (or was) covered
with dense tropical forests bathed with heavy rains during the
eight months that comprise the rainy or "winter" season
from May to December.
We only have two seasons. The dry season we call Summer lasting
from January until March and the rainy season (our Winter) the
rest of the year. There can be the ocassional rain or rainshower
during the summer. The rainy season is not extreme, it does not
mean it does not stop raining! you simply know that almost every
day there might be rain (but not necessarily), sometimes short,
sometimes lasting several hours.
PEOPLE —Panama has been called a melting pot, but actually it is a sancocho pot. As in the local dish, all the ingredients are in there contributing their own flavour, but keeping their own identity in the process. Here is a Central Avenue sampling of ingredients:
Criollos, Iberian-descended Pana- manians, as proud of their ancestry as New Englanders are flattered at being called English.
Mestizos, the Criollo-Indian blend that is the non-silent majority in most of Latin America.
Blacks whose fathers signed on in the then-British West Indies to dig the Canal.
The blonde wife and kid of an American businessman; Shopkeepers from India; Korean crewmen off a Balboa-berthed tunaboat; Blacks descended from freed or escaped slaves (Cimarrones); South American shoppers; Emberá Indians from the Darien; a Panama Canal pilot; Japanese bankers; merchants with Central European origins, whose family may have found refuge from Hitler’s persecution; French sailors with red pompoms on their hats; San Blas Indians, the women still in their island costume; a cruise ship gaggle looking for bargains.
This sancocho of people is the speciality of the house only in Panama City. Travel to the Interior, which in practice means anywhere beyond about five miles from the Canal in the direction of Costa Rica, and you will be in a land of Criollos and Mestizos.
WATER QUALITY — The water in Panama city is very
clean, so don't worry, you will not end up spending most of the
day in the toilet or in the hospital. Part of the capital (the
canal zone area) is mostly supplied by the former Canal Zone's
water treatment plant. The rest is supplied by a excellent water
treatment plant in Chilibre. Both make use of Panama's rich natural
Outside the capital, in the country side the water is still drinkable
and safe but may not be as good as the one in the capital.
ELECTRICITY — 110 volts; 60 cycles.
CINEMA — Movies are in English with Spanish subtitles.
Cost is a modest $3.90 per person.
TIPPING — Check with management if in doubt. 10% to 15% of the
bill would be acceptable.
DRIVERS LICENSE — Visitors can drive up to 90
days with a foreign driving license and your passport.
Panama has a number of very up-to-date hospitals
the principals being:
Paitilla Medical Center • Tel:
(507) 269-5222 / 263-7977 / 265-8800
Clinica San Fernando • Tel: (507) 278-6300,
Emergency • Tel: (507) 305-6305
Hospital Nacional • Tel:
(507) 207-8100 / 207-8136
Hospital Santo Tomás • Tel: (507)
Alerta at 269-2222 / 269-1111.
SHOPS - Usually open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Most of them
open on Sundays as well.