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Interesting Websites
- The Visitor/El Visitante
- Visit Panama
- FOB Colon Free Zone
- Michael Lester Website
- The Bocas Breeze
- Latin Business Chronicle
- Fenix Panama
- Patronato Panama Viejo

General Information

Time Zone
Water Quality
Drivers License
Ambulance Service
Police Department
Fire Department

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" region.

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 slot machines.

LANGUAGE Spanish is the main language. English is widely spoken and understood in the cities.

TIME 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.

PEOPLEPanama 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 water resources.

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) 227-4122

Alerta at 269-2222 / 269-1111.

Call 104.

Call 103.

SHOPS - Usually open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Most of them open on Sundays as well.


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