Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. The colossal Panama Canal (which was under US control until 2000) links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Geography: Lowlands along both coasts, with savanna-covered plains and rolling hills. Mountainous interior. Swamps and rain-forests in the east.
Climate: Hot and humid, with heavy rainfall in the May–December wet season. Cooler at high altitudes.
People and Society: A multiethnic society, dominated by people of Spanish origin. Amerindians live in remote areas. The Panama Canal and former US military bases (the last of which closed in 1999) have given society a cosmopolitan outlook, but Catholicism and the extended family remain strong. Crime is high; money-laundering, narcotics trafficking, and corruption are rife.
The Economy: Colón Free Trade Zone: world’s second-largest. Income from the canal (expansion project underway) and merchant ships sailing under flag of Panama. Banana and shrimp exports.
Insight: The Panama Canal shortens the sea route between the east coast of the US and Japan by 3000 miles (4800 km)
Official Name: Republic of Panama
Date of Formation: 1903
CAPITAL: Panama City
Population: 3.45 million
Total Area: 30,193 sq. miles (78,200 sq. km)
Density: 118 people per sq. mile
Languages: English Creole, Spanish*, Amerindian and Chibchan languages
Religions: Roman Catholic 86%, other 8%, Protestant 6%
Ethnic Mix: Mestizo 60%, White 14%, Black 12%, Amerindian 8%, other 6%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Balboa = 100 centésimos