Panama is a country rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. From its iconic canal to its vibrant festivals, there is so much to learn and enjoy about this fascinating place. Whether you’re planning a visit or just curious about what makes Panama unique, you’ll find plenty to intrigue you. In this article, we’ll share fun facts about Panama that highlight its diverse and captivating character.

Fun Facts About Panama

1. The Panama Canal Connects Two Oceans

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is one of the most significant engineering marvels in the world, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Completed in 1914, the canal drastically reduced the time ships took to travel between the east and west coasts of the Americas.

It handles about 14,000 ships annually, making it a crucial conduit for international maritime trade. The canal spans approximately 50 miles and features a series of locks that lift ships up to 85 feet above sea level, allowing them to cross the Isthmus of Panama.

2. The Bridge of the Americas Connects Continents

The Bridge of the Americas, which spans the Panama Canal, is a vital link between North and South America. Completed in 1962, this impressive structure symbolizes Panama’s strategic importance as a crossroads of the Americas.

The bridge stretches over 5,400 feet and stands as a testament to engineering prowess, providing a crucial connection for vehicles and pedestrians while offering breathtaking views of the canal and surrounding areas.

3. Panama’s Flag Was Designed by a Revolutionary

Panama’s flag was designed by Manuel E. Amador, the son of a key revolutionary figure who helped Panama gain independence from Colombia. The flag features two horizontal bands of equal size—white on the top and bottom—with a blue star in the top left quadrant and a red star in the bottom right quadrant.

The white color represents peace, the blue symbolizes the Conservative Party, and the red represents the Liberal Party. This design reflects the hope for political harmony in the newly established Republic of Panama.

4. Sancocho Is a Beloved Dish in Panama

Panama’s national dish, Sancocho, is a flavorful chicken soup made with corn, yuca, and other vegetables. It’s a beloved comfort food across the country, often enjoyed during family gatherings and celebrations.

Each region of Panama has its own variation of Sancocho, but the essence of the dish remains the same: hearty, warming, and deeply rooted in tradition. It’s a must-try for anyone visiting Panama to experience a taste of local culture.

5. Casco Viejo Is a Historical Treasure

Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its charming colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Founded in 1673, Casco Viejo is a blend of Spanish, French, and early American architectural styles.

Visitors can explore historic landmarks, vibrant plazas, and colorful buildings, making it a popular destination for tourists who want to step back in time and experience the rich history of Panama.

6. Panama Does Not Change Clocks

Panama does not observe daylight saving time, which means the country’s clocks remain the same throughout the year. This practice simplifies timekeeping for residents and visitors alike, eliminating the biannual adjustment that many other countries experience.

Panama’s consistent time zone aligns with Eastern Standard Time (EST) during most of the year, making it convenient for travelers from the eastern United States.

7. Panama Uses Two Currencies

Panama uses both the U.S. dollar and the Panamanian balboa as its official currencies, making it convenient for American tourists. The balboa, named after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a 1:1 ratio and exists mainly in the form of coins.

This dual currency system facilitates trade and travel, as the U.S. dollar is widely recognized and accepted throughout the country, reducing the need for currency exchange for visitors from the United States.

8. Panama Has More Bird Species Than the U.S.

Bird Species

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With over 970 bird species, Panama is a top destination for birdwatchers. The country boasts more bird species than the United States and Canada combined, thanks to its diverse habitats that range from rainforests to wetlands. Notable birding spots include the Soberanía National Park, Metropolitan Natural Park, and the Darién National Park, where enthusiasts can spot a variety of colorful and rare birds.

9. The Darien Gap Is a Challenging Jungle

The Darien Gap is a dense jungle region that separates Panama from Colombia. It’s known for its challenging terrain and is one of the most remote areas in Central America. The area is famous for its biodiversity, rugged landscapes, and the absence of a road link, making it nearly impassable by vehicle. The Darien Gap serves as a natural barrier and has been a significant obstacle for travelers and explorers for centuries.

10. Panama Hats Come From Ecuador

Despite their name, Panama hats actually originate from Ecuador. They became associated with Panama because they were shipped to the rest of the world from there, especially during the construction of the Panama Canal when workers wore these hats to protect themselves from the sun. The hats are traditionally woven from the toquilla straw plant and are known for their quality and craftsmanship.

11. Carnival in Panama Is a Major Event

Panama’s Carnival is one of the most vibrant in the world, featuring parades, music, dancing, and elaborate costumes. It takes place in the days leading up to Lent and is celebrated with great enthusiasm across the country. The festivities are especially grand in cities like Panama City and Las Tablas, where streets are filled with lively celebrations, water fights, and traditional pollera dresses, drawing both locals and tourists.

12. Panama Hosts Diverse Indigenous Cultures

Panama is home to several indigenous groups, including the Guna, Embera, and Ngäbe-Buglé, each with its own distinct culture and traditions. These communities maintain their languages, customs, and crafts, contributing to Panama’s rich cultural mosaic. Visitors can experience indigenous culture through visits to traditional villages, where they can learn about local customs, traditional dress, and handicrafts.

13. Panama Was the Site of a Major European Settlement

Panama is the site of the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Santa María la Antigua del Darién was founded by Spanish explorers in 1510. This settlement marked the beginning of European colonization in the region and played a crucial role in the expansion of Spanish influence in the Americas. The historical significance of this site adds depth to Panama’s rich colonial history.

14. Volcán Barú Is Panama’s Tallest Peak

Volcán Barú is the highest point in Panama at 3,475 meters (11,401 feet). On a clear day, visitors can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from its summit, making it a unique vantage point. The volcano is located near the town of Boquete, a popular destination for hiking and adventure tourism. The climb to the summit is challenging but rewarding, offering stunning views and a sense of achievement for those who reach the top.

15. The San Blas Islands Are a Tropical Paradise

San Blas Islands

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The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of 365 islands and cays, many of which are uninhabited. They are famous for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs, making them a top destination for snorkeling and diving.

The islands are also home to the Guna people, who maintain their traditional lifestyle and culture. Visitors can experience the Guna’s unique customs, handmade crafts, and stay in rustic accommodations, offering a true escape from modern life.

16. The Smithsonian Has a Research Institute in Panama

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama is a leading center for tropical research, attracting scientists from around the world to study its rich ecosystems. The institute conducts research on a wide range of topics, from marine biology to rainforest ecology, and contributes significantly to the global understanding of tropical environments.

With facilities located in various parts of Panama, including Barro Colorado Island and the Galeta Marine Laboratory, the institute plays a crucial role in environmental conservation and education.

17. The Panama Railway Was a Groundbreaking Achievement

The Panama Railway, completed in 1855, was the first transcontinental railroad, running from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean across the Isthmus of Panama. This engineering feat played a crucial role in the development of global trade, facilitating quicker travel and transport of goods between the coasts.

Today, the railway still operates, offering scenic rides through lush rainforests and alongside the Panama Canal, providing a glimpse into the country’s historical and industrial heritage.

18. Panama City Has a Rainforest Within Its Limits

Panama City is the only capital city in the world that has a rainforest within its city limits, the Metropolitan Natural Park. This urban park offers residents and visitors a unique opportunity to explore a lush tropical forest without leaving the city.

The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and numerous bird species, making it a popular spot for nature walks and birdwatching. The trails provide a tranquil escape from the bustling city life and offer stunning views of the skyline and the Panama Canal.

19. Whale Watching Is Popular on Panama’s Pacific Coast

Panama’s Pacific coast is one of the best places in the world to watch humpback whales, especially between July and October. During this period, thousands of humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica to the warm tropical waters of Panama to breed and give birth.

Popular whale-watching spots include the Gulf of Chiriquí and the Pearl Islands, where visitors can witness these majestic creatures up close. The sight of whales breaching and playing in the ocean is a breathtaking experience for nature enthusiasts.

20. The Biomuseo in Panama City Is Architecturally Unique

The Biomuseo, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, is an architecturally stunning museum in Panama City dedicated to the biodiversity of Panama. The colorful and unconventional design of the museum stands out as a landmark on the Amador Causeway.

Inside, the museum’s exhibits showcase Panama’s rich natural history and its role as a bridge between North and South America, which has led to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life. The Biomuseo is a must-visit for anyone interested in understanding the ecological significance of Panama.

21. Panama Celebrates Independence Twice a Year

Panama celebrates its independence twice: once from Spain on November 28, 1821, and once from Colombia on November 3, 1903. The first celebration marks Panama’s liberation from Spanish colonial rule, while the second commemorates its separation from Colombia and the establishment of the Republic of Panama.

Both dates are marked with patriotic festivities, including parades, music, dances, and cultural events that highlight Panama’s rich history and national pride.

22. The Emberá People Live Traditionally in the Rainforest

Emberá People

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The Emberá people, one of Panama’s indigenous groups, live traditionally in the Darien rainforest, maintaining their customs and lifestyle. The Emberá are known for their intricate body painting, handmade crafts, and deep knowledge of the rainforest environment.

Visitors to Panama can take guided tours to Emberá villages, where they can learn about traditional practices, enjoy cultural performances, and purchase beautiful handcrafted items such as woven baskets and carved wooden figures. These visits offer a unique insight into the Emberá way of life and their harmonious relationship with nature.

23. The Pearl Islands Are a Luxurious Destination

The Pearl Islands, located in the Gulf of Panama, are an archipelago known for their luxurious resorts, stunning beaches, and rich history of pearl diving. The islands gained fame as the filming location for several seasons of the reality TV show “Survivor.”

Isla Contadora is one of the most popular islands, offering upscale accommodations, clear waters, and a serene environment perfect for relaxation. The area is also a hotspot for snorkeling, diving, and fishing, attracting visitors seeking both adventure and tranquility.

24. Panama Is Home to the Oldest Operating Railroad

The Panama Canal Railway, which predates the canal, is the oldest continuously operating railroad in the world. Completed in 1855, this railway was an essential transportation route during the California Gold Rush, providing a quicker path for prospectors traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States.

Today, the railway offers a scenic passenger service between Panama City and Colón, allowing travelers to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the isthmus, including views of the Panama Canal and lush tropical forests.