Geography & Location: Panama is an isthmus or a narrow strip of land forming a bridge connecting the two larger land masses between North and South America. The country’s 1,786 miles of coastlines are the Caribbean (or Atlantic) to the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south. To the east is Columbia and to the West is Costa Rica.
Climate: Panama enjoys a tropical climate. A typical dry season day in the capital of Panama City ranges from 75 to 85 degrees F. Although it doesn’t rain all day long, it can be hot, humid and cloudy, up to 95 degrees F during the rainy season. The dry season is from January to May and the rainy season is May through December. Temperatures are cooler in the mountains with average temperatures of 72 degrees.
Population: 3,405,800 (March, 2011) Half of the population lives in and around Panama City.
Capital: Panama City
Language: Spanish. Many educated Panamanians are bilingual with English being their second language.
Currency: The U.S. dollar is legal tender in Panama. The monetary “unit” is called the Balboa yet Panama doesn’t print Balboas. Prices are in US dollars. No conversion of currency is necessary.
Time Zone: Panama is in Eastern Standard Time Zone (without daylight savings time).
Ethnic Groups: 68% of the population is Mestizo, which refers to a mixed heritage of European (primarily Spain and US ancestry) and the Indigenous, Caucasian and Chinese 11.5%; and African descent 9% and Indigenous 12.3%. While there are several indigenous tribes in Panama, the industrious Kuna are one of the world’s few indigenous populations who have been able to successfully balance tradition and modernity.
Religions: Catholic 84% Protestant 15% other 1%
Education: Compulsory through age 15. Attendance is 98.4% for primary school age children (grades 1-6) and 74% for secondary grades 7-9 and 45% for specialized secondary or high school. 35% go on to college or university. There are 88 institutions of higher learning in Panama. Literacy 94.5% overall.
Government: Constitutional Democracy. Independence from Spain in 1821; The president, Ricardo Martinelli, elected July 1, 2009, is a foreigner friendly and business friendly president. There is no military force in Panama.
History Brief: Panama was explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century but broke with Spain to join the Republic of Columbia. With US backing in 1903, Panama seceded from Columbia and signed a treaty with the US for the construction of the engineering marvel, the Panama Canal. The French government went broke on the Canal project and asked for US participation. The US retained sovereignty with military occupation over the Canal Zone, a wide strip of land on both sides of the Canal from 1903–1999.