People often ask why I am so particularly enamoured of Panama. I’ll cite the weather, the music, the rhythm or the beaches. “Those things exist in lots of places in Latin America”, they’ll retort. True as that may be, Panama possesses something which those other places lack for me, and that is the inexplicable feeling of home. Any traveller worth their salt knows that there are few places, which remain forever emblazoned in your heart in a special way. I happened to find mine here. Panama is a country of contradictions: the capital city it is utterly modern and progressive, while some of the rural areas are like a time warp back to the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Western vibes, with Latin flavour, and a pinch of the Caribbean thrown in for good measure. Whether you have just moved here or are thinking of making the move, these Panama facts these should start you off nicely.
Tocumen International Airport is the most well connected airport in Central America. It may not be the prettiest, but it’ll get you from A-B.
Baseball is the national sport.
The Canal opened on August 15th 1914. It generates a third of the country’s economy an all vessels going through have to pay a fee, even if it is an individual swimming through (this happens too). The 14-mile Panama canal serves more than 140 of the world’s trade routes.
Panama was the first country in Latin America to adopt the U.S. Dollar as its official currency. The national currency however, is the Balboa, which exists alongside the Dollar in coin format only.
Eating together is a beloved pastime for Panamanian families. Dishes local to the region include Sancocho, Carimañola and El Centenario, which is made of fried bread (hojaldre) topped with eggs and a Criolla sauce of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, cheese and fried pork rinds (chicharonnes). I hope you like your food fried!
Panama is home to an array of exotic, wild and weird fruits including Marañon Curaçao (Rose Apple), Naranjilla, Mamón Chino (Rambutan), and Guanabana. Another is the egg-shaped Tamarillo, or tree tomato. The taste is said to be a combination of mango, kiwi, tomatoes and passionfruit.
Guna Yala, otherwise known as the San Blas islands, is an archipelago of 365 breath-taking islands in the northwest of Panama, which are inhabited by the indigenous Indian Kuna people.
The Panama hat isn’t from Panama at all. It originated in Ecuador.
Indigeneous tribes of Panama are the Kuna, Embera, Ngobe, Bugle, Waonan, Naussau and Teribe (or Naso) groups.
For the duration of his presidency, Juan Carlos Varela lived at the Intercontinental Miramar Hotel on Avenida Balboa rather than in a Presidential residence.
Keel-billed Toucans can be seen in their natural habitat right in the Capital at Cerro Ancon. Panama City is the only capital city that has a rain forest within the city limits.
The official language is Spanish, though English is widely spoken in the capital.
Mireya Moscoso was the first female president of Panama and was elected in 1999.
Panama borders both with the North Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea between Colombia and Costa Rica. Panama enjoys over 1,500 miles of shoreline, more than 1,500 islands, and boasts some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. There country has more than 500 rivers, 300 of which empty into the Pacific and the rest into the Caribbean. Panama is one of few Isthmuses in the world, connecting two large expanses of water.
The total population is 3.6 million, of which 1.5 million live in the capital, Panama City.
Quetzals, the famed bird of Mesoamerican cultures can be spotted in the cloud forests of Boquete, and are one of the most revered sightings for bird watchers.
Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro gets its name from the red poison dart frogs that can be heard croaking thunderously throughout the day. You may not see them, but you’ll certainly hear the little buggers.
There are two basic seasons in Panama: the rainy season from May to November and the dry season, which runs from December to April. It’s sake to say that Panama is pretty sunshine abundant.
Trade: Panama is an exporter of watermelons, bananas and pineapples, as well as shrimps, sugar, nuts and wood.
Umbrellabirds are one of the many winged creatures that live in Panama. They migrate up and down the mountains and can be identified by their distinctively enormous throat pouches. There are over 976 bird species in Panama alone, more than the entirety of North America.
Volcan Barú in Boquete is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific, and set on the Atlantic, quite a magical feat.
Water is safe to drink straight from the tap in Panama City. Cheers!
Panama has an established population of ex-pats in both the urban and rural areas.
Yuca frita (fried cassava) as well as fried plantains are popular side dishes in Panama.
Cayos Zapatilla are two uninhabited paradise islands in Bocas del Toro, Panama’s aesthetically blessed Western archipelago. They are called as such as they supposedly look like two shoes in the water, as if someone was walking in the water.
Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and content editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.