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Panama - Overview

Panama can be found on the stretch of land which connects North and South America. Its immediate neighbours are Costa Rica and Colombia and boasts coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The country measures just 480 miles in length along the isthmus of Central America and only 110 miles wide in some areas, with parts of the country measuring even less. The country falls into the GMT-5 time zone.

Panama has nine provinces, each with their own local government and there are a total of just ten cities which are Panama City, San Miguelito, Tocumen, David, Arraijan, Colon, Las Cumbres, La Chorrera, Pacora, Santiago de Veraguas. In addition to this there are a number of ‘shires’ which are home to the local indigenous peoples, who have their own governments and are left very much to their own devices by the Panamanian authorities. The nine provinces are: Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui, Colon, Cocle, Darien, Los Santos, Herrera, Panama and Veraguas. Each province has its own governor and is divided into districts. The ‘shires’ are: Kuna Yala, Ngobe-Bugle, Kuna de Madugandi, Kuna de Wargandi and Embera. Expats are not currently able to purchase property in the shires as the areas are protected for the native inhabitants.

It is home to the Panama Canal, a major shipping route which connects the Caribbean and Atlantic with the Pacific. The canal was built between the San Blas Mountains and the Cordillera de Talamanca Mountains. The country has been a major trade route for more than 500 years. The local currency is the Balboa which is equal in value to the US dollar and due to an agreement between the US and Panama which dates back to the early part of the 20th century, the US dollar is also legal tender in Panama. There are no bank notes for the Balboa, but the country does mint coins of several denominations up to 50c.

There are hundreds of islands lying off the coast of Panama with the San Blas and Bocas del Toro archipelagos. The San Blas islands have their own government and tourists are only permitted to visit a few, even though there are nearly 400 islands in this archipelago. Only those native to the islands are permitted to own property there, as the people are keen to preserve their heritage.

Much of Panama is covered in rainforest, which is largest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon region. The country has large parcels of land which are officially protected in order to prevent wildlife being affected by development. This is mainly due to the fact that some species of bird and other animals can only be found in this part of the world. There are also mountainous regions and plains.

Panama can also boast around 500 rivers, despite the small size of the country. Most of these cannot be used for any kind of sailing as they are too small and not deep enough. There are one or two wide rivers which are used as an alternative energy source for homes in the country.

Tourism is increasing in the area due to the developments in the cities and the fine beaches on both stretches of coastline. The country has a national park in Parque Nacional Volcan Baru which contains the only volcano in Panama, also called Volcan Baru.

Most of the population of Panama is resident in the larger cities of Colon and Panama City or in the sections of land close to the Panama Canal and more than three quarters of the country is uninhabited. The country is estimated to have a population of less than 3 million people and 40% of these have their home in the capital. The official language is Spanish thanks to many years of Spanish rule, but English is very widely spoken in the country and most adult Panamanians can speak English fluently. The different indigenous tribes of the country have their own dialects and languages which they use on a daily basis.

The capital city is Panama City and it is a very lively place to be. The city is home to the Multicentro shopping centre which runs for a total of 8km and is the largest mall in Central America, as well as a fast-growing commercial sector. The city has both new and old sections, with the older part of the city having achieved World Heritage status.

Read more about this country

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