Panama’s colorful history invokes some interesting images for those looking at this tiny isthmus from the outside: the Canal, corruption, dictators, drugs, money laundering, Manuel Noriega, and U.S. influence. The Canal and the strong American presence continue to dominate the Panamanian experience. The less savory parts of this vibrant country’s story are slowly being pushed aside to make way for other images: biodiversity, tourism, international banking, real estate, economic stability, indigenous culture and music.
Since 1999, when Panama gained full control of the canal, the country has looked to tourism and international investment to revitalize its economy and establish a new identity. The last decade has seen millions of dollars of development capital and tax incentives go to projects that attract tourists and international investors, with continuing success.
The Amador Causeway at the canal's southeastern tip is an example of this transformation. The causeway, which connects three small islands to the mainland, was once prohibited for most Panamanians. This former U.S. military base currently houses several multi-million dollar casinos, luxury hotels and high-rise condominiums. Few remnants of its military past exist as both tourists and locals take in the amazing views and busy boardwalks.
Government investment in development and new international interest has inspired an economic renewal in Panama, especially in the areas of tourism and real estate. Low inflation, a favorable tax system, global trade ties and a positive economic forecast all contribute to Panama’s low cost of living and high ambitions.
Panama has moved on from its tumultuous past and welcomes visitors who are willing to see the country as it is today; an exciting culture with a strong respect for its indigenous culture, a recognition of its colonial past, and a country whose gaze is firmly turned forward.
- Major Cities: Panama City, Colón, David
- Capital City: Panama City
- Boundaries: Caribbean Sea to the north, Pacific Ocean to the south, Costa Rica to the west, and Colombia to the east and south.
- Languages: Spanish, with some English. Kuna and Ngöbere are the two most common indigenous languages.
- Population: 3,242,173 (2007)
- Diversity: Mestizo (mixed African, Amerindian, and European ancestry) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, Caucasian 10%, Amerindian 6%. Origins: 36.5% African, 37.6% indigenous, and 25.9% Caucasian.
- Government: Constitutional Democracy.
- Official Religion: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 14%, Other 1%.
- Currency: Panama Balboa (PAB) only exists in coins. All transactions are done in U.S. dollars. 1 USD = 1 PAB.
- Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5). Panama does not observe Daylight Savings.
- Country calling code: +507
- Climate: Tropical maritime. May to January is the rainy season, characterized by hot, humid conditions, and prolonged rainy periods. January to May is the shorter dry season.
- Gross National Income (GNI) per capita: USD$6,420
- Population with access to improved drinking water: 92%.