Full country name: Republic of Panama (Republica de Panamà)
Panama Area: 78,000 sq km (30,420 sq mi) Panama Population: 2,735,943 (growth rate 1.56%) Panama Capital city: Panama City (pop 610,000) Panama People: 65% mestizo, 14% African descent, 10% Spanish descent - white, 5% mulatto, 6% Ameridian Panama Language: Spanish (official), English (14%) and Indian languages Panama Religion: 85% Roman Catholic, 10% Protestant, 5% Islamic Panama Government: Democracy Panama President: Martin Torrijos
Panama Currency: Balboa (B/.1 = US$ 1) US dollar is used.
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours (Eastern Standard Time. Panama is one hour ahead of the rest of Central America. Electricity: Variable - either 110V or 220V - 60 hz. Weights & measures: Metric
Located in the center of the Western Hemisphere, Panama borders on the Caribbean Sea in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the south, Colombia in the east and Costa Rica in the west. Panama is the connecting link between Central and South America, with about 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide in its narrowest part. On one side, the Caribbean Sea washes its coast, and on the other side, the Pacific Ocean skirts its long, beautiful beaches. The Panama Canal, considered as the Eight Wonder of the world, allows vessels to transit from one ocean to the other. Panama's topography varies from mountains towards the Caribbean coast to small hills and vast savannas towards the Pacific side.
Communications: Panama has excellent telephone, satellite, and international cable services. There is a direct-dial telephone system to the Interior of the country and to every country in the world. Internet services are provided by several companies, including Panama's telephone company, Cable and Wireless.
Climate: Panama has a year-round wonderfully pleasant tropical climate and an average temperature of 27 degrees Centigrade (or 80 degrees F.) Nights, however, are generally fresh, especially in mountainous areas. The country has two seasons: Rainy and Dry. The former lasts from May to December, and despite of the rainfall it is a rare day that the sun fails to show. During the Dry season, called "summer", the nice Trade Winds constantly blow.
Churches: Although the majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholics, there is a complete freedom of worship for all religions. Some temples, churches and synagogues offer daily services.
Panama City offers a variety of restaurants with different
dishes to satisfy the most sophisticated gourmet. In addition to typical
dishes, international cuisine is available in many hotels and restaurants;
Chinese, Peruvian, Argentinean, Italian, French, Spanish. Japanese,
Mexican, Korean, Hindustani, Arabian, Swiss, and American food, as well
as a great number of seafood dishes can all be found here! Delectable
local foods, ethnic specialties and sea food can be savored throughout
US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens and most other nationalities do not need to obtain a visa, but they do need a tourist card (available from embassies and airlines serving Panama) in advance. The tourist card can be obtained through your airline for B/.5.00 (or U.S. dollars) Recent changes in immigration laws allows morst visitors to stay up to three months without a visa. This stay can be extended an additional 3 months. To avoid problems when leaving after 3-months, be sure to visit a local immigration office at the end of your 3-month stay to extend it.
A Certificate of Vaccination against smallpox is required if you came from an infected country
Customs: Travellers can bring to Panama three bottles of liquor and one carton of cigarettes (or 10 packs) or one pound of tobacco.
For the latest advisories, call the U.S. State Department's Citizen's Emergency Center (202-647-5225), the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (800-267-6788 in Canada; 613-944-6788 from outside the country), the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (0171-238-4503) or the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Consular Operations Section (02-6261-3305).
MONEY MATTERS Banking hours: 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (may vary)
Money Exchange: Panacambios, S.A. Via España, Plaza Regency # 177 Tel.: 223-1800 Fax: 223-1796
Panama Banking Association: Tel.: 263-7252 / 263-7044
Taxi fare: Tocumen airport to hotel B/.20.00 per taxi, or colletivo", B/.8.00/person
Local taxi fare: B/.1.50/person
Limousine Service: minimum 4 people B/.8.00 per person
International Airport Departure Tax: A Passenger Service Tax of B/.20.00 (or U.S. dollars) will need to be paid at the Airport.
Lodging Tax: Guests are charged 10% percent over the daily room tariff.
Tipping: Porters receive 0.50 cents per suitcase and in general 10% over consumption in fancier restaurants. In small cafes and more casual places, tipping is not necessary, although, appreciated.
Credit cards: Are accepted in most hotels, restaurants, and department stores in Panama City. Small facilities, or facilities in smaller towns may not accept credit cards.
Shopping: Panama is a free port for tourist goods coming from all over the world. In addition to the famous Mola, a sample of the Kuna's primitive art, there are jewelry, precious stones, embroidered tablecloths, oriental crafts, watches, perfumes, cameras, photographic and electronic equipment, electrodomestics, fine crystals and porcelain, all at reasonable prices. Most stores open from 9 a m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Some of them open on Sunday. Special sales are frequent throughout the year.
Panama City is a veritable shopper's paradise. Walking down Via España and Central Avenue, you will discover the longest shopping street in the world with shops that offer you the latest fashions, the most complex computers and the most reasonably priced handicrafts
Shopping Centers: For your additional buying pleasure, there are several large shopping centers in Panama City. In these malls you can find a collection of specialty shops: Jewelry, Boutiques, Perfumes, Flower Shops, Porcelain, Decorations, Sports, Electronics, Pharmacies, Beauty Parlors, and much more.
Some of these shopping center are: Plaza Paitilla, El Dorado Mail, Obarrio Galleries, Plaza California, La Alambra, New York Plaza, Panama Hotel's Gardens, Regency Plaza, La Florida Plaza, Bal Harbour, Tocumen Plaza , Plaza Carolina, Balboa Plaza, Los Pueblos, shopping Mall and Concordia.
Colon Free Zone: It is a wholesale distribution center where goods of any kind (including raw materials and machinery) may be imported, stored, modified, distributed, processed, assembled, repacked, and then re-exported without being subject to custom duties.
Supermarkets: In Panama City, there are several excellent and modern supermarkets where you can buy delicatessen, cheese, wines, national and imported spirits, and well-known US and international brands of canned and packaged food. Many are open 24 hours.
In the rest of the country, with the exception of the larger town, you will find more limited inventories. If you have special dietary of pharmaceutical needs, plan ahead and stock while in Panama City.
Sanitation: Panama has the purest potable water in the world, which can be drunk directly from the tap. Sanitation standards are very high and milk is pasteurized. For your safety, you should check on the status of smaller town's water supply, as standards outside Panama cityvary.
Health Services: Health care in Panama is excellent. There are renowned specialists who have been trained at the University of Panama and other universities in England, USA, Mexico, Argentina. Spain. former U.S.S.R., Brazil, and other countries.
Hospitals: There are state health centers and hospitals in every province of the country. Panama City also boasts a great number of private clinic and hospitals, all equipped with modern facilities.
HOW TO COME TO PANAMA:
It is easy to come to Panama, where visitors are cordially welcome, whether by air, land or sea.
By air: Flights coming from North, Central, and South America, the Caribbean and Europa arrive at Tocumen International Airport.
Miami is the hub for most direct flights from the U.S., but several major carriers also operate regularly scheduled flights from Houston, New York, Washington D.C., Dallas, and Los Angeles into Tocumen International Airport, about 15 minutes from Panama City center.
International Airline Offices in Panama
By land: You can come to Panama from Canada and the U.S.A. driving down the Pan-American Highway and passing through Mexico and Central America.
Traveling by road in Panama is similar to driving in the United States: The highways are good, decent cars are easy to rent, and there are gas stations when you need them. Be sure to carry proper documentation such as ownership and insurance papers with you at all time, as there are frequent road checks.
You must bring proof of ownership to present as you cross the border and passport with visa (obtained at Panama's nearest consulate in your country). You may use your current license plates and your driving license will be honored by the Panamanian authorities. Check with your insurance company to be sure of your coverage.
The Pan-American Highway -also called Inter American Highway in Panama- links Panama City with the rest of the country up to the Costa Rica border, but it is still under construction in the province of Darien. Another main road is the Trans-Isthmian Highway connecting Panama City with Colon, an hour's drive away, on the Caribbean coast. A new road under construction will link Chiriqui Grande to Almirante, which is the gateway to the island of Bocas Del Toro. Currently, there are a few ferry services to transport vehicles from Chiriqui Grande to Bocas Del Toro. On the mainland, even the remotest sites can be reached by asphalted secondary roads. Bus service is good and covers the whole country.
Car Rental Companies
Most of the leading international rental companies are available in Panama, including the following:
HERTZ RENT A CAR
BARRIGA RENT A CAR BUDGET RENT A CAR INTERNATIONAL RENT THRIFTY CAR RENTAL S & W WESTERN CAR RENTAL VANTAGE TOYOTA RENT A CAR AVIS RENT A CAR DOLLAR RENT A CAR NATIONAL RENT A CAR ALAMO RENT A CAR HONDA RENT A CAR
For additional information contact to National Association of Car Rentals Telephone 263-6663, 264-0566.
By sea: You can also come to Panama by ship from South America, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Miami and other U.S. ports, Europe and Asia. Many ships and cruises reach Panamanian ports.
Panama is a natural center for shipping and distribution to International markets because it has ports on the two largest oceans in the world, Atlantic and Pacific. The most important ports on the Atlantic or Caribbean side are Cristobal, Las Minas Bay, Coco Solo, and Almirante; and on the Pacific coast: Balboa, Puerto Armuelles, Pedregal, Vacamonte, and Aguadulce.
Domestic Airlines: There are many domestic airlines connecting Panama City with the San Blas Islands, Pearls Islands, Bocas Del Toro Archipelago, and all major towns in the Interior of the Republic. In theory, planes regularly puddle-hop all over the country, but during the rainy season, there may be changes in scheduled flights.
Departing flights from MARCOS A. GELABERT (Paitilla), Airport Panama City, Via Israel. For information phone 236-3684.
AEROPERLAS - Phone. 263-5363 / 269-4555 - Fax 223-0606 Destination: Bocas del Toro, Changuinola, Chiriqui, Colon, Isla Contadora, Isla San Miguel, Chitre, Santiago, Darien.
ALAS CHIRICANAS: Phone 264-6448 - 264-7759 Fax 2647190. Destination to Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro.
TRANSPASA - Phone 236-0842 - 226-0932 Destination to San Bias. Charter flights.
CHITREANA DE AVIACION - Phone 226-4116 - 226-3069 Fax: 296-4785 Destination to Chitré, Los Santos, Las Tablas and Guararé.
PARSA - Charter flights. Phone 226-3883 - 226-3422, Fax 226-3422
AEROTAXI - Phone 226-7891 - 226-4070 Destination to San Bias (Porvenir), Charter flights.
ANSA - Phone 226-7891 - 226-4070 Destination to San Blas
AERO FACILIDADES, S. A. - Phone 269-6070 - 269-6711, Fax 269- 6886. Charter flights.
Panama's history is divided into the following chronological periods:
In the early 16th century over 60 Indian tribes lived in Panama. These indians came from the Mayas of Guatemala and Mexico and from the Chibchas of Colombia. The Isthmus of Panama was discovered in 1501 by Rodrigo de Bastidas, one of the captains that accompanied Columbus us on this second voyage to America. In 1513 Vasco Nuñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean from a Darien's mountain in Panama. In 1519 Panama City was founded by Pedrarias Dávila, the Governor of Golden Castle, appointed by the King of Spain.
Panama was the spring board for the Spanish exploration and expansion in Central and South America on the Pacific coastline. The conquest of Peru and Chile by Francisco Pizzas and Diego de Almagro were organized in Panama. Both Hernando de Soto, the discover of the Mississippi River, and Sebastián de Benalcazar, the founder of Quito, Ecuador, started their journeys from Panama, too. The Davila brothers, Gil and Gonzalo, also organized their expeditions into Central America from the Isthmus of Panama. During the independence wars of the Spanish colonies, Panama voluntarily joined Colombia until 1903, when it gained independence and became the present Republic of Panama.
Museums: With Its 10,000 years history and 450 years of abundant Indian and immigrant culture from four continents. Panama offers a variety of museums highlighting all the aspects of its colorful historic past.
Panama City Museums
Panama City has several museums, all open from Tuesdays through Sundays, except holidays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a variable schedule on weekends.
1. Religious Colonial Art Museum Built In 1756, this museum Is located in one old chapel of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, between 3rd Street and A Avenue in the heart of the colonial part of town. It has an Impressive collection of paintings made on cloth and leather and polycromed carvings from Latin America and from local artists. There are also sacred artifacts made of silver and bone, a beautiful gold altar, and a colonial spiral staircase. A visit to the chapel is complemented by a visit to the Church and Convent where you can see the 'arm chato', the interior patio and the cloister. The convent, recently restored, has a small museum with artifacts of archaeological digs and historical engravings.
2. Natural Science Museum Located on Cuba Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets, in the old National Museum, the Natural Science Museum has exhibits of the natural geology, paleontology, mammals, reptiles and other national flora and fauna. Also there is a room dedicated to African and Asian fauna, specially the tiger, lion and antelope.
3. History Museum of Panama Located in the Municipal Palace where the office of the Panamenian History Academy are also located, there are four rooms displaying the history of Panama to date, in three periods - colonial, union with Colombia and Republican and including highlights of the treaty between the United States and Panama for the construction of the Panama Canal.
4. Reina Torres de Arauz Museum Archaeology is highlighted, along with anthropology, in four separate rooms that display gold and historical artifacts that amply demonstrate the rich cultural heritage of Panama.
5. Afro-Antillian Museum Located in the restored Christian Old Mission Building at 24th West Street and Justo Arosemena Avenue, here are fine photographs, artistic and domestic objeticts from the Afro-Antillian group who helped construct the Panama Canal. Artifacts from Martinique, Haiti and Jamaica are also displayed.
6. Contemporary Art Museum It is located on Calle San Blas in the district of Ancon. It has a permanent exposition hall, and two temporals, where they exhibit oil paints, fresh water paints, crayons, tints and engraving or national and foreign artists. This museum has in his backside an art workshop where they do engraving and restauration jobs. Here you can buy the work that are expose and appreciate how the artists work on the workshop.
7. National Bank Museum Located on 34th Street and Cuba Avenue, this museum is dedicated to the coins and stamps collections from the 16th century to present day and Includes coins and paper bills, metalic coins and other financial papers.
8. Home of the Soldier of The Independence Located in the promenade of "Esteban Huertas", is the center commemorating those soldiers who gave their lives for the Independence of the Republic.
9. The Andina Gallery (The Andina Gallery reafirms the traditional values of popular art, which are to coordinate the multisectoral activities; enable the cultural education of popular art; promote cultural interchange and establish systems for multisectoral defense of the patrimony.
Interior of Panama Museums
The collections of these eight museums are modest but interesting.
1. Archaelogical Park of 'El Caño' Located in the town of El Caño, in the province of Cocle, here is a sample of the impressive Cocle Indian Culture. Here are burial site and tombs, ornate columns at the ceremonial site, burdial sitle of the 'cacique' and a typical hut that represents the home of the Indians with domestic animal and utensils used at the time of the arrival of the Spanish.
2. History and Panamenian Tradition Museum This museum consists of four restored homes with a collection of archaeology, history, colonial religious art and ethnology of the region, plus a home furnished with 20th century furniture. To complement this museum, visit the artisan market at Penonome, one of the best in the country with items of straw, wood, rock, rope and other materials.
3. Religious Colonial Art of Santo Domingo de Parita Museum Located in the chapel of the church of Santo Domingo de Parka, In the province of Herrera with an excellent collection of wood carvings and silver artifacts from the colonial period and from the 18th century. The church has been declared a Historic national Monument.
4. The Herrera Museum Located on Manuel Maria Correa Street and Julio Arjona Avenue, its collections takes the visitor to the pre-historic period of the central region of the country and the most important archaelogical sites of 'Sarigua' and 'Monagrillo'. There are also exhibits from the history of the province, the regional culture of folkloric music and dances.
5. Belisario Porras Museum This museum highlights the life of Dr. Belisario Porras, President of the Republic of Panama three times, with pictures, personal moments and correspondence.
6. Manuel F. Zarate Museum Located in a restored typical home in Guarare, province of Los Santos, this museum displays a personal collection of profesor Zarate, a linked to national folklore. Here are 'polleras' (the typical costume of Panama), masks of 'diablicos' (devil's masks), musical instruments and notes on the festival of 'La Mejorana'.
7. The Nationality Museum Located in the Villa of Los Santos, it occupies the old home of the 'cabildo' of Los Santos, and displays historic artifacts related to the independence of Panama from Spain, which was declared on November 10th, 1821 and again in Panama City on November 28, 182 1. The highlight is a painting depicting this historic period.
8. The History and Art of Jose de Obaldia Museum It is located in the Bolivar neighborhood, in the old part of the city of David, on First Avenue East in home number 57. This museum has archaeological artifacts from the Occidental region of the country, historic material, colonial religious art and artifacts from the everyday life of Obaldia Family. The house, which has been restored, has one room, kitchen, and furniture from the period and a garden with medicinal plants used in the old days.
See our special interest section: Arts
Anayansi Theater: ATLAPA Convention Center - Phone (507) 226-7000
La Huaca Theater: ATLAPA Convention Center - Phone (507) 226-7000
National Theater: B. Avenue - Phone 262-3682
Balboa Theater: Balboa Canal Zone - Phone 228-0327 -262-1952
Circulo Theater of Panama: Herbruger, Ave. E. - Phone: Tel. 261-5375
La Cupula Theater: El Cangrejo - Phone: 223-7516
Museum Reina Torres de Arauz: 5th of Mayo Plaza - Phone 262-0415
Ancon Theater Guild: Ancón - Tel. 252-6786.
See our Special Events calandar pages
History was made on May 2, 1999, when Panama elected its first woman president, Mireya Moscoso De Gruber.
Education: A large percentage of Panama's Public Budget is invested in Education. Both public and private schools are under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The education system is basically divided into three levels; primary school (6 years), secondary school (6 years) and university or higher education. Panama has seven Universities. Santa Maria La Antigua, Isthmus, Interamericana de Educación a Distancia, Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología and an extension of Florida State University are private, while the Technological and Universidad de Panama are State Universities.
Flora: Panama itself is a flower garden where trees bloom, especially during April and June. Among them, mention should be made of yellow and pink acacias, red ponciana, violet, lagerstroemia, and purple jacaranda. From December to July, there are bougainvilleas in every tone. There also hundreds of varied orchids as well as plants with colorful leaves which are characteristic of Panama.
Fauna: With two oceans washing its shores, Panama is rich in marine life: lobsters, shrimps, clams and fish, such as marlin (Panama is the Black Marlin Capital of the world), sailfish, swordfish, tuna fish, dolphin fish, bonito, corvina, barracuda, female shark, sardine, porgy, sawfish, and other species. In the jungle, are monkeys, pumas, ocelots, armadillos, wild boars, anteaters, rabbits, sloths, deer, and other native animals of the American Tropic.
There are over 933 native bird species plus the numerous migrants from the North and the South, making Panama a tourist haven for them and a birdwatcher's paradise. The quetzal can be admired in the province of Chiriqui, and the macaw in many places. The Harpy Eagle is the national bird and you can find it in the Darián Jungle.
See our special
birding and wildlife
Gambling: Casinos as well as other games of chance are under government operation. The national lottery profits go to support hospitals and charities. It has drawings every Wednesday and Sunday. Bingo is played in the National Bingo's premises located in Estudiante Street in Panama City and 16th street in Rio Abajo. The Presidente José A. Ramón Racetrack has horseraces on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In Panama, earnings from games of chance are not subject to taxes.
FOR PANAMA PLACES OF INTEREST, SEE PANAMA TRAVEL
HELPFUL PANAMA CITY PHONE NUMBERS (see Panama travel - Panama City)