14 Fun Facts About Panama To Get Off The Beaten Path

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Thinking about traveling to Panama? There are so many beautiful sights to see and landmarks to visit.

This Central American country has so much to offer to a new visitor that it might feel overwhelming. These interesting facts about Panama might help you better understand what you want to experience.

1. Panama Has Unique Cultures And People

The Panamanian people have descended from a wide variety of cultures. You’ll meet Europeans, indigenous and native peoples, Afro-Americans, and many more!

The most predominant indigenous groups are the Emberás, the Kunas, and Ngöbe-Buglés. All of them have their own distinct cultures that still carry on in everyday life and influence many Panamanian traditions.

2. Many Locals Speak English

Spanish is the official native language in Panama, though many people also speak English as a second language. Due to their native indigenous cultures, there are several American Indian languages that are also spoken.

3. Panama Has One Of The Most Important National Parks In The Americas

Darien National Park takes up about 90% of the border between Panama and Colombia and consists of an area that’s about 2,240 square miles.

In this massive natural protected area, Darien hosts many diverse ecosystems including tropical forests, swamps, mountains, and sandy beaches. It is also home to over 530 different bird species, many of which are endangered.

4. There are over 1,400 islands in Panama

With hundreds and hundreds of islands to visit, you could spend years exploring each of Panama’s unique archipelagos.

The San Blas Islands are famous for having over 365 islands in the archipelago, meaning that you could spend each day of the year at a different island.

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5. Panama Was The First Latin American Country To Embrace The U.S. Dollar

The official currency of Panama is the balboa, which holds a fixed rate of 1:1 with the U.S. dollar. In fact, since the currencies were tied together by Panamanian independence, U.S. dollars and coins are now the most popular legal tender in Panama.

6. The Famous Panama Hat Is Actually From Somewhere Else…

The fedora-like straw hat known as the Panama hat was first created in Ecuador. It got the name “Panama hat” from how they were originally traded.

After being woven in Ecuador, the straw hats would first be shipped to Panama before reaching other nations in the trade routes. They only became known as Panama hats because they were largely distributed from Panama.

7. Panama’s Active Volcano Is Beautiful

Baru Volcano, known natively as Volcan Baru, is the highest point in Panama at 3,474 meters high.

Volcan Baru as seen from a lake

From this mountaintop view, one can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the same time! While Baru Volcano is considered an active volcano, it hasn’t erupted in hundreds of years. 

8. The Second Largest Duty-Free Zone In The World

The Colón Free Trade Zone is a tax-free port to encourage economic growth, being the largest free port in the Americas and the second largest in the world.

It first started operations in 13948 following World War II in hopes of boosting Panama’s economy following the war.

9. Visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502

The Province of Bocas del Toro consists of 9 islands and part of the mainland of Panama. Christopher Columbus explored the area when looking for a passage to the Pacific Ocean.

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It is said that when Columbus first arrived in the area, he saw the beautiful waterfalls and claimed that they were in the form of “bocas del toro”, or the mouths of the bull.

10. The Lowest Toll For The Panama Canal Was $0.36

Famous journalist and travel writer Richard Halliburton are both known for having swum across the Panama Canal in 1928.

Having paid just 36 cents to cross, it is still the record for the lowest amount paid as a toll for crossing the waterway.

11. Panama City Is The Only Capital City In The World That Has A Rainforest

The Parque Natural Metropolitano is a tropical rainforest within the city limits. Hosting hundreds of unique native species of animals and plants, the 573-acre park is one of the most important parts of the city.

Panama City as seen from the rainforest

It draws in tourists who are looking for some fantastic wildlife experiences and helps to conserve many rare species of Central America.

12. Conquered by Spain in the 1500s

Famous conquistador Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was the first European to cross the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the South Sea, which is now known as the Pacific Ocean. After successfully finding the South Sea, Balboa claimed Panama in the name of Spain.

Panama remained a Spanish colony for about 300 years until it gained its independence as the Republic of Panama in 1821.

13. One Of The Most Stunning Museums In The World Is In Panama City

Biomuseo is famous for being designed by Frank Gehry, an architect known for defying the rules of architectural design. This is very true of Biomuseo, which first invites you in with its geometrical and incredibly colorful exterior.

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Front sign and building of Biomuseo in Panama

Biomuseo is the world’s first museum focused on biodiversity, specifically on how Panama has been essential to a better understanding of the world’s natural environment.

14. You Can Watch The Sun Rise In The Pacific And Set In The Atlantic

At one of the narrowest points in the Isthmus of Panama, you can start your day by watching the sunrise in Panama City and finish your day by watching the sunset in Colón. With only a distance of about 60km between the two cities, it is only an hour’s drive from the Pacific to the Atlantic.


Leland grew up traveling across the United States with his family, visiting the country’s many national parks. These trips helped him find a passion for camping, hiking, and traveling the globe. From Helsinki to Saint Petersburg, Leland has traveled to several cities abroad and hopes to continue exploring and experiencing the many countries of the world. He is currently planning his honeymoon trip to Scotland, where he plans to enjoy seeing the many lochs, castles, and distilleries.

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