15 Fun Facts About Panama You Didn’t Know

Panama may be small in size, but it is packed full of surprises. From seeing both oceans in one place to being the cradle for interesting history and culture, Panama has many unique claims to fame. Read on for 15 fun and fascinating facts about this Central American crossroads.

1. View Two Oceans at Once

Panama enjoys a special geographical privilege as the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set over the Atlantic Ocean in the same day. At just 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, a short walk or drive allows you to stand on the shores of both oceans. The best spot to take in this rare vista is from the top of Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest point at 11,401 feet.

2. Home of the First International Sale of Coca-Cola

Panama holds the distinction of being the first country outside the United States to sell an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola. This first international sale took place in Panama City in 1904, just a year before the country gained independence from Colombia.

3. First Country in Latin America to Adopt the US Dollar

Upon gaining independence in 1903, Panama quickly forged ties with the United States. In 1904 it became the first Latin American nation to officially adopt the US dollar as legal tender. The Panamanian balboa also circulates as local currency.

4. Boasts Over 1,400 Species of Orchids

As a biodiversity hotspot, Panama bursts with over 10,000 unique plant species, including 1,400 varieties of magnificent orchids. Panama works to protect its natural heritage, with forest cover increasing over the past two decades.

5. More Bird Species Than the US and Canada Combined

Birders flock to Panama to catch a glimpse of one of the 976 bird species that call this tropical country home. That’s more bird diversity than found throughout all of North America. With dazzling quetzals, toucans, and parrots, Panama promises prime birdwatching.

6. Home to One of the World’s Most Famous Man-Made Waterways

The Panama Canal stands out as one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects. Completed in 1914 after a decade of monumental effort, the 50-mile canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through a series of locks and artificial lakes. Around 14,000 ships traverse this famous shortcut each year.

7. Only Capital City with a Rainforest

Lush tropical forest isn’t usually found within urban city limits, but Panama City boasts this claim to fame. Part of the vast Metropolitan Natural Park, protected lands within the capital shelter a wide array of exotic plants and wildlife.

8. Panama City: Hub of Commerce and Trade

As capital and largest city, Panama City serves as the country’s center of commerce, trade, and transportation. The greater metropolitan area holds nearly half of Panama’s total population of 4 million residents. Gleaming skyscrapers share space with colonial sites in this fast-paced urban hub.

9. First in Latin America to Use US Dollars

Panama enjoys close ties to the United States, stemming back to 1903 when the country declared independence with US support. That bond is reflected in Panama’s currency decision. In 1904 it became the first Latin American nation to adopt the US dollar as legal tender alongside its native balboa. Read more.

10. Home to Thriving Indigenous Communities

Tucked away in isolated Darién Province, the Emberá people maintain traditional lifestyles much as their ancestors have for centuries. Living in thatched roof huts, they hunt, fish local rivers, cultivate crops, and create exquisite handcrafted baskets. Their distinct culture persists despite encroaching modern influences.

11. Surfer’s Paradise

With gleaming beaches and barreling waves, Panama lures adventurous surfers from far and wide. Top spots include Playa Santa Catalina with its world-class breaks and postcard backdrop. Surf schools abound for beginners hoping to catch their first wave.

12. Outdoor Adventure Abounds

Beyond surfing, Panama serves up no shortage of other exciting outdoor pursuits. Brave the rapids while whitewater rafting. Hoist a kayak to explore lush waterways and coastline. Lace up hiking boots and summit a misty volcano. Zipline through the jungle canopy. The options seem endless.

13. Island Jewels

Panama lays claim to over 1,500 picture-perfect islands. The Bocas del Toro Archipelago stands out as a favorite cluster of idyllic isles ringed by coral reefs. With quaint beach towns, jungle trails, and turquoise waters, it’s easy to lose track of time in this island paradise.

14. Wildlife Watcher’s Dream

A wealth of exotic wildlife calls Panama’s rainforests and waters home. More than 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species are found here. Visitors may spot monkeys, sloths, toucans and butterflies alongside sea turtles, manta rays, whales and tiny poison arrow frogs. Many luxury eco-resorts cater to wildlife lovers.

15. Rich History and Culture

Beyond nature, Panama overflows with human history and culture ready for exploration. Wander through old Spanish forts and monuments from colonial times.

Marvel at Guna people’s colorful “molas” textiles. Dig into the fascinating story behind the Panama Canal at the Canal Museum. Or slurp up some “najo” medicinal cactus juice, as locals have done for generations. With influences from Europe and the Americas infusing native traditions, Panamanian culture offers much for visitors to savor.

In Summary

For all its small size, Panama packs a big punch thanks to fun facts ranging from its famous canal to seeing two oceans collide. Beyond these claims to fame, the country serves up adrenaline-fueled adventure alongside laid-back island vibes, rich biodiversity, indigenous culture, and balmy beaches. With so much variety packed into an easy-to-explore land, Panama promises outstanding, unforgettable experiences for travelers from across the globe.

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