20 Fun Facts About Panama City, Panama

by Janis on April 21, 2015

In preparation for an upcoming visit to Panama City, Panama, we did a little background research. 

Panama map

Panama City, the capital city of Panama, is located at the Pacific Ocean entrance of the Panama Canal. 

20 Fun Facts About Panama City, Panama

Panama City Skyline. Photo by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

1. With a total metro population of 1,440,381, Panama City is the largest city and the capital of the Republic of Panama.  

Pedro Arias Dí¡vila led the first great Spanish expedition in the New World and founded Panama City.

2. Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dí¡vila founded the city on August 15, 1519.

3. Panama City experienced rapid growth the starting point for Spanish expeditions to Peru.

4. As Spain explored and conquered the Inca Empire, Panama City was the transit point for gold and silver from the Americas to travel back to Spain.

Sir Henry Morgan, a Welsh privateer, pirate and admiral of the Royal Navy, who made a name for himself raiding Spanish settlements in the Caribbean, including Panama City.

5. In January of 1671, privateer Henry Morgan, along with a band of 1,400 men, attacked and looted Panama City. The city burned and was destroyed. Ruins of the old city remain today and are known as Panamí¡ la Vieja (Old Panama).

6. The distinctive golden altar at St. Joseph Church was one of the few items saved from Panama Viejo during the 1671 siege. It was buried in mud during the siege and then secretly transported to its present location.

Casco Viejo in Panama City. Photo by Dirk van der Made.

7. Two years later in 1693 Panama City was formally reestablished on a peninsula 5 miles from the original settlement. This location is known as the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of Panama City.

8. In 1821 Panama broke with Spain and joined with Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela to form the Republic of Gran Colombia. When this republic dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia.

9. With U.S. backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903. Panama signed a treaty with the U.S. allowing for canal construction, and giving the U.S. sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (known as the Panama Canal Zone).

10. The Panama Canal was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914 with more than 75,000 workers. The canal allows ships to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to go all the way around South American, cutting out 7,872 miles of travel on voyages between New York and San Francisco.

The Panama Canal. Photo by Stan Shebs.

11. The Ancon cargo ship was the first vessel to transit the Canal on August 15, 1914.

12. Today, the Panama Canal generates one-third of Panama’s entire economy. 

13. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the U.S. to Panama by the end of the century. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and the remaining U.S. military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999.

14. Panama City became an international banking center starting in the late 1970s, gaining undesirable attention as an international money-laundering center.

15. After nearly a year of tension between the United States and Panama, in 1989 President George H. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to depose its leader, General Manuel Noriega, who was found to be involved in drug trafficking.

16. In October 2006, Panamanians approved an ambitious $5.3 billion plan to expand the Canal. The Panama Canal Expansion will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity. The Expansion will double the Canal’s capacity and Post-Panamax vessels will be able to transit through the Canal.

17. Panama City has a tropical climate with typical daily temperatures between 75° and 84° F. The temperature seldom exceeds 90° F.

18. Panama City is home to the second largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere — the only capital in the world to boast a rainforest within the city limits.

19. While Spanish is the official language of Panama, English is taught in all schools and many Panamanian executives are fully bilingual.

20. While the national currency in Panama is called Balboa, the U.S. Dollar is the official currency and is used for bills.

What fun fact can you add about Panama City, Panama? 

To learn more about Panama City, consult these resources:

Moon Spotlight Panama City & the Panama Canal
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
The NEW Escape To Paradise: Our Experience Living & Retiring In Panama

Check out these other Fun Facts posts:

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53 Fun Facts About Key West, Florida

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