Panama

Driving Directions Panama

PANAMA is a narrow, S-shaped isthmus that links Central America and South America. It is only about 177 kilometers or 110 miles across at its widest point. Most of the country is mountainous, although the peaks are modest by Central American standards.

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The climate is tropical, with high temperatures throughout the year and only a short dry season from January to April.

The economy depends on a wide variety of industries, including coffee, sugar cane, bananas, maize, beans, rice, some cattle ranching, fishing, timber production, manufacturing, and oil refining. The economy is also heavily dependent on income from the Panama Canal, which provides a route for ships between the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.

The Canal has also ensured the strategic importance of Panama, particularly to its powerful neighbor, the USA.

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Panama, an S-shaped isthmus, divides the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The country’s narrowest point is just 48 kilometers (30 miles) across, and its widest is 185 kilometers (115 miles). Two parallel mountain ranges traverse Panama; between the mountains are valleys and plains. The highest lands are toward the Costa Rican border; the country’s interior, where the Panama Canal is found, has the lowest elevation.

Panama is seated on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate, but just offshore, three other plates bump into the Caribbean Plate: the Cocos Plate to the west, the Nazca Plate to the south, and the South American Plate to the southeast. During the Miocene Epoch, these plates collided, causing the Isthmus of Panama to rise out of the ocean. As the plates kept pushing against one another, the mountain ranges and volcanoes of Panama also rose. Today, the Cocos, Nazca, and Caribbean Plates’ constant interaction cause frequent earthquakes in Panama. Its volcanoes, however, have not erupted in hundreds of years.

The Pacific Ocean lies to the south of Panama, while the Caribbean Sea (an extension of the Atlantic Ocean) is north. Coral reefs are found along the coastlines; one notable example is the protected coral reef at Isla Bastimentos National Park of Bocas del Toro. This reef, located off the northwestern coast, serves as a nesting site for sea turtles. Panama claims the seabed of the continental shelf, which has been defined by the country to extend to the 500-meter submarine contour. The waters of Panama’s Pacific coast, especially within the Gulf of Panama and the Gulf of Chiriquí, are extremely shallow (with depths less than 180 meters/590 feet), with extensive mudflats. Because of this, the tidal range in this area is extreme. The tidal range (the difference in sea level between high and low tide) on the Pacific coast exceeds 700 centimeters (275 inches), while on the Caribbean coast, it is only 70 centimeters (27 inches).

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As much as 30 percent of Panama’s land is under some degree of official protection—as forest reserves, national parks, or wildlife refuges. Darién National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve extending along most of Panama’s border with Colombia. The park’s 5,970 square kilometers (2,305 square miles) of mountains and river basins are covered with primary and secondary tropical rainforests, dwarf and cloud forests, and wetlands. Darién National Park is home to jaguars, ocelots, giant anteaters, tapirs, howler monkeys, and many other wildlife species.

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