Panama Geography

What is the terrain and geography like in Panama?


The contrast between life in Panama City and in the rest of the country is striking. The city itself has changed enormously in the last 10 years. A modern banking center, several huge new shopping centers, and scores of high-rise office and apartment buildings have re-shaped the skyline. But the history and tradition of the past can be found quickly in Casco Viejo (the old center) where the cathedral forms the center of what was once the "downtown" area. The ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama), once the object of attack from the pirates of the Caribbean, are a short distance from the modern city center.

The countryside, by contrast, continues to resemble in many ways what it was 10 years ago. Small towns and Indian villages, many nestled in mountain valleys, have seen some changes but everything is "low rise" and "laid back." Rural Panama is the heartland of Panamanian native cultural life, with the typical music and dances of yesteryear still popular today. Here is where city dwellers flock for relief on weekends and over holidays.

Panama, the country — often-called "The Bridge between Two Worlds" — is a crossroads of world culture and international trade. Panama — the city — resembles much larger metropolitan centers in that it is a melting pot for nationality and culture. Panama, the people, is a cultural "Mezcla," (mix) or "Mosaico," (mosaic) of many races and cultures under the lively and energized daily rhythm of Latin society. Panama — the canal — functions in the lush, tropical green forests entirely with fresh water. Panama, the word, is a native term with the interchangeable meaning for "many fish," "many trees," or "many butterflies."

Wedged between North and South America, Panama appears pushed, squeezed, twisted, and stretched by the two continents dangling on either end. Panama’s snake-like "S" shape can disorient a new arrival. North and South "become" East and West. One imagines that in Panama City the sun rises in the West over the Pacific and sets in the East over the Atlantic. The Panama Canal lets ships, some 40 a day, sail West and East but they must go North and South to do so. South America lies to the East and to get to North America you head West — to where the sun rises.

The country largely avoids the Pacific rim’s earthquakes and its "ring of fire,"and escapes the Caribbean’s devastating tropical storms and hurricanes. Geography gives Panama one of the world’s most amazing collections of flora and fauna.

Geography - note

strategic location on eastern end of isthmus forming land bridge connecting North and South America; controls Panama Canal that links North Atlantic Ocean via Caribbean Sea with North Pacific Ocean


tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)

Panama Use of Natural Resources

Panama Environment


tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)


interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills

Natural Resources:

copper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower

Natural Hazards:

occasional severe storms and forest fires in the Darien area

Irrigated Land:

134 Square Miles
346 Square Kilometers

Environmental Issues:

water pollution from agricultural runoff threatens fishery resources; deforestation of tropical rain forest; land degradation and soil erosion threatens siltation of Panama Canal; air pollution in urban areas; mining threatens natural resources

Environment - International Agreements:

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation

Panama Geography

Geographic Location Central America
Total Area 29,120 Square Miles
75,420 Square Kilometers
Land Area 28,703 Square Miles
74,340 Square Kilometers
Water Area 417 Square Miles
1,080 Square Kilometers
Land Boundaries 345 Miles
555 Kilometers
Irrigated Land 134 Square Miles
346 Square Kilometers
Border Countries Colombia 225 km, Costa Rica 330 km
Coastline 1,547 Miles
2,490 Kilometers
Geographic Coordinates 9 00 N, 80 00 W
Terrain interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills
Highest Point 3,475 Meters
Highest Point Location Volcan de Chiriqui 3,475 m
Lowest Point Location Pacific Ocean 0 m
Natural Resources copper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower
Time Zone UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
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