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Panama City ( ) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panamamarker. It has a population of 813,097, with a total metro population of 1,206,792, and it is located at the Pacificmarker entrance of the Panama Canalmarker, at . Panama City is the political and administrative center of the country.

With an average GDP per capita of $11,700, Panama has been for 8 years in the top 5 places for retirement in the world according to International Living Magazine. Panama City has a dense skyline of mostly highrise apartment buildings and condos, but office complexes and hotels as well. Panama City is also an important hub for international banking and commerce. It has an advanced communications service, Internet use is widespread; and Panama's Tocumen International Airportmarker offers daily flights to international destinations.

Panama City was chosen to be the American Capital of Culture for the year 2003 (jointly, with Curitibamarker, Brazilmarker).


The city was founded on August 15, 1519. Within years of its founding, the city was a launching point for the exploration and conquest of Perumarker and a transit point for gold and silver headed towards Spainmarker. In 1671, the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan, with the help of a band of 1400 men, attacked and looted the city, which was subsequently destroyed by fire. The ruins of the old city still remain and are a popular tourist attraction known as Panam√° la Vieja (Old Panama). It was rebuilt in 1673 in a new location approximately southwest of the original city. This location is now known as the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of the city.

Two years after the start of the California Gold Rush in 1848, the Panama Railroadmarker Company was formed, but the railroad did not begin operation until 1855. Between 1848 and 1869, the year the first transcontinental railroad was completed in the United States, about 375,000 people crossed the isthmus from the Atlanticmarker to the Pacificmarker, and 225,000 in the opposite direction. That traffic greatly increased the prosperity of the city during that period.

The construction of the Panama Canalmarker was of great benefit to the infrastructure and economy. Of particular note are the improvements in health and sanitation brought about by the American presence in the Canal Zonemarker. These include the eradication of yellow fever and malaria and the introduction of a first-rate water supply system. However, most of the workers involved in the construction of the canal were brought in from the West Indies, which created unprecedented racial and social tensions in the city.

During World War II, construction of military bases and the presence of larger numbers of U.S.marker military and civilian personnel brought about unprecedented levels of prosperity to the city. Panamanians had limited access, or no access at all, to many areas in the Canal Zone neighboring the Panama metropolitan area. Some of these areas were military bases accessible only to United States personnel. Tensions arose between the people of Panama and the U.S. citizens living in the Panama Canal Zone. This erupted in the January 9, 1964 riots.

View from the Artes y Oficios Technical High School.

In the late 1970s through the 1980s Panama became an international banking center, bringing a lot of undesirable attention as an international money-laundering center. In 1989 after nearly a year of tension between the United States and Panama, President George H. W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to depose the previously U.S.-backed dictator of Panama, General Manuel Noriega. As a result of the action a portion of the El Chorrillo, a neighborhood which consisted mostly of old wood-framed buildings dating back to the 1900s, was destroyed by fire. Eventually, the U.S. helped finance the construction of large cinderblock apartment buildings to replace the destroyed structures. Panama City remains a major banking center, although with very visible controls against money laundering. Shipping is handled through port facilities in the area of Balboamarker operated by the Hutchison Whampoa Company of Hong Kongmarker and through several ports on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Balboa, which is located within the greater Panama metropolitan area, was formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone, and in fact the administration of the former Panama Canal Zone was headquartered there. The city of Balboa and the nation's currency, the Panamanian Balboa, are named after the Spanish conquistador and explorer Vasco N√ļ√Īez de Balboa.

Geography and Climate

Panama City is located in the Pacific coast of Panama, east of the Panama Canal. Panama City experiences a Tropical Equatorial climate with a wet season that stretches from May to December, and a dry season from January to April. Annual temperatures range between 21 ¬įC (70 ¬įF) and 35 ¬įC (95 ¬įF).

Panama City as a tourism destination

Casco Viejo, seen from Cerro Ancón.
The city has numerous tourist attractions including world-class hotels and restaurants. Particularly interesting for tourists are various sites located in the old quarter (also commonly referred to as "Casco Viejo", "Casco Antiguo" or "San Felipe"), including
  • Las B√≥vedas, literally The Vaults, a waterfront promenade jutting out into the Pacific.
  • The National Institute of Culture Building and across from it, the Frenchmarker Embassy;
  • The Cathedral on Plaza de la Catedral
  • Teatro Nacional, a recently renovated performance center, with outstanding natural acoustics; It provides an intimate performance environment and seating for about 800 guests.
  • Museo del Canal Interoce√°nico (Interoceanic Canal Museum);
  • Numerous restaurants located near the French embassy.
  • Palacio de las Garzas (Heron's Palace), the official name of the presidential palace, named for the numerous herons that inhabit the building.

The area immediately east of the Pacific entrance of the canal‚ÄĒknown as the Amador Causeway-- is currently being developed as a major tourist center. Currently the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institutemarker operates a station and a small museum open to the public at Culebra Point on the island of Naos. A new museum, The Bridge of Life Museum, is currently under construction on the causeway. The Bridge of Life Museum was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry famous for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbaomarker and the Disney Concert Hallmarker in Los Angelesmarker and it is scheduled to be completed this year.

Panama as a World Heritage Site

Panama La Vieja (Old Panama) is the name used for the architectural vestiges of the Monumental Historic Complex of the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific coast of the Americas by Pedro Arias de Avila on 15 August 1519. This city was the starting point of the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru (1532). It also was a stopover point of one of the most important trade routes in the history of he American continent leading to the famous fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo where most of the gold and Silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through.

The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of cultural criteria (ii), (iv) and (vi), considering that Panam√° was the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas, in 1519, and the Historic District preserves intact a street pattern, together with a substantial number of early domestic buildings, which are exceptional testimony to the nature of this early settlement.

Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo, Panama

Casco Antiguo was designated a World Heritage Site. After the first settlement was destroyed by diseases and the pirate attacks, the last and most remembered one by Henry Morgan, the city moved into a rocky peninsula that was both healthier and easier to defend. In 1673 they founded what today is called officially Casco Antiguo, but is also known as San Felipe, Catedral and more commonly, Casco Viejo.

Currently under a revitalization process, Casco Antiguo is a mix of different architectural styles, which reflects the cultural diversity of the country. Caribbean, Republican, Art Deco, French and Colonial mix in a site of less than 800 buildings. Most of Panama¬īs City¬īs main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo: The Sal√≥n Bolivar, the main Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana), the National Theatre (founded in 1908), Las Bovedas Monument, La Iglesia de La Merced, La Iglesia San Felipe Neri, Iglesia San Jos√© with its distinctive Golden Altar, which was saved from Panama La Vieja and transported into the new city.

Resources: Ciudad City ( by Arq. Eduardo Tejeira Davis. This publication is from the United Nations Development Programme ( PNUD).

The only example of true urban revitalization in the Panama, Casco Antiguo is already the second touristic destination in Panama City, second only to the Panama Canal. Both government and private sectors are actively participating not only in the restoration of the architectural patrimony but also of the human patrimony, investing in cultural industries and local entrepreneurship.

Residents of the neighborhoods that make up Casco Antiguo (San Felipe, Santa Ana and El Chorillo) refer to themselves as "Casque√Īos".


The City Proper has around 813,097 inhabitants in the 23 Panama City boroughs.

Nature in the City

The entrance to the Metropolitan National Park.
Panama is located between the Pacific Ocean and many tropical rain forests. The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Nature Park), stretching from Panama along the Panama Canalmarker, has several unique bird species and other animals such as tapir, puma, alligators, etc. At the Pacific entrance of the canal is the Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas (Marine Exhibitions Center), a research center for those interested in tropical marine life and ecology. Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas is managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institutemarker.

Tropical forests around Panama are vital for the functioning of the Panama Canal. These forests provide the canal with the watershed required for its operation (a rare example of a vast engineering project in the middle of the forest which actually helped preserve that very nature). Due to the importance of the Canal to the Panamanian economy, tropical forests around the canal have been kept in an almost pristine state. Along the western side of the Canal is the Parque Nacional Soberania (Sovereignty National Park) which includes Summit botanical gardens and a zoo. In this national park, the best known trail is the Pipeline Road, very popular among birdwatchers.

Urban Problems

Panama City from the San Felipe Market.
Due to lack of urban planning throughout several decades, Panama is now facing several urban problems. With the large number of condominiums and office buildings being built, population density is increasing far beyond what was previously expected. Neighborhoods like El Cangrejo and El Carmen, originally designed for a density of 10,000 inhabitants per square kilometer (26,000/sq mi) are now reaching 35,000 inhabitants per square kilometer (91,000/sq mi). The city's downtown streets are overcrowded with cars, creating traffic and air pollution problems. In addition, Panama City's existing water supply piping system is not receiving enough maintenance and this is causing several water pollution related problems. Another important problem is the shape of the city: Panama has grown following the shape of a narrow strip along the coast as it expands to the northeast. This is mainly because Panama is limited in the south by the Pacific Ocean, in the north by the protected lands of the Metropolitan Park and other national parks of the Panama Canal Basin, and in the west with the Panama Canal itself. Subsequently Panama has expanded mostly eastwards, in an irregular funnel-like shape.

Economic overview

Panama has a total of more than 80 banks, more than 15 of them being national. The city also boasts several tourist attractions, and is a stopover for other nearby destinations in the country as well as a tourist destination in its own right. The city is also responsible for the production of about 55% of the country's GDP. This is because most businesses and premises are located in the city and its metro area. Nowadays tourism is the most important economic activity in terms of revenue generation. The hotel occupancy rate is the 2nd highest (84.7 percent) in the world after Perthmarker, Australia and followed by Dubaimarker (84.5 percent).

The communications systems are highly developed and are among Central America's most reliable. Internet use is widespread due to Panama's high income.

Developers and investors from around the world are showing massive attraction towards the Panama real estate market. This attraction is caused by the fact that the country’s canal is planned for expansion and many other such developments are likely to take place in the country that will lead it to reach an economically developed state of worth US$12 billion.


Downtown Panama from the yacht club.
Panama currently has more than 110 high-rise projects being constructed, with 127 high-rise buildings already built. It currently holds the 65th place in the world by highrise buildings count.

The Centennial Bridge, that crosses the Panama Canal earned the American Segmental Bridge Institute prize of excellence together with 7 other bridges in the Americas.

Panama City has full access to electric service, potable water, sewer lines, telephone, cable TV service, and internet service. Telecommunications are very advanced after the privatization of the national telecommunication company in the mid-1990s. Cell phone service is also very accessible.Panama City has for years boasted some of the cleanest, best-tasting water in the world. Tap water quality is excellent throughout the City metropolitan areas.
Hospital Nacional.


Panama Province counts with 12 hospitals. Around 45% of Panama Province's physicians are located in Panama City.

Panama offers good-quality medical care and modern hospitals in the metropolitan area, however, the more isolated the location, the harder it is to access these services. The hospitals offer first-rate medical care. Many Panamanian doctors are U.S. trained, and the standards at the top hospitals compare favorably to those in the United States. For these reason, Panama City is a common destination of medical tourism.


Tocumen International Airport, the main airport serving the city.
Panama's international airport, Tocumen International Airportmarker has two runways and is located on the eastern outskirts of the city where it is easily accessible. There are direct flights between Tocumen and New Yorkmarker, Newarkmarker, Washington D.C.marker, Los Angelesmarker, Houstonmarker, Dallasmarker, Orlandomarker, Miamimarker, Fort Lauderdalemarker, Atlantamarker, Amsterdammarker,Madridmarker, and all major cities in the Caribbean area, Central America and South America. Panama City also has a regional airport Marcos A. Gelabert, located in an area once occupied by Albrook Air Force Basemarker. Marcos A. Gelabert Airport is the main hub for regional flights within Panama and the Pearl Islandsmarker in the Pacific.Panama has an extensive and efficient, yet confusing to tourists, form of public transportation consisting of colorful painted buses colloquially known as . A is usually "customized" or painted with bright colors, usually depicting famous actors, politicians or singers. It is now popular all over the city (and also in neighboring towns) for bus drivers to personally customize the interior and exterior of their . There is also a bus terminal near the Marcos A. Gelabert airport which together with the airport serves as the main transport hub for the rest of the country. Panama City's only transportation problem includes frequent traffic jams due to the high levels of private transport ownership, per mile of traffic lane.


CD Plaza Amador.

Photographs of the city

Image:DirkvdM panama roofs.jpg|The belltower of the St. John Bosco Basilica.Image:Gateway_west_of_Casco_Viejo,_Panama_City.jpg|In Casco Viejo.Image:Street in Casco Vijeo jquarns.jpg|A Casco Viejo street paralleling the water, near to the Hospedaje Casco Viejo.Image:IMG_NAOS.JPG|Causeway connecting Naos, Perico and Flamenco Islands to the mainland. A bicycle path parallels the roadway.Image:PanamaCityFromNaos.jpg|Panama City at dusk as seen from the Bay of Panama.Image:Bridge_of_the_Americas_night.JPG|The entrance to the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean, the Bridge of the Americasmarker at night.Image:Panama from Isla Flamenco.JPG|Panama City seen from Isla Flamenco, an island linked to the city by Amador Causeway, a link made with rocks excavated from the Canal.Image:Plaza de Francia jquarns.jpg|French Plaza (Plaza de Francia) in Casco Viejo. In the image, a monument erected in the Plaza de Francia in honor of the workers and French engineers that participated in the construction of the Panama Canal.


  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. R√≠o Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.

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