It’s a place many recognize by name, but few know much about. In this post, we’ll explore all things Panama. What is Panama? Where is Panama? What continent is Panama in? And what is the history of Panama?
What is Panama?
Officially the Republic of Panama, Panama is a Spanish-speaking country that links North America to South America. It has a population of about 4 million people, nearly half of whom live in Panama City, the capital of Panama.
Panama is surrounded by tropical plants and animals, and its jungles (which cover approximately 40% of the country’s land area) are home to creatures that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Where is Panama?
Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. It borders Costa Rica to the west. Colombia sits to the southeast. The Caribbean Sea is located on the north side, and the Pacific Ocean borders the south side of this country.
What Continent is Panama In?
Panama seems like it should be located in South America, but it’s actually part of North America. North America and South America connect at the Isthmus of Panama, and it is the only place where the two continental land masses are connected.
Despite being a definitive part of North America, there is no denying that Panama shares much in common with other countries in South America. It is the only North American country that shares a land border with South America (Colombia).
History of Panama
The first inhabitants of Panama were tribes known as the Cocle and Cuevas. The Cueva were the largest group in the region, with an estimated 200,000 people. When Europeans arrived and began to take over, most of the native population fled into the nearby forests and to the surrounding islands. In the years following European contact, these indigenous peoples would eventually be wiped out, unable to fight off the infectious diseases brought by colonizers.
The first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama was Rodrigo de Bastidas, who had sailed from Venezuela in 1501 looking for gold. In 1502, Christopher Columbus came to the area and established a settlement called Darien. In 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa came to Panama, eventually realizing that this isthmus was a path between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Panama soon became the crossroads and marketplace for Spain in the New World. Silver and gold were shipped from South America, carried across the isthmus, and then placed on ships that were headed to Spain. This route soon earned the name El Camino Real (The Royal Road).
For almost 300 years, Panama was ruled by the Spanish as part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Spanish did their best to exert control over the territory, but they actually had little success. The indigenous peoples in large sections of Panama resisted missionization and conquest until much later in the colonial era.
American Influence – The Panama Canal and Beyond
The lack of control in Panama made El Camino Real susceptible to attacks from pirates, and there were battles often. Eventually, with the aid of the US government, Panama was able to free itself from Spanish, and then Colombian, rule. Panama proclaimed their independence in 1903, and signed a treaty with the US that allowed them to build a canal connecting the two oceans. That canal, known as the Panama Canal, was completed in 1914.
Panama faced political strife and nefarious leaders throughout much of the 20th century. In 1989, the US sent troops to protect US citizens living in the country. The troops were also instructed to defend human rights and democracy, as well as fight drug trafficking. To the Americans, it was imperative that the Panama Canal remain neutral. Conflict ensued however, and several citizens were killed.
On December 29, 1989, the United Nations approved a resolution claiming that the US had violated international laws when it invaded Panama. Ultimately, the US would withdraw, but not before deposing de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega. Eventually, Panama was able to restore its government and bring peace to the region.
Panama’s culture draws influences from a mix of European (Spanish), Indigenous, and African sources. The intermixing of these distinct cultures has led to an extremely rich and diverse tradition of food and art.
Panama’s location as a bridge between two continents has influenced the country greatly, helping facilitate the interchange of goods like spices and herbs between different cultures. The traditional cuisine of the country includes ingredients from many places all over the world.
Both music and literature also reflect Panama’s diverse cultural heritage. When it comes to visual arts, the blended cultural influences can be seen in ceremonial masks, pottery, and wood carvings. It is also apparent in the area’s architecture and festivals.
Today, Panama continues to be a crossroads of commerce that connects two oceans to one another. It has also been a crossroads of cultures and various peoples, and these influences and cultural differences have been blended together to create a unique and exciting place.
Do you like learning about Latin America? Check out the following posts from the Sporcle Blog. Or test your trivia knowledge with some fun Latin America quizzes on Sporcle. You can start with the one below!
- The Capitals of South America
- South America Geography Facts
- Where Is Mexico?
- What Is Venezuela?
- What is the Capital of Bolivia?