What You Need To Know
Panama City is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama. It has an urban population of 430,299, and its population totals 880,691 with 1,526,421 in its metropolitan area. The city is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the province of Panama. The city is the political and administrative center of the country, as well as a hub for international banking and commerce. It is considered a “Beta-” world city, one of three Central American cities listed in this category.
Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Central America, offers daily flights to major international destinations. Panama was chosen as the 2003 American Capital of Culture jointly with Curitiba, Brazil. It is among the top five places for retirement in the world, according to International Living Magazine.
The city of Panama was founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávila. The city was the starting point for expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent, leading to the fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, through which passed most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas.
On January 28, 1671, the original city (see Panamá Viejo) was destroyed by a fire when privateer Henry Morgan sacked and set fire to it. The city was formally reestablished two years later on January 21, 1673, in a peninsula located 8 km (5 miles) from the original settlement. The site of the previously devastated city is still in ruins and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Population: 880,691 (2010)
Panamá is located between the Pacific Ocean and tropical rain forest in the northern part of Panama. The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Nature Park), stretching from Panama City along the Panama Canal, has unique bird species and other animals, such as tapir, puma, and caimans. 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, managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Tropical forests around Panama are vital for the functioning of the Panama Canal, providing it with the water required for its operation. Due to the canal’s importance to the Panamanian economy, tropical forests around the canal have been kept in an almost pristine state; the canal is thus a rare example of a vast engineering project in the middle of a forest that helped to preserve that forest. Along the western side of the canal is the Parque Nacional Soberanía (Sovereignty National Park), which includes the Summit botanical gardens and a zoo. The best known trail in this national park is Pipeline Road, popular among birdwatchers.
Nearly 500 rivers lace Panama’s rugged landscape. Most are unnavigable; many originate as swift highland streams, meander in valleys, and form coastal deltas. However, the Río Chepo and the Río Chagres, both within the boundaries of the city, work as sources of hydroelectric power.
The Río Chagres is one of the longest and most vital of the approximately 150 rivers that flow into the Caribbean. Part of this river was dammed to create Gatun Lake, which forms a major part of the transit route between the locks near each end of the canal. Both Gatun Lake and Madden Lake (also filled with water from the Río Chagres) provide hydroelectricity to the former Canal Zone area. The Río Chepo, another major source of hydroelectric power, is one of the more than 300 rivers emptying into the Pacific.
Under the Köppen climate classification, Panama City has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw), a little drier than a tropical monsoon climate. It sees 1,900 mm (74.8 in) of precipitation annually. The wet season spans from May through December, and the dry season spans from January through April. Temperatures remain constant throughout the year, averaging around 27 °C (81 °F). Sunshine is subdued in Panama because it lies in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, where there is a nearly continual cloud formation, even during the dry season.
As the economic and financial center of the country, Panama City’s economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. The economy depends significantly on trade and shipping activities associated with the Panama Canal and port facilities located in Balboa. Panama’s status as a convergence zone for capital from around the world due to the canal helped the city establish itself as a prime location for offshore banking and tax planning. Consequently, the economy has relied on accountants and lawyers who help global corporations navigate the regulatory landscape. The city has benefited from significant economic growth in recent years, mainly due to the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, an increase in real estate investment, and a relatively stable banking sector. There are around eighty banks in the city, at least fifteen of which are national.
Panama City is responsible for the production of approximately 55% of the country’s GDP. This is because most Panamanian businesses and premises are located in the city and its metro area. It is a stopover for other destinations in the country, as well as a transit point and tourist destination in itself.
Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in terms of revenue generation. This sector of the economy has seen a great deal of growth since the transfer of the Panama Canal Zone at the end of the twentieth century. The number of hotel rooms increased by more than ten-fold, from 1,400 in 1997 to more than 15,000 in 2013, while the number of annual visitors increased from 457,000 in 1999 to 1.4 million in 2011. The city’s hotel occupancy rate has always been relatively high, reaching the second highest for any city outside the United States in 2008, after Perth, Australia, and followed by Dubai. However, hotel occupancy rates have dropped since 2009, probably due to the opening of many new luxury hotels. Several international hotel chains, such as Le Méridien, Radisson, and RIU, have opened or plan to open new hotels in the city, along with those previously operating under Marriott, Sheraton, InterContinental, and other foreign and local brands. Also, the Trump Organization is building the Trump Ocean Club, its first investment in Latin America, and Hilton Worldwide recently opened its first Garden Inn Panama, at Eusebio A. Morales Avenue and 49A Street West, and more recently The Panamera, the second Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Latin America.
Panama’s international airport, Tocumen International Airport is located on the eastern outskirts of the city’s metropolitan area. Two other airports serve Panama City: Panamá Pacífico, previously the Howard Air Force Base, and Marcos A. Gelabert, previously the Albrook Air Force Base. Pacífico serves VivaColombia and Wingo, while Marcos A. Gelabert Airport is the main hub for AirPanama. All other flights are served by Tocumen.
There are frequent traffic jams in Panama City due to the high levels of private transport ownership per kilometre of traffic lane. In an attempt to curb traffic jams, President Ricardo Martinelli has brought forward the citywide Panama Metro, initially 14 km (9 mi) long, stretching across the city.
The bus terminal located in Ancon offers buses in and out of the city. Bus service is one of the most widely used forms of transportation in Panama. The terminal receives thousands of passengers daily from locations like David, Chiriqui, and the central provinces of Herrera and Los Santos. The terminal also receives international passengers from Central America via the Pan-American Highway.
Panama City offers transportation services through yellow taxis. Taxis do not use a meter to measure fares, instead using a zone system for fares that is published by the Autoridad de Transito y Transporte Terrestre, Panama’s transit authority.