Lake Gatún

We all think about the canal when someone mentions Panama. Being one of the world’s most impressive feats of engineering is no surprise, really, but what else do we know about this tiny country linking Central to South America? Here are some interesting facts you might not be aware of:

- Due to its serpentine shape, Panama is the only country in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and sent in the Atlantic. And you can swim in both oceans on the same day.

- Panama’s Isla de Coiba served as a penal colony for 85 years, housing some of the country’s most dangerous criminals – comparable with Alcatraz. Nowadays, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and remains mostly in an unspoiled natural state.

- In 1821, when Central America revolted against Spain, Panama joined Colombia, which had already declared its independence, and then tried, for the next 82 years, to break away from it. Between 1850 and 1900 Panama had 40 administrations, 50 riots, 5 attempted secessions, and 13 US interventions. After a US proposal for canal rights over the narrow isthmus was rejected by Colombia, Panama proclaimed its independence with US backing in 1903.

- Panama has to most diversified wildlife of all the countries in Central America and it is home to north as well as South American species.

- It uses the US dollar for bills but the national currency is called Balboa. Bank notes are not printed, so since 1904 the US dollar has been the legal tender and US coins are interchangeable with Panamanian coins of the same denominations since similar sizes and metals are used.

- Costing nearly USD 8 million, the Panama Canal Railroad was the most expensive railroad ever built and it took five years (1850-55). It is the oldest operating railway in the world, bringing passengers from Panama City to Colon and back.

- The lowest toll paid to cross the Panama Canal was U$0.36 by Richard Halliburton who swam the canal in 1928.

- It is the most industrialised country and, at the same time, has the lowest population in Central America.

- Panama City is the only capital city with a rainforest within its limits.

- It is the second country (after Costa Rica) in the Americas without a standing army. They did away with it on February 1990, after the US invaded the country in 1989 in order to get rid of Manuel Noriega, the then Panamanian leader and de facto dictator.

- Seven out of 10 Panamanians haven’t heard the song “Panama” by Van Halen (actually, I can’t prove this. And I don’t blame them, anyway, if that’s the case!)

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