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Panama is the crossroads of the Americas.

Situated on the thinnest part of the Central American Isthmus, where north becomes south and south becomes north, it straddles both continents with a confident air.

Panama’s confidence has, in recent years, grown, as its economy has boomed and the gleaming towers and skyscrapers of its cosmopolitan capital city have sprouted up.

In short, Panama is more – much, much more – than a canal.

It’s a destination in its own right. And a beacon of hope for Central America, as the first country in the region to start the transition from “developing” to “first-world.”

Of course, it will be a while before Panama becomes “first-world”. But out of all seven nations in Central America, it’s the furthest along in that aspect. The ironic thing is that Panama doesn’t particularly see itself as Central American.

Its history is different. It has always looked and felt both more North American and more South American at the same time.

Nowadays, Panama would identify itself more as a player on the international stage rather than a regional one.

Panama is a small country, but it still has its eyes on the big prize. Its location at one of the world’s principal crossroads ensures that it is a contender to one day receive it.

Five Facts About Panama

  1. Panama is the only country in the world where you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set over the Atlantic. The country’s s-shape means that the general rule in the Americas of the Atlantic Ocean being “east” and the Pacific being “west” doesn’t always ring true. In fact, in Panama, it’s more like the Pacific is south and the Atlantic is north. Regardless, watching the sun rise where it should set and set where it should rise is an experience. And you can watch them both on the same day. Oh – and the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal is west of the Pacific entrance, too.
  2. Panama City is the only capital city in the world that has a rainforest within its city limits. The Parque Natural Metropolitano (Metropolitan National Park) is 265 hectares of pure jungle located 10 minutes from the skyscrapers of central Panama City.
  3. The Panama Canal collects around $2 billion in tolls each year from ships passing through. The toll amount is based on the size of the ship and the volume of cargo, and the average toll is $54,000. The smallest toll to pass through the canal was 36 cents, paid by American Richard Halliburton when he swam through the canal in 1928. The most expensive toll (so far), paid by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in 2011, was $375,600.
  4. Panama is one of the few countries in the world that managed to thrive during the 2007-09 economic crisis. While the rest of the world was tanking, Panama recorded a four percent growth in 2009 and double-digit growth in 2010 and 2011.
  5. The Panamerican (or Interamerican) Highway is the longest road in the world, running from Alaska in the north to the bottom of Chile in the south. The only place where this road breaks is in the Darien area, which lies on the border between Panama and Colombia. Even now, in the 21st century, the Darien Gap is too wild and dangerous to breach.