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Panama bietet traumhafte Strände, Bild: Stefan Neumann / shutterstock

Panama – two oceans and a canal


“Panama,” said the little bear, “Panama is our dream country, because it smells of bananas from top to bottom…” And then he set off with the tiger to the supposed dreamland, which the two never reached in Janosch’s children’s book. Rather, some time later, they realized that the country of their dreams was not to be found in central America, but on their own doorstep. “Oh, how beautiful is Panama” is the title of this sympathetic bestseller. And Janosch was undoubtedly right in his assessment, because Panama is indeed beautiful. Very beautiful, in fact, because it consists of lush pastures, white beaches with many palm trees, a breathtaking jungle and cities worth seeing from the colonial era of the country. And then there is the Panama Canal, which is still of paramount importance for world shipping because it spares the giants of the seas the detour via South America on their journey from San Francisco to New York .

Panama, Panama Canal
The Panama Canal, Image: Galina Savina / shutterstock

The floods of two oceans wash around the country – the Atlantic and the Pacific. In some places, Panama is so narrow that the idea of a canal was born early on. After all, the sea route was shortened by a whopping almost 15,000 kilometres. The North Americans in particular had a great interest in the realization of this bold plan for economic and strategic reasons. Thus, the United States was the owner of the important waterway until the end of the last century. Actually, the French diplomat’s offspring Ferdinand de Lesseps had also wanted to build the Panama Canal, because it had already rendered outstanding services to the Suez Canal. But in the late 19th century, his plan failed because malaria killed seven of his workers every day and drove de Lesseps into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy estate was acquired by American President Theodore Roosevelt, thus securing American dominance in Panama.

Panama, Panama City
Panama City, Image: Gualberto Becerra / shutterstock

On August 15, 1914, two hundred passengers stood at the railing when the mail steamer “Ancona” became the first ship to cross the 82 kilometers of the canal. Three locks have to be passed, which compensates for the difference to Lake Gatun. The Panama Canal is still hailed as a marvel of engineering, and tourists on board praise the scenic beauty on both shores near the Soberiania National Park. The tropical rainforest is home to numerous endangered animals, and the cries of capuchin monkeys and colorful parrots accompany travelers on their leisurely passage.

UNESCO has placed some of Panama’s scenic and historical wonders on its World Heritage List. For example, the Spanish fortresses of San Lorenzo and Portobelo as well as the old town of Panama City with the mighty cathedral from 1796 and those ruins that are the work of destruction by the Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan. In his heyday, said Morgan was the commander-in-chief of no less than 36 ships.

Where is the Southern Cross? This is a question that many holidaymakers near the equator ask themselves. On the enchanting Robinson Islands off Panama, the stars have a particularly intense shine. On Isla Colon with its Bocas del Toro National Park, there is even a “Beach of the Stars”. But this is more due to the numerous starfish that can be found here near the beach. This is the ancestral region of the Kuna Indians, and since they gained sovereignty over the San Blas region after a rebellion, any tourist who wants to enter one of the almost deserted islands must submit an application to the Kuna village council.

The Indians of the Embera tribe are also proud owners of their land. They accompany vacationers in their canoes on the Chagres River, which winds lazily through Panama’s deep jungle. Panama has many faces, and those who are good on their feet and do not suffer from shortness of breath are even drawn up to the picture-book volcano Baru.

Travel information Panama

Capital Panama City
Form of government Republic
Presidential democracy
Currency Balboa (PAB)
U.S. Dollar (USD)
Area approx. 75,517 km²
Population approx. 4,098,000 (2017)
Languages Spanish
Electricity grid 110 volts, 60 Hz (Panama City 120 volts)
Area code +507
Time zone UTC-5