Find out about the interesting North American / Central American country of Panama, most famous for the Panama Canal, and download our collection of printable activities to use with the kids.
The Panama Canal
A Little Geography:
- Panama is the southernmost country in Central America, and links Central America (with Costa Rica on its northern border) with South America (with Colombia on its southern border).
- Its population is just over 4 million.
A colourful bus in Panama City
- Panama's official language is Spanish.
- Panama's capital is Panama City. Almost half the population lives there.
A view of Panama City
A Little History:
- Panama was inhabited by indigenous people when the Spanish explorer, Rodrigo de Bastidas, arrived in 1502 and claimed the country for the Spanish.
- Panama was an exciting prospect, as this narrow country formed a bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1513, Vasco de Balboa proved its importance by trekking from one to the other. Suddenly, Panama was a major trading centre! For many years the Spanish brought their New World silver and gold into the country, transported it across the country, and shipped it over to Spain. It was a slow and dangerous land journey.
- It took over 300 years for Panama to become independent of Spain. When independence was won in 1921, Panama joined up with Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Nueva Granada (now known as Colombia) to form the union of Gran Colombia. That union dissolved in 1930 but Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined, and later became the Republic of Colombia.
- In 1903, Panama made an agreement with the US to allow it to build and control the Panama Canal, and separated from Colombia to become fully independent - although in practice the US remained involved until 1999, when Panama took control of the Panama Canal.
- Panama uses American dollar notes but its official currency is the balboa.
- Although you might think Panama hats come from Panama - they don't! They come from Ecuador, but were shipped first to Panama and then onwards to Europe and other parts of the world. People named them Panama hats because they thought they originated in Panama.
Panama hats - from Ecuador!
The Panama Canal:
- It is thought that the idea of a Panama canal - linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans - was first investigated in the 16th century by Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, who ordered a survey to find out if building a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama (an "isthmus" is a narrow strip of land with sea on either side) was possible.
- The French tried to build a canal in the 19th century, but it was a disaster both financially and in human terms, with over 20,000 workers dying from tropical diseases. Gustave Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower, was involved, and charged with fraud when the project collapsed!
- The successful Panama Canal was begun in 1904 by the US, and finished in 1914. It is 77km (48 miles) long, and raises ships 26 metres (85 ft) above sea level through a series of locks.
- When you pass through the Panama Canal you have to pay a toll, which is calculated according to the size and type of vehicle, number of passengers and/or cargo. The smallest toll ever paid was 36 cents, charged to a man who swam through the canal in 1928! Larger ships can run up tolls of up to $450,000, or £350,000!
- It takes about 8 hours to travel through the Panama Canal. A specially trained pilot takes control of each vessel.