The Republic of Panama is the southernmost country of Central America and is situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America. It is bordered by Costa Rica in the west and Colombia to the southeast.

The Caribbean Sea lies to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south – in former times the Caribbean was called the North Sea and the Pacific the South Sea, all thanks to Panama’s west/east orientation (which is why we still call islands such as Tahiti the South Sea islands). Contrary to popular belief, Panama extends west/east and not north/south; in fact, it lies below (south) of the northern part of South America, jutting out from the continent to the west, before Central America curves north to the USA from Costa Rica onwards. This has great relevance for earthquakes and hurricanes.

Panama is lucky in that it falls outside of the hurricane belt (the storms being deflected away by the northern mountainous bulge of South America) and has also been spared major earthquakes because its west/east orientation takes it away from the north/south fault line (which runs far from Panama City in the Pacific, beyond the Pearl Islands). This is one of the reasons the Americans decided to build the Canal here and not in one of the neighboring countries. Mild tremors, however, do occur from time to time.

The capital is Panama City (Ciudad de Panamá), which lies on the Pacific Ocean. The Panamanians from the interior call the city just Panamá (with the accent on the last a). It’s also referred to as “la capital”. Few people call it “la ciudad”.

The second city in the country, Colon (Spanish for Columbus) on the Atlantic / Caribbean, harbours the Colon Free Trade Zone, the second largest in the world after Hong Kong. The Caribbean side of the mountainous spine that runs through the country has much higher rainfall than the Southern (Pacific) side. Only a small percentage of the Caribbean coast is accessible by car. Plans, however, are in the offing for the building of a bridge across the Chagres River and to build a road between Colon and Bocas del Toro to the west.

Other sizeable towns include David, Santiago and Chitre. Panama lies in line with Florida and therefore shares the same time zone as Miami which is just two hours away by plane. However, Panama does not have summer and winter time.

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