Capital | Panama City
Population | 3,460,462 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 78,200 SQ KM
Official Language | Spanish
Holidays | Independence Day, 3 November (1903)
Currency | Balboa (PAB)
Time Zone | UTC -5
Best Time to Visit | Mid-December to mid-April (the dry season)
Connecting with the Culture | Bird watching at Cana, deep in the heart of Parque Nacional Darién. Watching a huge ship nudge its way through the Panama canal. Sampling the coffee in the cool mountain town of Boquete. Diving with the sea turtles on Archipelago de Bocas del Toro. Photographing the Spanish colonial architecture of Península de Azuero. Hiking through Parque Nacional Volcán Barú in search of the elusive quetzal.
Read | When New Flowers Bloomed, a collection of stories by women writers from Panama and Costa Rica. Tekkin’ a Waalk by Peter Ford includes a stroll along Panama’s Caribbean coast.
Listen | to Panamanian folk music on Samy and Sandra Sandoval’s Grandes Exito.
Watch | the Academy Award- winning documentary The Panama Deception by Barbara Trent, which investigates the US invasion of Panama.
Eat | sancocho (the national dish; a spicy chicken and vegetable stew) or carimañola I(a deep-fried roll of yucca filled with chopped meat).
Drink | chicheme (a delicious concoction of milk, sweet corn, cinnamon and vanilla) or seco (distilled from sugar cane, served with milk and ice).
In a Word | Vamos, pues (let’s go)
Characteristics | the umbilical cord between Central and South America; the world’s most famous shortcut; Manuel Noriega; Swiss banks; corrupt politicians; Panama hats.
Surprises | The Kuna Indians of the San Blas Archipelago run the 378 islands as an autonomous province, with minimal interference from the national government. They maintain their own economic system, language, customs and culture, with distinctive dress, legends, music, and dance.