Located in Central America, Panama borders the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The country lies between Costa Rica and Colombia and is the linchpin between North and South America. A little smaller than South Carolina, Panama’s sun rises to the east over the Pacific. Divided into nine provinces and the Comarca de San Blas, Panama’s provincial borders have not changed since the country declared independence in 1903. Each province is further divided into corregimientos, a form of town-based government dating back to the Spanish conquest. The corregimientos change periodically based on census reports.
Panama’s Caribbean coastline has several good natural harbors such as Cristóbal, which lies at the terminus of the Canal. The islands of the Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro, near the Costa Rican border, provide a place where ships can lie at anchor and shields the banana port of Almirante. Near Colombia lay the more than 350 Islas de San Blas. On the Pacific Coast of Panama, Balboa is the major port. The main islands are those of the Archipiélago de las Perlas. These reside in the middle of the Gulf of Panama. Panama boasts more than 1,000 islands off of its Pacific Coast in total.
The dominant feature of the country’s landscape is a centralized spine of mountains and hills cutting a swath through the nation, creating the continental divide between North and South America. Called the Cordillera de Talamanca near the Costa Rican border, the range becomes known as the Serranìa de Tabasará as you move further east. The closer you get to the Isthmus of Panama (or Darien, as it used to be called), near the famous Canal, the mountains are known as the Sierra de Veraguas. As a general rule, the range stretching from Costa Rica and the canal is called the Cordillera Central.
The highest point in Panama is the Volcán Barú, which used to be called the Volcán de Chiriquí. It reaches nearly 3,500 meters. The apex of the volcano contains some of Panama’s richest soil. Despite the fact that the structure has been inactive for millennia, it is still referred to as a volcano.
More than 500 rivers exist in and around Panama. Many are unnavigable. However, the Ríos Chepo and Chagres provide hydroelectric power. In fact, the Chagres is one of the longest and most vital of the 150 rivers that flow into the Caribbean Ocean. Part of the Chagres was closed off to create Gatun Lake, forming a transit route near each end of the Panama Canal. Gatun Lake and Madden Lake, which is also filled with water from the Chagres River, provide power for the area of the former Canal Zone.
Near the Colombian border, the mountains extend into the Andean region. There is also extensive jungle area that creates difficulties for travelers. This area, which is known as The Darien Gap, causes a break in the Pan-American Highway. The Pan-American Highway is a stretch of road from Alaska to Patagonia (in Southern Argentina) that connects North America to Central America to South America.
A land of tropical and insular beauty, Panama does not struggle with the hurricanes or tornadoes that plague other Central American nations. Earthquakes have also not touched Panama in recent memory. Temperatures are relatively high as is humidity. However, temperatures on the Isthmus side in the Pacific region are on the lower side (at least by Caribbean standards). The rainy season is usually from April to December and one can expect between 1.3 to 3 meters to fall during that time annually. Due to the tropical nature of the region, one can expect many forests and much swampland in Panama.