The Republic of Panama is the southernmost part of a natural land bridge connecting the continents of North and South America. It is considered one of the most global cities in Latin America, thanks to its international business center, the Panama Canal, and important ports registering a high volume of traffic on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides. Panama is among the three largest economies in Central America. It is a country rich in traditions, with one of the most modern skylines of Latin America, and its canal is a key conduit for international maritime trade.
The core of Panamanian culture rests on three categories: its folklore, which plays a central role in every festivity the country holds; its food, a mix of African, Spanish, and Native American techniques, dishes, and ingredients, reflecting its diverse population; and its love of music, from traditional local cumbia to salsa, merengue, Spanish reggae, and many other Caribbean rhythms. Local folklore can be learned through a multitude of festivals, dances, and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. One of the most visible expressions of Panamanian culture is its national garment, called the “Pollera,” which is a dress made of finely woven fabric on which intricate, brightly colored designs in lace are embroidered. The Pollera has been recognized as one of the world’s most elegant national dresses. Each takes about a year to complete and is adorned with fine replicas of pre-Columbian jewelry. Many traditional Panamanian dishes — such as tortillas, bollos, tamales, and empanadas — are made with corn, but its preparation is different from other Latin American recipes, since the kernel is first cooked in water and then ground in order to obtain a dough (as opposed to using corn flour to obtain the dough). Fresh corn is also used in some dishes.
Panama City is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Central America, yet it combines the historic and the ultra-modern, creating a unique landscape. Some are starting to dub Panama City “the Dubai of Central America” because of its modern skyscrapers — a sign of the city’s prosperous business district — and lively cultural city center. The “Cinta Costera” (Coastal Beltway), one of the newest roadways, beautifies the Bay of Panama City and provides recreational areas that have added to the attractiveness of the city. It received the 2015 Global Best Project in Roads and Highways award from Engineering News-Record in their annual competition.
Often branded as the “Crossroads of the Americas,” Panama is not only the geographical point where North America meets South America but also where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet in the country’s famed canal. Panama has been shaped by various cultures and traditions that come together to create a unique complexity and exotic country. Its ethnic diversity is reflected in the traditional products, as well is in its architecture, cuisine, and festivals. Panama is a place where the old and the new, nature and architecture, and culture and tradition come together, creating a uniqueness like no other.
Did you know…? Panama’s jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants, animals, and birds — some of which can be found nowhere else on the planet. The Isthmus of Panama is the only place in the world in which one can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic, due to a bend in the isthmus.
This is the sixteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.