Monday, March 31, 2014

Panama: punching well above its weight on several fronts (not all good)

The dear wife and I were in Panama last week. While I'll get back to blogging on SLC and US items soon, I thought I’d note a few things that you might not have known about Panama.
Yes, this is in Central America

Visitors to the country receive free health insurance during their stay (up to 30 days). This coverage covers not only medical emergencies, but also helps with dental issues, provides legal assistance in case of accidents or lost/stolen documents.

Panama has not had a single case of polio since 1972, yellow fever since 1974, diphtheria since 1981, or cholera since 1993.* As with much of the tropical world, however, dengue and malaria still have not been eradicated.

Voting is required of all residents, however no fine is assessed if one doesn’t vote. Note that voting is also compulsory in Peru, Brazil, and Australia (the latter of which assess fines up to $170). Panama saw 69% voter turnout in their last presidential election, versus 58% for the US.

Panama’s first female president, Mireya Moscoso, served from 1999-2004.

Presidents are only allowed to serve a single 5 year term.

Panama City boasts a 67 story building called the Point, which is the tallest all-residential building in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite being very car-centric, Panama City has a population density almost five times that of SLC (7,656 versus 1,666 people per sq mile).

Panama City is trying to become the Singapore of Latin America (and appears well on its way).

Despite its prospering capital, 85% of people in Panama's indigenous regions "cannot afford enough calories for an adequate diet."

In the last half of the 20th century, Panama lost nearly half of its “remaining primary forests” (5.4 million acres).*

Between Panama and Columbia there is ~60 miles of uninterrupted rain forest called the Darien Gap. This area noted both for its undisturbed natural beauty and the guerillas, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers who’ve encroached into the area (partially because of Columbia’s civil war).

Relatedly, the Pan-American highway (which is ~30,000 miles long) stops at the town of Yaviza, Panama at the edge of the Darien. There are no roads or scheduled ferries linking Panama and Columbia.

From David to Santiago (~120 miles) the Pan-American highway (the main thoroughfare in Panama) is a two lane road that has no shoulders or lane markings.

The Panama Canal can currently transit ships which can hold up to 5,000 20-ft containers:

When the lock expansion project finishes in 2015, the canal will be able to handle vessels hauling ~13,000 20-ft containers.

Go when you can.

*From the Moon guide to Panama (published 2013).


  1. Cool! I'm glad you guys got to go! I also wanted to say I enjoyed your posts about air quality in SLC; I sometimes use this as a sample topic for my writing students and when I use it again in the future I'll be even more informed thanks to your posts!

  2. Thanks! Glad to be of help (and glad you're blogging again!).