Panama is in Central America, between Colombia and Costa Rica, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. The interior is mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains. Coastal areas consist largely of plains and rolling hills. The highest point is Volcan Baru. (See Wikipedia List of volcanoes in Panama.) Environmental issues include water pollution from agricultural runoff threatening fishery resources, deforestation of tropical rain forest, land degradation and soil erosion threating siltation of the Panama Canal, air pollution in urban areas, and mining threatening natural resources. Interestingly, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (STRI) has installed two tower construction cranes, known as canopy cranes, to provide access for researchers to the forest canopies at Parque Natural Metropolitano near Panama City, and Parque Nacional San Lorenzo near Colon.

Panama has two international Biosphere Reserves, Darién National Park and La Amistad International Park. Both parks are also inscribed as World Heritage. La Amistad is a transborder park, shared with Costa Rica. (See Wikipedia List of national parks of Panama.) The national environmental authority, ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente), is at any given time involved with a number of sustainable tourism development initiatives, for example CBMAP (Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano del Atlántico Panameño). Panama is a party to the Association of Caribbean States establishment of the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean (STZC).

30 minutes from the capital Panama City, Gamboa Rainforest Resort is near Soberania National Park, on the banks of the Chagres River (see also Chagres National Park). Canopy Tower operates two birding lodges, the Canopy Tower, not far from Panama City in Soberanía National Park, and the Canopy Lodge in the hills of El Valle de Anton. Lost and Found Lodge claims to be Panama’s only fully functioning “ecohostel” in the cloudforest of Fortuna Forest Reserve, out of the town of David. Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park is accessible from the popular resort of Bocas del Toro. Islas Secas is a private island “ecoresort”. Panama Outdoor Adventures offers zip-line canopy tours, river-tubing, and jungle camping on the Rio Piedra. Aventuras Panamá is a locally owned adventure travel agency based in Panama City.

Biosphere reserves:

  • Darién 1983
  • La Amistad 2000

IUCN members:


With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. With US help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999. Panama abolished its army in 1990, which was confirmed by a unanimous parliamentary vote for constitutional change in 1994. (See Wikipedia List of countries without armed forces.)

One of Panama’s most important archaeological sites, a pre-Columbian ceremonial and burial place, is now an archaeological park, near the modern town of the same name, El Caño. The Kuna people live in the Darien, between Panama and Colombia. The Kuna of the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala) have taken radical control of their own tourism policy by passing a tourism statute preventing outside entrepreneurs from owning tourism businesses or land. Ngäbe-Buglé is a comarca (or “reservation”) formed in 1997. (See Wikipedia categories Indigenous peoples in Panama and Comarcas of Panama.) A former animal trainer for film and TV, Anne Gordon, married into the village of Embera Puru, and now runs Embera Village Tours. Colorful expatiate Winston “Panama Jones” Rice has also lead tours to the Kuna and Embera since 1992.

World heritage:

  • Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (1980)
  • Darien National Park (1981)
  • Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park (1983, 1990) *
  • Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá (1997, 2003)
  • Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection (2005)

ICCROM members:


  • Indigenous tourism Guna (Panama): imaginaries and lie regimes of international tourist guides by XP Pérez, 2012
  • The Emberá, tourism and indigenous archaeology: ‘rediscovering’ the past in Eastern Panama by TE Mendizabal & D Theodossopoulos, 2012
  • Tourism sector in Panama: regional economic impacts and the potential to benefit the poor by I Klytchnikova, P Dorosh, 2012
  • Ecotourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama: The perceived effects of macro-scale laws and programs on the socio-economic and environmental development of micro-scale ecotourism operations by C Bedi, 2011
  • Ethnic tourism: the case of el Kuna Yala (Panama) by X Pereiro, JV Cuadros & MM Mauri, 2010
  • Tourists and Indigenous Culture as Resources: Lessons from Embera Cultural Tourism in Panama by D Theodossopoulos, 2010
  • Rediscovering the Camino Real of Panama: Archaeology and Heritage Tourism Potentials by C Strassnig, 2010
  • How tourism can (and does) benefit the poor and the environment-a case study from Panama by II Klytchnikova & PA Dorosh, 2009
  • A market segmentation analysis of cruise ship tourists visiting the Panama Canal Watershed: opportunities for ecotourism development by BB Thurau, AD Carver & JC Mangun, 2007
  • Tourism and Afro-Antillean Identity in Panama by C Guerrón-Montero, 2006
  • Pathways in the periphery: tourism to indigenous communities in Panama by SG Snow & CL Wheeler, 2000
  • Community Based Ecotourism In The Panama Canal Watershed by T Lumpkin, 1998
  • Conservation status of marine biodiversity and tourism in the coastal zones of Panama by I Tunon, 1998

Panama Data