Panama: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Panama: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Sun, 10/16/2022 - 22:24
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Panama is the southernmost country of Central America, located on the elongated S-shape Isthmus of Panama, the narrow land bridge that connects North and South America. Its landscape consists of three major physical regions: mountains, coastal lowlands, and archipelagos.

Geography of Panama

Panama is the southernmost country of Central America, sharing a border with Costa Rica in the northwest and Colombia on the South American continent in the southeast. It is bounded to the north by the Caribbean Sea and to the south by the Pacific Ocean.

The country is located on the elongated S-shape Isthmus of Panama, the narrow land bridge that connects North America and South America. It is renowned as the site of the Panama Canal, which cuts through its midsection.

Its coastline on the Pacific Ocean stretches approximately 1,225 km (760 mi), and its Caribbean coastline is about 760 km (470 mi) in length. Its sandy beach coastlines merge into forested lowlands that rise into the foothills of the inland mountain ranges.

Biodiversity

According to the Global Biodiversity Index, Panama is the 25th most biodiverse country in the world, with 885 bird species, 228 amphibian species, 1,428 species of fish, 252 species of mammals, 279 species of reptiles, and 10,462 species of vascular plants.

Climate

Panama has a hot and humid tropical climate, with a long rainy season from May to January and a short dry season from January to May.

Map of Central America

Location map of the countries of Central America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Panama

Physical Regions

Panama's landscape consists of three major physical regions:

  • Mountains

  • Coastal Lowlands

  • Archipelagos

Mountains

Panama has two principal mountain ranges that run down its center in both the east and west, extending almost the entire length of the country:

  • the Tabasará Mountains (Cordillera Central) in the west

  • the Cordillera de San Blas in the east

These ranges form the Continental Divide, separating the Pacific-facing slopes from the Caribbean-facing slopes. They are separated near the center of the country by a saddle of lower land, where the Panama Canal is located.

A lower mountain arc extends along the country's southern coast, appearing only in separate segments.

The country's highest peak is Volcán Barú (Volcán de Chiriquí). The dormant volcano reaches an elevation of 3,475 m (11,400 ft), the highest point in the country and the 12th highest peak in Central America.

Relief map of Panama

Relief map of Panama

Coastal Lowlands

Panama's extensive coastal lowlands make up more than 85% of the country's total land area.

The Pacific coastline is more indented and irregular, and its continental shelf is much broader than that on the Caribbean side, where the largest embayment is Chiriquí Lagoon.

Like the Pacific lowlands, the Atlantic lowlands contain forest and farmland. They begin with the Chiriqui Gulf to the west and continue east with the Azuero Peninsula jutting south to define the Gulf of Panama.

Darien Province, in the east, is a sparsely populated land of rainforests and swamps bordered by high mountain peaks. The Darian Gap, fronting the border with Colombia, is an inhospitable, almost impassable thick jungle.

Archipelagos

There are more than 1,600 islands off Panama's northern (Caribbean) and southern (Pacific) coasts.

The northern coastline is lined by hundreds of small islands that form the Bocas del Torro Archipelago near the Costa Rican border and the San Blas Archipelago to the east near Colombia.

Most of Panama's islands lie off its Pacific coast, where the waters are extraordinarily shallow. They include the Pearl Islands (Perlas Archipelago) and the islands of Taboga, Cébaco, Parida, Jicarón, and Coiba.

Coiba Island is the largest island in Central America and is protected by Coiba National Park, a World Heritage site.

Topographic map of Panama

Topographic map of Panama

Bodies of Water

  • Gulf of Panama

  • Gulf of Montijo

  • Gulf of Chiriquí

Primary Rivers

Panama has many (nearly 500) short rivers. Mostly unnavigable, many originate as swift highland streams, meander in valleys and form coastal deltas.

The primary rivers that flow to the Caribbean Sea include:

  • Chagres River: the largest river in the Panama Canal's watershed

  • Sixaola River

  • Changuinola River

  • Indio River

  • Cricamola River

  • La Miel River

The primary rivers flowing to the Pacific Ocean include:

  • Chiriquí Viejo River

  • Santa María River

  • Chepo River

  • Chucunaque River

  • Tuira River

Notable Lakes

  • Chiriquí Lagoon

  • Bayano Lake

  • Gatún Lake

  • Blue Lagoon

  • Lake Alajuela (Madden)

  • San Carlos Lagoon

  • Miraflores Lake

  • Kampia Lake

  • Madden Lake

Map of Panama

Map of Panama

Natural Regions

Panama is covered in tropical forests and wetlands and possesses Atlantic and Pacific coastal marine areas.

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Panama, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Panama is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Panamanian dry forests

Montane grasslands and shrublands

Mangroves

  • Bocas del Toro-San Bastimentos Island-San Blas mangroves

  • Gulf of Panama mangroves

  • Moist Pacific Coast mangroves

Vegetation map of Panama

Vegetation map of Panama

Administrative Divisions

Administratively, Panama is divided into ten provinces, and four indigenous regions (comarcas) are considered equivalent to a province. The head of each province is the governor, appointed by the President.

The provinces are divided into municipal districts subdivided into magistracies. Each is subdivided into districts and townships.

In addition, two indigenous regions within provinces are considered equivalent to a municipality.

Provinces (capital cities in parentheses):

  • Bocas del Toro (Bocas del Toro)

  • Chiriquí (David)

  • Coclé (Penonomé)

  • Colón (Colón)

  • Darién (La Palma)

  • Herrera (Chitré)

  • Los Santos (Las Tablas)

  • Panamá (Panama City)

  • Panamá Oeste (La Chorrera)

  • Veraguas (Santiago de Veraguas)

Indigenous Regions:

  • Emberá-Wounaan (Unión Chocó)

  • Guna Yala (Gaigirgordub)

  • Ngöbe-Buglé (Llano Tugrí)

  • Naso Tjër Di (Sieyic)

Indigenous Municipal-level Regions

  • Guna de Madugandí (Panamá province)

  • Guna de Wargandí (Darién province)

Map depicting the administrative divisions of Panama

Map depicting the administrative divisions of Panama