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 with Colombia on the South American continent in the southeast.

It is located on the elongated S-shape Isthmus of Panama, the narrow land bridge that connects North America and South America.

The country's southern coastline on the Pacific Ocean stretches approximately 1,225 km (760 mi) its northern coastline on the Caribbean Sea 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.

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


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 which is where the Panama Canal is located.

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 Panama and the 12th highest peak in Central America.

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

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 wider 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.


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

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 both Atlantic and Pacific coastal marine areas.

Ecoregions of Panama