According to geotargit, there are 34 places in the world with the name Panama. Its website claims that there is a province in Cuba’s southeast named Granma that contains a town called Panama. It must be a very small town in Granma because no one lists it. Even travel books about Cuba do not acknowledge a town with this name on the island. I have concluded that there are really only 2 towns of consequence with the name Panama, and both of these Panamas are followed by the word “city”.
geotargit lists 10 states in America with a town named Panama. It says there are Panamas also in Uzbekistan and Nigeria. The largest of the US Panamas is in Oklahoma and is a town with fewer than 1,500 residents. The others are tiny as in too small to have a listed population or they are unincorporated. But there is a Panama City in Florida of consequence. It has about 37,000 people living in it.
The other Panama City is the one in the country of Panama. It’s a big city at the beginning of the Panama Canal on the Pacific side. I saw it from a distance as we entered the Panama Canal in mid-October, 2018, and in the photos I took atop this essay and just above. I also rode along Panama City’s harbor a couple of days ago on the exercise bike I mentioned yesterday. It seemed peaceful and prosperous. However, I found out that it’s one of the most crime-ridden communities in the world so I’m glad we did not go into it. I have heard stories about people who retired there and have regrets. Its high crime rate is not from petty stuff like camera grabbing. Its listed crimes include armed robbery, shootings, rape, and car theft.
The country of Panama is fairly new. It sits at the bottom of Central America on a narrow isthmus that has been a global crossroads since humans first arrived there. European explorers began arriving around 1499, just a few years after Columbus first landed in North America. The famous explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived in 1501 and became the first Westerner to cross to the Pacific Ocean 12 years later. Perhaps Panama City is so crime-ridden because it’s so close to the Darien Gap, one of the world’s most troubled areas that normal people go out of their way to avoid. Extra caution is advised if you plan to visit the country of Panama because of the crime. It’s also a health risk and known for drugs cartels. Panama City is large, and its architects clearly specialize in high-rise buildings. I learned that its population might be anywhere from 430,000 to 880,000 and that its metro area is about 1.5 million.
Where did the word Panama come from? It’s associated with a type of wide brimmed hat usually made from straw, butterflies, and a species of tree. But most word authorities now accept that the word derives from an indigenous word meaning an abundance of fish. The United States ceased to run this country where it built a canal in 1999 when it turned governing over to local Panamanians. The official currency of Panama is the balboa, but it’s tied to the US dollar that the country still uses as its currency. One balboa equals 1 US dollar.