Is it safe to hire a car and drive in Panama?
Hiring a car and driving within Panama City is little different from many other south and central american cities. Expect congestion and busy roads and it's no less safe than anywhere else in the region. If you need to drive outside of Panama City, road conditions deteriorate quickly and hiring a 4x4 might be wise. You should also try to avoid driving at night or during the hours of darkness where possible to minimise the risk.
Can you drive a hire car from Panama to Costa Rica?
Whilst you can drive from Panama into Costa Rica (subject to border controls), none of the car hire companies in Panama permit international / cross border travel.
Mini Guide to Panama
58km (36 miles) divides the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Panama at the country's narrowest point. It was from a peak in Daricn as the isthmus was then known that in 1513 the Spaniard Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to sight the world's greatest ocean. Ever since, Panama has been a routeway from the Caribbean and Atlantic to the Pacific.
The country is lucky in having a break in its backbone chain of mountains, a pass only 87m (285 ft) above sea level, which allowed a relatively easy way across. But dense forest covers much of the country. In addition, Panama was at least until the beginning of this century very unhealthy.
At first the crossing was by track, later by railway and finally by canal. Until the early 1800s. Silver from Peru was carried across the isthmus to be loaded into Spanish galleons. However, attacks by British 'pirates' such as Henry Morgan and Admiral Vernon helped prevent the route and the colony from prospering - the main towns were looted and burnt on several occasions. By the mid-19th century, however, the railway from Colon on the Caribbean coast to Panama City on the Pacific was carrying goods and people from America's eastern states IQ the booming West. Completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 made the country a critical focus of international routes.
Panama achieved freedom from Spain in 1821, at the same time as neighbouring Colombia. Indeed. It remained part of Colombia until 1903. When an American inspired revolution led to a declaration of independence. Panama signed a treaty with the United States giving America control of a 16 km (10 mile) wide 'Panama Canal Zone' for a down-payment of $10 million, plus $250 000 a year. The Americans set about clearing the country of mosquitos and completing a canal which the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps had started in 1879, but abandoned in 1889. The first ship passed through.
The 82 km (51 mile) long waterway in 1914, and the project cost $350 million. In 1979 America returned sovereignty of the zone to Panama, which will take full control of the canal on December 31, 1999. The countries economy is heavily dependent on the canal: it imports much more than it exports, with most of the difference made up by financial services, tourism, and the services and goods it provides for the canal. Nearly a third of the work force are farmers. Cropland covers only about 5 per cent of the country, but produces the main staple food rice.
Over the years the government has tried to reduce Panama's dependence on the canal, but it is due mostly to the waterway that this is one of the richer nations in Latin America. A free-trade zone has been set up at Colon. The country is developing as a financial centre, with more than 100 international banks operating there. A huge merchant fleet of about 12,000 ships sails under the Panamanian flag. Most of them do so because registration fees are low and labour laws lenient.
The people are of mixed blood, although there are distinct communities of black descended from African slaves, whites and native Indian. The government has for long periods been dominated by the military, but the first elections for 12 years were held in 1980, and the first presidential election for 16 years took place in 1984.
- The Panama Canal generates a significant proportion of the countries GDP
- Is the fastest growing economy in Central America largely thanks to revenue from the Canal
- Panama City is the capital city