A natural bridge
Scientists believe the formation of the Isthmus of Panama to be one of the most important geological events in the last 60 million years. It had an enormous impact on Earth’s climate and environment and also dramatically changed our continent’s biodiversity.
This geological event allowed plant and animal species to pass from North America to South America and vice-versa using the Isthmus as a natural bridge to populate new areas, which is mainly why Panama’s biodiversity is so amazing! For example, felines originally coming from North America successfully invaded the vast lands of the south, becoming top predators. On the other hand, toothless mammals such as sloths, armadillos and anteaters were able to migrate from South America to the forests of the north.
Today Panama hosts almost 1,000 species of birds (more than the US and Canada together!), as well as 220 species of mammals and more than 350 species of reptiles and amphibians.
As for plants, there are more than 1,800 tree species in the former Panama Canal Zone alone! In fact, there is no other capital in Latin America where you can walk on a rainforest trail searching for monkeys, sloths or toucans less than 30 minutes from your hotel downtown.
More than 30% of Panama’s territory is protected through 14 national parks and more than a dozen forest reserves and wildlife refuges.
A new ocean
The rising of the isthmus not only connected the American continent but it also separated the oceans, creating what we know today as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Panama’s natural landscape is greatly influenced by the country’s geography. The presence of two oceans so close to one another and our location not far away from the equator are essential to our annual rainfall patterns. Such abundant rainfall combined with warm temperatures creates the perfect environment for our thriving rainforests, found throughout much of the country.
Panama has four archipelagos, more than 1700 islands and islets, large extensions of mangrove and pristine coral reefs both in the Atlantic and the Pacific sides, which are home to a fascinating marine life. In the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea), the San Blas (Guna Yala) islands have been described as some of the most beautiful in the world. Towards the west we have the Bocas del Toro archipelago with the most incredible vegetation close to its beautiful beaches.
The Pacific Ocean’s particularly rich wildlife makes it a world class destination for deep sea fishing. From July to September humpback whales are a common sight around Las Perlas archipelago and the island of Coiba and much of the Pacific coastline. Coiba is the largest island in all of Central America, entirely covered with untouched primary rainforest and home to numerous endemic species.
Today what remains of the original volcanic unrest are two extinct volcanoes: Barú Volcano, the tallest peak in the country at approximately 3500 m and El Valle de Anton, a huge 5 km wide crater 100 km west of Panama City.