Panama - is the southernmost country of Central America. A transcontinental country, its isthmus constitutes the southernmost part of a natural land bridge between the continents of North America and South America. It borders Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south.
Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its location on the eastern end of the isthmus forming a landbridge connecting Central and South America is strategic. By 1999, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean.
A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. It creates a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Chile.
The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. Ethnically, the majority of the population is mestizo or mixed Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and African descent. Spanish is the official and dominant language; English is a common second language spoken by the West Indians and by many in business and the professions. More than half the population lives in the Panama City–Colón metropolitan corridor.
The majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, accounting for almost 80% of the population. Although the Constitution recognises Catholicism as the religion of the majority, Panama has no official religion. Evangelical Christians are now estimated to be around 10% of the population. Other Protestant churches make up about 4% of the population. Other major religions in Panama are Islam (4.4%), the Bahá'í Faith (1.2%), Buddhism (at least 1%), Judaism (0.4%), and Hinduism (0.3%). The Jewish community in Panama, with over 10,000 members, is by far the biggest in the region (including Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean). Jewish immigration began in the late 19th Century, and at present there are three synagogues in Panama City, as well as three Jewish schools. Within Latin America, Panama has one of the largest Jewish communities in proportion to its population, surpassed by Uruguay and Argentina. Panama's communities of Muslims, East Asians, and South Asians, are also among the largest.
Panama City hosts one of only seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship in the world. Completed in 1972, it is perched on a high cliff overlooking the canal, and is constructed of local stone laid in a pattern reminiscent of Native American fabric designs.
Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above all a melting pot. This is shown, for instance, by its considerable population of Chinese origin, who number around 150,000, or about 5% of the population. (See main article at Chinatowns in Latin America—Panama). Many Chinese immigrated to Panama to help build the Panama Railroad. A term for "corner store" in Panamanian Spanish is el chino, reflecting the fact that many corner stores are owned and run by Chinese immigrants. (Other countries have similar social patterns, for instance, the "Arab" corner store of France.)
There are seven indigenous peoples in Panama:
The country is also the smallest in Spanish-speaking Latin America in terms of population, with Uruguay as the second smallest (by almost 400,000). However, since Panama has a higher birth rate, it is likely that in the coming years its population will surpass Uruguay's.
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