Panama is the southernmost country of Central America.  Situated on that small strip of land that connects North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south.  The capital is Panama City.  Panama covers an area of 75,517 km2; slightly smaller than South Carolina.  Panama has a population 3,406,000 people.

With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.  In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the century.

The Darien Gap is a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama’s Darién Province in Central America from Colombia in South America.  It measures just over 160 km long and about 50 km wide.  Road building through this area is expensive, and the environmental toll is steep. Political consensus in favour of road construction has not emerged.  Consequently there is no road connection through the Darién Gap connecting North/Central America with South America and it is the missing link of the Pan-American Highway.

My route will take me straight along the Pan-American Highway straight to Panama City and then along the Panama Canal to the city of Colon.  Because there is no connecting highway between Central and South America, the plan is to take a 4-5 day boat ride from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Columbia.  Then again, do I make a run for the Darien Gap?

Panama Canal – The Panama Canal is an 82 km ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean.  The canal cuts across the Isthmus (a narrow strip of land, bordered on both sides by water, connecting two larger bodies of land) of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.  Work on the canal, which began in 1880, was completed in 1914.  In the interim, yellow fever caused delays and it wasn’t until that threat was overcome, that the canal could be completed.  Over 27,000 people died from diseases and accidents during the construction of the canal.

The Panama Canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships in 1914 to 14,702 vessels a year in 2008.  In total, over 815,000 vessels have passed through the canal.  The American Society of Civil Engineers has named it one of the seven wonders of the modern world.


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