I traveled to Panama in late March of 2008. Panama is a country on the move from the third world to the first. I had the opportunity to transit the Panama Canal which was an awesome experience. On the Pacific end of the canal, I was pleasantly surprised by Panama City, finding it to be a modern and vibrant city. When I traveled there, the city was constructing a building that will, once completed, be highest building in the Western Hemisphere. The Panama canal was also under going a widening, to allow even bigger ships to transit the canal in the future.
Panama is believed to have first been inhabited by Native American settlers sometime between 10,000 BC and 18,00BC. The First European to reach these shores was Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501. Columbus was believed to have arrived here on his final voyage in 1502. He dropped anchor near Colon at the mouth of what is now the Panama Canal. In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first European to take a land route crossing from the Caribbean (Atlantic) to the Pacific. In the 1880's a French company began constructing a canal across the Panamanian isthmus, but the company lost 22,000 workers to malaria and yellow fever, and nearly went bankrupt. They sold their rights to the United States. After the Colombian government refused to give the U.S. permission to continue the canal, the U.S. government encouraged a civil war in Colombia which lead to Panama's split from Colombia. This cleared the way for the U.S. construction of the canal, which was completed in 1914. Colombia refused to acknowledge Panama's independence until 1921, when the U.S. government paid Colombia $25 million in compensation. The U.S. presence in Panama continued after completion of the canal with troops stationed in the country to protect the waterway, until the last day of 1999, when the U.S. relinquished control of the canal to Panama.