Provinces of Panama

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"Geopolitical Entities, Names, and Codes, Edition 2" (GENC), a U.S. standard that's supposed to correspond to ISO 3166-2, was issued on 2014-03-31. It gives Panamá Oeste the code PA-10. Subsequently, on 2014-11-03, ISO officially issued a code for Panamá Oeste. Now there is a perfect match between the two standards.

Update 16 to the U.S. standard GEC is dated 2014-06-30. It adds a code for Panama Oeste province.

2014-01: I now recognize that there are some comarcas that rank with provinces, and other comarcas that rank with districts. Up until now I have listed Kuna de Madungandí and Kuna de Wargandí as primary subdivisions. The standards ignore them, and the Panamanian census returns don't show them on the province level, so I am reverting to showing them as part of Panamá and Darién provinces, respectively. At the same time, the creation of Panamá Oeste province became official.

I found source [6], which enabled me to fill in (and in some cases to correct) the Change history. At the same time, I checked the Spanish Wikipedia and found that the capitals of three of the comarcas were different from those I had been reporting. I don't know whether this represents a name change for the cities in question, a relocation of the administrative functions, identification of places at a different level in the geographic hierarchy, or old errors on my part.

When the comarca of Ngöbe Buglé was created in 1997, the legislators didn't check the spelling carefully enough. In the latest census, the comarca's name is given as Ngäbe Buglé. According to source [4], an article published on 2009-05-16 called attention to the error, saying "The people whose name was changed: ... those who reviewed the law creating the comarca, all Spanish speakers, did not know the Ngabe language. They replaced the 'a' with an 'o'. A correction is now in the hands of the Executive." (My translation and paraphrase.) The letter in controversy is supposed to represent a vowel that is said to sound like English "aw". That sound doesn't occur in Spanish, and neither 'ä' nor 'ö' is found in the Spanish alphabet.

Update 1 to the U.S. standard "Geopolitical Entities and Codes" is dated 2010-08-20. It assigns GEC codes to two new comarcas, and changes the name of San Blas to Kuna Yala. Newsletter II-2, an update to the ISO 3166-2 standard, is dated 2010-06-30. It assigns ISO codes to three comarcas.

Country overview: 

Short namePANAMA
ISO codePA
GEC codePM
LanguageSpanish (es)
Time zone-5
CapitalPanama City


Panama was a department of Colombia in 1900. With the encouragement of the United States, Panama declared its independence from Colombia on 1903-11-03. The United States then acquired control of the Canal Zone from it. In 1979, the Canal Zone was restored to Panama.

Other names of country: 

  1. Danish: Panama
  2. Dutch: Panama, Republiek Panama (formal)
  3. English: Republic of Panama (formal)
  4. Finnish: Panama
  5. French: Panama m
  6. German: Panamá, Panama n
  7. Italian: Panamá m
  8. Norwegian: Panama, Republikken Panama (formal)
  9. Portuguese: Panamá, República f do Panamá m (formal)
  10. Russian: Республика Панама (formal)
  11. Spanish: Panamá, República f de Panamá m (formal)
  12. Swedish: Panama
  13. Turkish: Panama Cumhuriyeti (formal)

Origin of name: 

There are several theories about the origin of the name Panama. The best known is that the Spanish explorers found a village on the beach where Panama City now stands. The village was populated by fishermen, and its name, Panama, meant "many fish". Another version is that the name designated a species of tree; or that it meant "many butterflies". Lately, a Kuna chief has asserted that the name came from pannaba, a Kuna word for "very far".

Primary subdivisions: 

Panama is divided into ten provincias (provinces) and three comarcas.

Bocas del ToropPA.BC1PM01125,4614,6011,777Bocas del Toro
DariénpPA.DA5PM0548,37811,8664,581La Palma
EmberácPA.EMEMPM1110,0014,3981,698Unión Chocó
Kuna YalacPA.SBKYPM0933,1092,393924El Porvenir
Los SantospPA.LS7PM0789,5923,8051,469Las Tablas
Ngäbe BuglécPA.NBNBPM12156,7476,6732,577Llano Tugrí
Panamá OestepPA.PO10PM13464,0382,7861,076La Chorrera
VeraguaspPA.VR9PM10226,99110,6774,122Santiago (de Veraguas)
13 divisions3,405,81375,00128,957

Further subdivisions:

See the Districts of Panama page.

The provinces of Panama are divided into municipal districts, which are further subdivided into corregimientos.

Territorial extent: 

Before the Canal Zone was returned, Colón province had an exclave within the Canal Zone, containing the city of Colón.
If this Map  and this Map  are correct, Emberá has two separate sections, one of which is completely surrounded by Darién.
If this Map  is correct, Ngäbe Buglé has at least two exclaves within Chiriquí and two within Veraguas.

The UN LOCODE page  for Panama lists locations in the country, some of them with their latitudes and longitudes, some with their ISO 3166-2 codes for their subdivisions. This information can be put together to approximate the territorial extent of subdivisions.

Origins of names: 

  1. Bocas del Toro: Spanish for "mouths of the bull"
  2. Colón: named for Christopher Columbus (Spanish: Cristóbal Colón)
  3. Kuna Yala: Kuna for "land of the Kuna people"
  4. Los Santos: Spanish for "the saints"

Change history: 

There have been numerous minor boundary adjustments.

  1. 1821-11-28: Upon independence from Spain, Panama became Colombia's Istmo (Isthmus) department, divided into two provinces: Panamá and Veraguas. The provinces were subdivided into cantones (cantons), which were in turn divided into parroquias (parishes).
  2. 1849: Chiriquí province formed by taking Alanje canton from Veraguas province.
  3. 1850-04-08: Azuero province formed by taking Los Santos and Parita cantons and Santa María parish from Panamá province.
  4. 1855-02-27: Under Colombia's Constitution of 1853, Istmo department became a federal state of Panamá. (At that time, Colombia was known as Nueva Granada.)
  5. 1855: Colón and Coclé departments split from Panamá; Herrera y los Santos department split from Azuero. Colon consisted of Portobelo canton and Bocas del Toro comarca. Coclé consisted of Natá canton.
  6. 1875: Under Panama's new constitution, Panamá state was divided into a capital district and departments, and the departments were divided into districts.
  7. 1886-11-11: Colombia adopted a new constitution, under which the states, including Panamá, became departments, subdivided into provinces, which were subdivided into distritos municipales (municipal districts).
  8. 1903-11-03: Panama declared its independence from Colombia.
  9. 1904-02-26: Treaty of Hay and Bunau-Varilla took effect, by which the United States acquired the "use, occupation, and control" of the Canal Zone.
  10. 1904: Panama adopted a constitution which stated that the country was divided into the provinces of Bocas del Toro, Coclé, Colón, Chiriquí, Los Santos, Panamá, and Veraguas. The provinces were subdivided into municipios. Bocas del Toro had been part of Colón, as a comarca unti 1894 and then as a district.
  11. 1915-01-18: Herrera province split from Los Santos.
  12. 1922-12-27: Darién province split from Panamá.
  13. ~1925: Capital of Canal Zone moved from Ancón to Balboa Heights (a district in the city of Balboa).
  14. 1938-12-16: San Blas y Barú comarca (or intendency) formed from parts of Colón and Panamá. This may not have been fully implemented until 1953-02-19.
  15. 1979-10-01: By the Panama Canal Treaty, the United States relinquished the Canal Zone. The zone (1,432 sq. km.) was split and annexed to Colón and Panamá provinces. At this time, Panama was divided as shown here.
Bocas del ToroPA.BT1PM0192,7318,9453,454Bocas del Toro
DariénPA.DA5PM0543,03216,6716,437La Palma
Los SantosPA.LS7PM0776,6043,8061,469Las Tablas
PanamáPA.PA8PM081,064,22111,8874,590Panama City
San BlasPA.SB0PM0934,1342,357910El Porvenir
10 divisions2,315,04775,71629,235
  • Provinces: San Blas is a comarca or intendencia (intendency).
  • abv: Two-letter code for international compatibility (defined by the author).
  • ISO: Codes from ISO 3166-2.
  • GEC: Codes from GEC.
  • Population: 1990 census (preliminary returns)
  1. 1983-11-08: Emberá comarca split from Darién province by Law 22.
  2. 1996-01-12: Kuna de Madungandí comarca formed within Panamá province by Law 24. (Panamá province, excluding Kuna de Madungandí, was temporarily given HASC code PA.PN.)
  3. 1997-03-07: Ngöbe-Buglé comarca formed from parts of Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, and Veraguas provinces by Law 10.
  4. 1998-12-23: Name of San Blas comarca changed to Kuna Yala by Law 99.
  5. 2000-07-25: Kuna de Wargandí comarca formed within Darién by Law 34. (Darién province, excluding Kuna de Wargandí, was temporarily given HASC code PA.DR.)
  6. ~2010: Name of Ngöbe Buglé changed to Ngäbe Buglé.
  7. 2010-08-13: In an alphabet reform of the Guna language, Guna name of Kuna Yala changed to Guna Yala.
  8. 2014-01-01: Panamá Oeste province split from Panamá province (former HASC code PA.PA, 2010 population 1,713,070, area 11,952 km.²). It consists of Arraiján, Capira, Chame, La Chorrera, and San Carlos districts. This is the implementation of Law No. 119 of 2013-12-30.

Other names of subdivisions: 

  1. Emberá: Emberá-Wounaan (variant)
  2. Kuna Yala: Dulenega (variant native name); Guna Yala (vernacular); San Blas (obsolete)
  3. Ngäbe Buglé: Ngöbe Buglé (obsolete)

Population history:

Bocas del Toro22,73227,23915,85116,52322,39232,60043,53153,48774,13989,269125,461
Emberá        7,9708,24610,001
Kuna Yala      24,68128,62134,04432,44633,109
Los Santos30,07534,63841,21849,62161,42270,55472,38070,26176,94783,49589,592
Ngäbe Buglé        72,450110,080156,747


Column headings are dates of censuses. Kuna Yala figures for 1940-1960 are included in Colón. Source [1] doesn't explain why a population is given for Ngäbe Buglé in 1990, before it was created; nor whether the population of Canal Zone is included in the figures for 1911-1970.


  1. [1] Historical population data (1911-2000) come from Contraloría General de la República de Panamá .
  2. [2] La Prensa  reported on 2002-01-20 that there were moves under way to split a new province of Panamá Oeste (West Panama) from the existing Panamá province, and to split a new comarca from Bocas del Toro province for the benefit of the Naso-teribe ethnic group.
  3. [3] Library of Congress country study  (retrieved 1999).
  4. [4] La Estrella  monthly (in Spanish, retrieved 2011-01-20).
  5. [5] "El Parlamento panameño crea la provincia de Panamá Oeste ," Terra Chile online news (dated 2013-10-29; retrieved 2013-12-02).
  6. [6] La Organización Territorial de Panama : Particularidades del Regimen Provincial y Municipal. Agapito González Gómez (retrieved 2013-12-02).
  7. [7] Census data for 2010 from Resultades Finales Básicos , Censos Nacionales 2010. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censo. (retrieved 2014-01-09).
  8. [8] "Presidente sanciona ley que crea la provincia de Panamá Oeste " (President approves law creating Panamá Oeste province). La Opinión news portal (dated 2013-12-30, retrieved 2014-01-10).
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