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Panama receives an average estimated rainfall of about 130 inches per year. This varies from the Caribean, where there is more rainfall, to the Pacific, where it is significantly less.

As a result of this incredible amount of water, there are approximately 500 rivers (Rio in Spanish), of various sizes cutting their way through Panama’s diverse landscape. The majority are completely unavigable due to size, density of foliage, depth, and difficulty of access. They originate as small tributary streams high in the cordillera (mountain range) that bisects Panama from east to west, and join to form large rivers such as the Rio Chagres, Rio Chepo, and Rio Tuira.


The Rio Chagres, one of the longest and most important of the 150 +/- rivers that flow into the Caribbean Sea, was damned in the early 1900’s to form Gatun and Madden lakes, sources of water for the Panama Canal and of hydroelectirc power. Gatun is the major part of the transit route of the Canal.

The Chepo River is one of over 300 rivers that flows to the Pacific Ocean, and another primary source of hydroelectric power. Rivers that flow to the Pacific come down from the cordillera in a longer, more gradual gradient, and thus are naturally longer and slower moving than those flowing north to the Caribean. As a result they create broader, more extensive basins. The Rio Tuira, located in the Province of Darien, is one of the longest and the only river in Panama navigable by larger ships.

There are many excellent rivers for whitewater rafting and kayaking in Panama, including the Chagres (flowing through Chagres National Park, home to four tribes of Indigenous Embera peoples), the Mamoni River east of Panama City, the Rio Grande, near Playa Blanca Panama and the Chiriqui and Chiriqui Viejo rivers. Rafting and kayaking are excellent and exciting ways to explore the jungles and landscapes of Panama. They vary in difficulty from Class II to Class IV+ (see tour difficulty ratings).

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