Detailed mapping of Panamá began in the 19th century, receiving a stimulus from the need for topographic surveys to precede the construction of the Panama Canal. Notable maps of that century were those of H. Tiedermann (1851) and Agustin Codazzi (1855). These maps covered only limited areas, however, and accurate general maps of the whole country did not appear until early decades of the present century.
A regular program of topographic mapping began in 1946, when a Cartography Section was established for the Pan-American Highway. The modern topographic survey organization was founded in 1967 under the title Instituto Cartográfico “Tommy Guardia” (Tomas Guardia having been the first director of its antecedent, the Dirección de Cartografía). In 1969, the name was changed to Instituto Geográfico Nacional “Tommy Guardia” (IGNTG), and this institute now has responsibilities for topographic and geodetic survey, cadastral and hydrographic survey, and various development projects requiring cartographic work.
Much of the initial basic scale mapping at 1:50,000 (Series E762) was carried out after 1946 in cooperation with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey (IAGS) and the American Army Map Service. A 1:25,000 scale map begun in the late 1950s was discontinued after the production of 46 sheets. Since 1962, most work has been undertaken independently by the Institute, which has facilities for aerial survey and photogrammetry. Air photo cover exists for almost all the country, while radar imagery of the Province of Darien was acquired in 1967-72, an area where persistent cloud makes conventional photography almost impossible to obtain.
The 1:50,000 scale map is in five colors with 20 m contours, and is drawn on a Transverse Mercator projection with a UTM grid. The ellipsoid is Clarke 1866. Legends are in Spanish and English and the sheet format is 10′ x 15′. The general map at 1:250,000 scale is also on a Transverse Mercator projection and has 200 m contours. A satellite image edition of this map is being published. A program of digitizing the 1:50,000 scale series is under way, with 20 sheets digitized by the end of 1997, and there are plans to digitize the nine-sheet 1:12,500 scale cover of Panama City.
Soviet military topographic mapping of Panama is available at the following scales: 1:1,000,000 (4 sheets, complete coverage, published 1966-1990); 1:500,000 (6 sheets, complete coverage, published 1963-1985); 1:100,000 (32 sheets, partial coverage, published in 1974) and a city (1:10,000) topographic map of Panama published in 1982. These products are available in print, digital raster and digital vector GIS formats from East View Geospatial.
Nautical charts have been published for all the coastal waters of Panama, with scales ranging from 1:300,000 to very large scale approach charts and port plans.
Aeronautical charts have been prepared by the Dirección de Aeronáutica Civil in collaboration with IGNTG. This includes visual flying charts at scales of 1:2,000,000; 1:1,000,000 and 1:500,000 and plans of airports.
The Dirección General de Recursos Minerales (DGRM) was founded in 1970 and undertakes various mapping activities in relation to the exploitation of mineral resources. Systematic geological mapping is provided by the regional maps, printed in color at 1:250,000 scale, and a new two-sheet 1:500,000 scale map produced with Swedish cooperation. It is planned to use recent geological work to update the 1:250,000 scale map. A number of more detailed maps of selected areas have also been published.
Numerous maps of soil, land capability and forest resources maps were prepared from the 1950s through to the 1980s, including 1:1,000,000 scale maps prepared for the national atlas, and large scale local maps. A complete listing is given in the PAIGH Research guide cited below. More recently, IGNTG has carried out an inventory and quantification of mangroves, and has subsequently begun to survey the primary and secondary forest resources of the country. Both studies are at 1:250,000 scale using a LANDSAT image base map.
A national atlas was first published in 1965. The third edition of the Atlas nacional de la Repύblica de Panamá, published in 1988 with the aid of the Japanese development agency, JICA. It includes numerous thematic maps, many of them new in this edition, at scales of 1:1,000,000 and 1:2,000,000, and an index of geographical names. According to a 1993 report, plans were being prepared for a fourth edition.
Large scale city plans are published by IGNTG for most major cities. This includes a nine-sheet cover of Panamá City at 1:12,500 scale, and a monochrome map at 1:5,000 in 64 sheets.
Good general maps of the country are published by International Travel Maps (ITM), Vancouver, and by Karlsruhe Polytechnic University.
The Dirección de Estadística y Censo (DEC) has produced numerous plans and sketch maps for the population censuses, the most recent of which was held in 1990, and has compiled a listing of populated places. However, studies of place names have principally been carried out in the Department of Geography at the University of Panamá. A new edition of the Diccionario geográfico de Panamá is expected soon.