Panama: Research, Communities, and Conservation

The Research, Communities and Conservation program in Panama leads us deep into the country, taking part in ongoing scientific research, exploring current cultural and environmental challenges and learning about a variety of local perspectives on conservation and development. Students will begin the trip in Panama City, before traveling to the Mamoní Valley Preserve in the Guna Yala region of the country where they will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on research, exploration, and community interaction. At the conclusion of the trip, students will present their findings and apply their new-found ecological understandings to the marine ecosystem with a one-night stay Contadora Island.

This trip is open to all students with a preference towards those with a demonstrated interest in science and environmental issues. All interested students are encouraged to apply by October 29.

Financial aid is available for all trips with priority for students who have not previously received aid for a Deerfield trip.

Preliminary Itinerary:*

Day 1 – International Travel

Deerfield students arrive to Panamá City in the afternoon, where they are welcomed by our local partners and program co-leaders.

Days 2 – 6 – Research and Communities

We travel by 4×4 trucks to the Mamoní Valley Preserve in the Guna Yala region of the country were students will engage in environmental science research projects led by local researchers of the Mamoní Valley Preserve and will spend time with community members of Las Margaritas and Chepo, two of the rural towns next to the reserve.

Our day-to-day activities on-site will be a combination of field research, community interaction and exploration of the surroundings. We’ll be hiking around the area, swimming in the crystal-clear rivers, learning about the different ecosystems, and grappling with the challenges of biodiversity conservation in the context of climate change and human impacts on the land.

Day 7-10 – Exploring other regions

In the final days of program, we have the opportunity to explore other regions of Panama to broaden the conversation of conservation and our knowledge of ecological communities in Panama.

We take a ferry from Punta Culebra in Panama City for a 90 minute journey across the Gulf of Panama to Contadora Island. Along the way, we will see many of the large commercial ships parked in the Bay waiting to pass through the canal. The sheer size of these ships helps set the scale for a visit to the canal the following day. 

On Contadora island, we build our understanding of the incredible coastal marine life of Panama through snorkeling, conversations with different stakeholders, bird-watching, and more, and learn about the significant effects of climate change on the reefs in Panama. 

On the final day, we visit the locks that control the passage of ships through the Panama Canal, where students are able to recognize one of the most revolutionary engineering works of modern times. We reconstruct the history of the site and analyze the mechanisms that allow the gate to open and close. Furthermore, we explore the effects of the implementation of the canal construction and later expansion in the ecosystem of the region.

Day 10-11: Travel home from Panama City to US Airport**

*This itinerary is subject to change.
** Families are responsible for transportation from U.S.-based airport to the student’s destination for the remainder of March break.

Program Notes:

  • This is an “unplugged” trip where students will not have access to cell phones or internet for the duration of their time in Panama.
  • During this trip students will stay in hotels and open-air bunkhouses. Meals will be at restaurants, prepared by Mamoni (where there is a diverse selection of foods, fruits, and vegetables), and packed lunches
  • Students and faculty leaders will update families and friends at home through our Notes from Abroad blog. Check out last year’s posts for a better understanding of the travel experience.

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