Study abroad in Panama and immerse yourself in the dynamic community of Bocas del Toro. Snorkel and hike through the diverse environments of Bocas – from coral reefs and mangroves to beaches and rainforests – and study human impacts, such as tourism, on the island’s ecosystems and communities. Meet the local residents who depend on both tourism and natural resources and learn about current approaches to sustainable development in the archipelago.
Embark on a cross-country road trip from Panama City to Bocas del Toro stopping at sites along the Pacific coast to experience the full breadth of Panama’s culture and biodiversity
Connect with Indigenous Ngäbe island communities: Learn about the importance of the natural environment to their culture and their efforts to create authentic, sustainable tourism.
Program Costs & Financial Aid
SFS provides a comprehensive study abroad experience during a 6-day/week program schedule. SFS delivers the highest level of support and an unparalleled academic experience.
All students are welcome to apply for our need-based financial aid. Students who exhibit financial need for their program will be offered SFS financial aid. SFS aid is offered through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.
Pell Grant Match
SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Many SFS students receive aid through their home institutions or other outside sources, so check with your financial aid office to see what aid may apply to an SFS program.
Itinerary varies from term to term and is subject to change. Program activities take place 6 days a week with one day free.
Week 1: ¡Bienvenido a Panama! Arrive in Panama City and spend 2 days in the city. Visit the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo historic district. Spend the week traveling through Panama with stops on the Pacific side. Field lectures on marine environments, coastal development impacts, history of tourism, and highland ecosystems. Excursions to Isla Iguana (snorkeling), an organic coffee farm (agro-tourism), a cloud forest (birding, ecotourism), and Fortuna Dam (hydropower). Take a surf lesson.
Week 2: Arrive at the SFS Center in Bocas del Toro. Move into dorms and tour Bocas Town. Snorkel excursions to Hospital Point, Buoy Line, Dolphins Bay, and Isla Zapatillas, discussing mangrove and reef ecosystems, biodiversity in Bocas, and human impacts. Field exercises on coral health and frog populations. Visit the Salt Creek Indigenous Ngöbe community. Lectures on rainforest health, community and volunteer tourism, and large-scale development. Free weekend away for independent travel.
Week 3: Sustainability discussions with local tourism providers. Field activities on waste management in an island system including visit to the Plastic Bottle Village. Sea star snorkel exercise at Starfish Beach. Guest lecture at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC). Workshop on conducting research interviews. Draft research project proposal.
Week 4: Data collection for research project. Lectures on SWOT analysis and asset-based mapping. Final snorkeling and rainforest activities. Data analysis: organize, analyze, and write up your results and create a presentation. Present to students, staff, and community members. Re-entry exercises and room cleanup. Closing activities. Head home.
This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Panama. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Biodiversity and ecosystem health assessments
Rainforest and marine ecology
Indigenous tourism and sustainability
Tourism impacts on ecosystems and human populations
Marine protected areas
On the Tropical Island Ecosystems: The Human Impact program, you will take one 4-credit course. This course is participatory in nature and is designed to foster inquiry and active learning combining lectures, field exercises, assignments, and tests. This course is taught in English.
Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus
Tourism and Island Systems: Assessment of Sustainable Practices
SFS 3000 Tourism and Island Systems: Assessment of Sustainable Practices (4 credits)
This course introduces students to the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of Bocas del Toro and the challenges presented by a growing reliance on tourism for economic development in this part of the Caribbean. Students evaluate the impact of tourism on the natural environment and engage with local stakeholders to determine how the tourist industry affects—positively or negatively—social, cultural, and political dynamics within the archipelago. Sustainable practice is a major lens of inquiry during this course. Students will assess the balance between the conservation of the region’s natural resources and economic opportunities for local communities.
You will gain practical skills in the field such as: habitat and biodiversity assessment, underwater surveying with transects and quadrats, tourism SWOT analysis, basic Spanish language skills, interview methods, and quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include coral reefs, tropical rainforests, coastal forests and beaches, Indigenous Ngöbe communities, island ecosystems, coffee farms and cloud forests in the Chiriquí Highlands, Panama City and the Panama Canal, mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, marine protected areas, banana farms and other agricultural operations, riverine ecosystems, and the vibrant small-town community of Bocas.
The Center, once a hotel, lies among the slender palms and warm waters of Isla Colón. You’ll live, study, relax, and enjoy communal meals with your cohort, here. Across the street, you’ll find a beach with waterfront access for swimming and paddleboarding. The laidback hub of Bocas Town is a short taxi ride away, with access to shops, restaurants, and a vibrant culture that is as unique as the mix of people who live here.
Dorm living in ~4-person bunkrooms
Indoor/outdoor classroom and study space
Student lounge space
Casual al-fresco dining area and on-site cooking staff
Swimming pool, kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling
Click on the icons below to learn more about our Center in Panama.