2017 Itinerary Outline

Summary Itinerary Outline

(Edited 1/10/17)  

Panama City:

Miraflores Locks,Panama Canal

Miraflores Locks,Panama Canal

February 7-9, whole group:  On February 7, we fly into Tocumen International Airport in Panama City in the mid afternoon and then to take a bus to  Casco Viejo, or “Old Panama.” This historic district is right on the ocean and has good access to shopping centers and museums. We’ll be staying at the Magnolia Inn. On February 8, we will visit the Panama Canal, including the Canal Museum at the Miraflores Locks. In the afternoon, we will engage in language and cultural activities. We will also get local supplies for the course.

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC)

At Starfish Beach - ITEC

At Starfish Beach

February 9-15, Group Gryphon: The ITEC Field station is located on Isla Colón in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. We will travel to the island from Panama City via Air Panama. The field station itself is located on the other side of the island

Counting Leaf-Cutter ants at ITEC

Counting Leaf-Cutter ants at ITEC

from the airport and can only be accessed by boat. We will sleep in field station bunk room facilities. While at ITEC students learn and practice field research techniques for studying tropical ecology, and they develop substantial field projects with full analysis and write-ups. We encourage and support students to engage in a systematic hands-on exploration of the environment. Major ecosystems at this site include lowland rainforests, tropical marine communities (including corals reefs), mangrove and raffia palm swamps, caves and streams.


Snorkeling at Pete’s Reef

In addition, this area has a rich confluence of cultures, traditions and languages. The field station itself, is run in cooperation with a local Ngobe family. The region is also a major exporter of bananas, and the past influences of the United Fruit Company are still quite evident. Please visit the ITEC website for more information about this site. One of the two groups will visit this site. On February 15, this group will take an early morning flight on Air Panama (~ 45 minutes) to Panama City and then  a bus pick us up at the Albrook National Airport for Pedasí. The bus trip trip takes ~ 4 1/2 hours.

Achotines Laboratory Facility

February 15 to 21, group Phoenix, 

el faro ccliff and waves

Rocky coast by Achotimes

ant and acacia mutualism

Achotines Laboratory is located on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula. It has some the best accessible dry forest in Panama. The dry forest is the most endangered of the major tropical forest ecosystems in the Americas. There are numerous trails going out from the center. We will do most of our field work in the early morning or the evening—avoiding the heat of the day.We encourage and support students to engage in a systematic hands-on exploration of the environment. While at Achotines  students will learn and practice field research techniques for studying tropical ecology, and they will develop substantial field projects with full analysis and write-ups. We will be visiting this ecosystem at one on the driest times of year. In addition to the adjacent forest ecosystem the station is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. There are both rocky intertidal communities as well as some coral reef areas in the sheltered Achotines Bay. Achotines is also a major center for tuna research, and it has good air conditioned sleeping facilities. We will learn about ongoing tuna research and see the live tuna that they raise at the station. Dr. Peter Lahanas (see his bio at bottom of page) will join as a full time adjunct instructor while we’re there and we will likely do field studies in both the forest and marine communities. See some information about the site at the Achotines Laborary website. Group Phoenix will visit this site for 6-days. This is short <30 minute drive from Pedasi. 


February 9-15  Group Phoenix, February 15-21 Group Gryphon:

Getting ready for boat ride to Iguana Island

Both groups will arrive in Pedasi by bus that takes about 4 1/2 hours. from Panama City. Pedasí is a small fishing town near the Pacific coast on the Azuero peninsula in Panama. From an ecosystem point of view, it is a seasonal dry forest, and it will be very dry at the time of our visit. The Azuero peninsula, largely rural, is culturally distinct from the rest of Panama. It is known for its cattle ranches, very friendly people, arts and crafts, and for hosting some major national festivals.

Homestay father in Pedasí

Students will live in individual homestays, and take Spanish classes in the mornings at the Buena Vida Language School. This is the third CSW course conducted at Pedasí and with the Buena Vida Language School. We have a varied program of activities in the afternoons and weekends. For more information about the language school please visit the Buena Vida language school website.

Like many areas of Panama, there are multiple economic pressures on the town. We will critically examine and discuss issues regarding changes that occurred in this area. Through the lenses of language, culture, economics, and science, we will examine how agriculture, fishing, conservation practices, and a recent real estate boom have impacted locals.

All students will be have a 6-night  individual homestays in Pedasi.

Chiriquí Highlands:

February 21: Whole group travel to the Chiriquí highlands for 3 days together

Specifically will travel to the highland area of Cerro Punta, which includes the town of Guadalupe (where we’ll stay initially) in the province of Chiriquí. Climatically it is a montane wet forest ecosystem (cloud forest). It is a very important agricultural area in Panama and is sometimes referred to as the “bread basket” of Panama. Most of the produce in Panama comes from this small area. The volcanic soil is rich and easy to turn, the climate more temperate than other parts of Panama, and there is abundant rainfall throughout the year.

Cabañas of Los Quetzales 

For the first three nights, February 21 to 24, the whole group, we will stay in well-appointed cabins of the  set deep in the cloud forest. It’s about 7,000′ in altitude at the cabins. The forest

Los Quetzales, Cabin the forest

Los Quetzales, Cabin in the forest 

at this site is incredibly beautiful; it has an almost mystical aura. Students will explore this forest and will be challenged to reflect, through hiking, journaling and personal investigations. We will study and discuss physical forest structure, ecosystem dynamics, and compare patterns of species diversity between this forest ecosystem and those found in the lowland rainforest and seasonal dry forest.  It’s also a great place for contemplation and a wonderful space to process the course and the group experience. For more information about accommodations please visit the following website http://www.losquetzales.com

Note: New groups (different from Gryphon & Phoenix) will be put together for the next 8 days. We will form these groups at the end of  Pedasi/Achotines or during our cloud forest stay described above.

Guadalupe Homestay and Language Instruction in Volcán

Coffee nursery!

Coffee nursery

February 24-28 group 1 & February 28-March 4 group 2. After our stay deep in the forest, we will split into two new groups and one group will move into the more settled, but very rural, area of Guadalupe for a 4-day small group (2-3 students) homestay with the farm families in this area. (The other new group will spend 4 days on a coffee farm and remote field station adjacent to La Amistad National Park. See description in next section.)

There are major issues in agriculture in this area, with its steep slopes, subject to erosion. Fertilizers and herbicides are in common use to maintain high yields, and there is increasing competition from large landowners and international companies. This, in turn, increases pressure on, and potential damage to, the environment. Indigenous migrant labor workers often come to work the fields. During the day the homestay group will travel down to the town of Volcán for Spanish language lessons and cultural activities.

Cotito/Rio Sereno


Cotitio cabin, where we’ll be staying

February 24-28 for group 2, & February 28-March 4 for group 1. Each group will travel by 4-wheel drive vehicle to this site very near the Costa Rican Border. We will learn how coffee grows as well as discuss land use, economics and social justice issues involved the growing, harvesting and marketing of coffee. This site is adjacent to the largest park in Central America—La Amistad International Park which covers large areas in both Panama and Costa Rica. There are also hot springs on the property. Students will engage in individual or small group projects of their own choosing. This site is at about 6,000′ in elevation and features some different species than our previous site. This is a new site for us and we are one of the first groups to stay in this very recently built cabin.

Los Quetzales Hotel in Guadalupe

On March 4, the whole group will gather back to Guadalupe and stay in bunk rooms at the Los Quetzales Hotel. We will celebrate our with our hosts of the past 11 days, as well as give some presentations, and wrap up this section of the course.  http://www.losquetzales.com


Mama Llena Ecolodge

March 5-8:  (all together the rest of the way): We plan to travel from the Los Quetzales Lodge in Guadalupe  to Mama Llena Ecolodge (~6 1/2 hours by bus). Mama Llena is located on the side of the long extinct El Valle volcano. While there, we will edit reports, prepare presentations and slide shows, and continue with journaling. Very importantly, we will have dedicated time to connect and reflect upon our various experiences. We chose this almost Shangri-La like little valley for it’s isolated beauty and relaxing vibe. We think it’s a great place for whole group to be together to wrap up the course. After 3 nights in Mama Llena we will travel on March 8 directly to Tocumen International Airport (~2 hours) to depart for our 11:44 am flight to Boston. For more information go to Mama Llena Ecolodge website.


Staff leading the course: 

  • Steve Scrimshaw:  Steve is a veteran teacher and has led 10 full-mod CSW student courses in the Neotropics. Steve has travelled extensively to Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize. He is one of the founders of the Science and Language focused tropical field courses at CSW. He is a 25-year member of the CSW Science Department.
  • Patricio Hernandez: Patricio is teaching Spanish for his second year at CSW.  He is veteran leader of student off-campus trips to Spain. Patricio is a native of Argentina. He also coaches soccer and teaches Kung Fu at CSW.
  • Chesapeake First: Chesapeake is an alumna of the ’07 CSW Costa Rica/Panama course, and served as a teaching intern for the 2013 course and then instructor for 2015 Panama course. She is a 2011 graduate of Guilford College, where she studied Environmental Studies and Religious Studies. Since graduation, she has spent time teaching youth about food systems, and currently helps manage Boston’s municipal composting site. She joins as a full instructor.
  •  Amber Espar. Amber has been a part of seven previous full-mod CSW student courses to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize. She is Alumna of the ‘97 CSW Costa Rica course, and she is an ‘02 graduate of Vassar College. Amber was a teaching intern on the ‘’03 course in Costa Rica and an instructor on the ’05 course in Guatemala and Belize. She was an instructor in the ’07, ’09 ’11, ‘13 courses in Panama and Costa Rica, as well for the 2010 spring break short course to Panama. Amber is currently working as a programs coordinator with True Story Theater and Arts Rising as well as being an Environmental Educator/Instructor with Kestrel Educational Adventures.
  • Will Freedberg is an alum of the 2011 CSW Panama and Costa Rica off-campus and has a degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University (2016). Will is an expert birder, photographer and  natural history writer.Will joins us for Achotines through the Chiriquí portion of our course, and will help lead programming and assist students in projects during our stay in the Los Quetzales Cotito/Rio Sereno Cabin adjacent to the a coffee farm and forest in La Amistád International Park. See Will Freedberg Bio, created while he was an intern at Mongabay, an organization dedicated raising awareness about social and environmental issues related to forests and other ecosystems. 

Other Instructors

  • Dr. Peter Lahanas will join as a full-time instructor for the science intensive portions of the course while at ITEC and Achotines Laboratory. Dr. Lahanas is the founder and Director of ITEC, a gifted teacher, and we’re very fortunate that he has agreed to join us at the Achotines field station as well. We’ve worked with Dr. Lahanas and ITEC since 2007. For more information on him see Dr. Peter Lahanas Bio.


  • General Course Information

Passports and Waiver Forms: 
All course participants will need a current passport. Please make sure that your passport does not expire within three months of our return date to USA. If you don’t have a passport, please take care of this immediately.

Health Information: 
There are no vaccinations required to enter Panama. Nevertheless, health care providers generally suggest up-to-date tetanus vaccination, as well as at least a start on a Hepatitis A vaccine. The specific areas we travel have an extremely low incidence of malaria, but your physician may suggest a malaria prophylaxis. As mentioned earlier, the areas we will visit have very high standards for public health, and the water is potable at all sites.