Panama (thought to mean “an abundance of fish”) is a Central American country bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Panama has been a stable democracy since 1990. Prosperous and progressive, Panama has the second biggest Central American economy. While Panama is known for the Canal and its tropical fruit exports, tourism is becoming an important industry.
Twenty percent of the country’s land area is protected—one of the largest percentages in the world. Also, 20% of the land belongs to the tribes of indigenous people in Panama.
The unemployment rate in Panama is 4.8% with a large part of the population living in poverty and an increase of immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba. Eleven percent of the population of Panama lives in extreme poverty, living on less than one dollar a day, and 25.8% is living on one dollar a day. These are the communities where ISL volunteers serve.
Where We Serve in Panama
ISL Panama seeks to cover the entire national territory, therefore the communities where we serve fall into two categories: rural/semi-rural and urban. In rural or semi-rural areas, poverty is evident in the limited access to health services, constraints in transportation, and lack of economic resources.
People in these communities are often exposed to infectious diseases, and it is common to find small houses in a little better condition than in urban areas, but some still maintain mud flats, for example. The population in rural areas is a mixture, with people of latino and indigenous descent, following the growth of crops for work. On the other hand, in the urban areas, poverty is more evident with social risks to children and adults, many of whom are exposed to situations such as violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, and crime.
Hogar de las Niñas de la Capital
A home for girls in Las Cumbres, Panamá
Soup kitchens and a school in Las Garzas de Pacora, Colón, and Chiriquí
Fundación Juntos Podemos
An elementary school for a Shanty Place call Curundu.
Escuela de Pajonal, Pajonal, Coclé
We provide medical and dental service to students.
Escuela de Rincón de las Palmas, Coclé
We provide medical and dental service to students.
Asociación de Mujeres Ngobe Bugle
We have a partnership with them to provide health care to the community of Quebrada de Guabo in the Reserve in Chiriquí.
San Martín de Porres Parrish, Cerro Batea, San Miguelito Panamá
Nuestra Sra. Del Rosario Parrish, Torrijos Carter, San Miguelito Panamá
Fundación Spay Panamá, Betania, Panamá
What to Expect as a Volunteer
Volunteers arrive for service in Panama via the Tocumen International Airport (PTY), which is located 15 miles from Panama City downtown. After going through customs and retrieving luggage, volunteers are met by an ISL staff member. They are then transported by taxi, van, or bus (arranged and paid for by ISL) to their hotel or guest house in the province closest to their work site. Airport to hotel travel time varies from 20 minutes to 1 hour. Daily travel time from housing to work sites varies from 15 to 45 minutes. On recreation days, travel may take up to a maximum of three hours. Housing locations may change as the team moves to a new work site or as they travel to their recreation day location. Volunteers serving in the west area of Panama could arrive at the Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV) in David, Chiriquí, via Copa Airlines.
Learn how to make one of many famous and delicious Panamanian dishes.
From Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata to Panamanian folk dance, this is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics of Latin dance.
Panama Canal Visitor Center
The Miraflores Visitors Center (CVM) is an expression of the permanent commitment of the Panama Canal Authority to strengthen the public’s knowledge of the Canal. Located on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, the CVM allows the visitor to observe transiting vessels from a distance of only a few meters and learn first-hand about the various operations of the Panama Canal, the history of its construction, its participation in the world markets, and the importance of its watershed.
$30.00 for foreign students with university ID
Summit Garden and Zoo
This is a 250 hectares park that is inside the Soberania Park. This park is only 20 minutes away from Panama City on the Gaillard road to Gamboa. It was founded in 1923 when the former Canal Company established the Summit Experimental Farm for the research of the tropical flora of Panama. These days, Summit is a zoo and a botanical garden with more than 15,000 different exotic plants and animals that are considered to be endangered species. The latest projects include the in-captivity breeding of the Harpy Eagle (Harpia Harpyja), Panama’s national bird, and the Tapir.
Ancon Hill is a steep 654 foot (200 meter) hill with great views of Panama City. The road up the hill is a popular hiking and jogging path and there are three great look-out points. It was under US jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone for much of the 20th century and therefore remained a wilderness unlike most of the surrounding urbanized parts of the city. It is not uncommon to see sloths, armadillos, and deer on Ancon Hill, which now has protected status.
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) contains the remaining ruins of the first Spanish city on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Founded by Pedro Arias de Avila on 15 August 1519, the city was the starting point of the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. Most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Incas passed through here. In 1671 the pirate Henry Morgan sacked the city with 1,400 men marching from the Caribbean coast across the jungle and today only the bits and pieces that Morgan left can be admired.
$6.00 per person
Hiking Parque Natural Metropolitano – Cieneguita Trail
This was Panama’s first trail, which was established in 1987. It starts at the security station at the beginning of the Mono Titi Road and extends through the forest until it meets again with the Mono Titi Road, close to the top of Cedar Hill. The trail is 1.1 km long, at an approximate altitude of 102 meters above sea level. It is called “Sendero La Cieneguita” due to the marsh that is formed during the rainy season at the entrance of the trail. The approximate hiking time is two hours. We recommend silence when walking this trail; have your ears and eyes open and be aware of any movement on the canopy of the trees
Parque Natural Metropolitano – Canopy Crane
This crane was the first in its class to be used as a study tool within a forest. Because greater diversity of tropical forests inhabit the highest levels, made it difficult to study this part of the forest because scientists had no access to the canopy, the STRI pioneered the use of a construction crane in order to study the higher parts of the forest, and thanks to this, knowledge about the canopy-dwelling species has increased in recent years. Currently there are 12 cranes in the world that are used for this purpose, two of which are in Panama; you can have access to them through a guided tour at the Metropolitan Nature Park, a unique experience that you cannot miss.
Visiting Mi Pueblito – replica of countryside house, Afro-Antillean and indigenous towns
Mi Pueblito, meaning “my little village,” is a crossroads of the prevailing customs and traditions in Panamá. In one place, you can step inside a typical Afro-Caribbean, peasant, or indigenous house that showcases the main characteristics of these cultures. Also a great option for pictures and to buy some handcrafts.
Walking around Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo (Spanish for Old Quarter), also known as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe, is the historic district of Panama City.
Completed and settled in 1673, it was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panamá city, Panamá Viejo, in 1671, when the latter was attacked by pirates. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.
The bay-front Cinta Costera is a favorite place for Panamanians and foreigners to spend their afternoons and evenings either strolling hand-in-hand along the water, watching their kids play in the many playgrounds, or jogging down the track that runs the length of this pretty place that has helped Panama City look a lot like Miami. The newest addition is the Cinta Costera 3, a new highway that takes drivers out on the water and around Casco Antiguo. This was the cause of much debate, as many people worried it would result in the loss of Casco Antiguo’s World Heritage Site status.
Isla Taboga is part of an archipelago situated 20km (12 miles) south of Panama City. The largest of the island chain, Isla Taboga (571 hectares; population 1500) dots the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and boasts a rich diversity of tropical flora and a history marked by international influences. Isla Taboga sits in close proximity to Isla Morro, which is roughly one square hectare and at low tide connects to Taboga’s main beach, Playa Restinga. The bay these islands share once served as a harbor for ships, and the islands themselves provided a strategic location to settle—there was an abundant supply of fresh water, worshippers could pray in the second oldest church in the hemisphere, and those doing business in Panama City could easily anchor and take smaller boats to the mainland. Taboga was in years past a lively town, as a trading post, ship repair port, and great for mainlanders traveling out of the city for a few days to seek the refreshing seaside. It boasted a great quantity of some of the clearest drinking water in the area, so pirates, conquistadors, and merchant ships alike came from afar to stock up for their long voyages on the South Seas. In years past, Taboga was rich in tropical fruits, vegetables, corn, iguanas (a favorite food), and seafood.
During his time in Panama, French Impressionist Paul Gaugin became extremely ill, and spent time in a Yellow Fever and Malaria Sanatorium on Isla Taboga. Nothing remains to bear witness of his stay here apart from a vibrant plaque, donated in 1995 by the French Embassy of Panama.
Hiking in Taboga
One of the island’s hikes is titled “Three Crosses Hill” or “Cerro de las Tres Cruces”, which can take about two hours. This path leads you up the mountain to 3 crosses, and if you choose to hike through the jungle to make the connection to the main road, you can end up at the Mirador with a spectacular panoramic view of Isla Morro, the Panama Canal, Panama City, and the coastline.
The Amador Causeway connects the three islands by the entrance to the Panama Canal to the mainland. From the causeway, there is a terrific view of Panama City, and the Bridge of the Americas. Many Panamanians like to spend their weekends jogging, riding a bicycle or rollerblading down the causeway, or having a meal or drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars on the islands.
Rent of Bicycle goes from US$2.50 to US$18.00 per hour.
Can be paid cash or with Credit card
Kuna Yala Day Tour
Kuna Yala is a collection of some 365 islands (one for each day of the year) where you can swim and snorkel. The islands of Kuna Yala have been formed by the accumulation of coral and are covered with palm trees and white sand beaches that are indescribable.
Departure: every morning at 5:30 a.m from Panama City to the Paradise San Blas island (Kuna Yala Panama). Return to Panama city at 6:00 p.m.
Cost: $ 130.00 per person
Includes: Breakfast, lunch, boat transfer, car transfer (jeep or 4WD round trip ), boat transfers, entrance fee to the region of Kuna Yala, beach, snorkeling gear.
What to bring:
- Bathing suit
- Water shoes
- Beach sandals
- Sun lotion
This excursion is for travelers looking for peace, tranquility, and a lively and safe environment. Come and enjoy the beauty of San Blas Island (Kuna Yala) and you’ll love walking along the white beaches, swimming in the crystalline water, relaxing in the hammocks in the shade of the palm trees, and listening to the sound of the ocean breeze.
Whether a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, a walled convent in the heart of Alajuela, Costa Rica, or an apartment situated above the bustling metropolis of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ISL’s volunteer lodgings are unique and carefully chosen based on very important criteria. Accommodations are safe, clean, and within a reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreation opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers as well as meeting spaces for team training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include retreat houses, guest houses or home stays, all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL country coordinators will provide a description of your team’s lodging in every Welcome Letter that goes out prior to your departure.
Casa de Retiro Espiritual Monte Alverna, Betania, Panamá,
Instituto Cooperativo Interamericano
Fundación Alternativa, Coclesito, Colón
Hotel Roma, Panamá
Hotel Residencial Benidorm, Panamá
Hotel Ojos del Río
La iguana Ecor Resort, Coclé
Hotel Santa Fe, Veraguas
Hotel Lleras, David, Chiriquí
Hotel Residencial Cervantes, David, Chiriquí
Hostal Llano Lindo, Volcán, Chiriquí
We love our staff and we are positive that you will too! Each staff member is professional, courteous, and has the same passion as you do: to serve others.