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 largest Central American economy. While Panama is known for the Panama Canal and its tropical fruit exports, tourism is becoming an important industry.
Twenty percent of Panama’s land is protected—one of the largest percentages in the world—belonging to the tribes of its indigenous people.
The unemployment rate in Panama is 4.8%, and 11% of the population lives in poverty, living on less than one dollar a day. Many of the poor are immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba. These are the communities where ISL volunteers serve.
Where We Serve in Panama
ISL Panama seeks to serve as much of the country’s poor as we can, serving in both rural, semi-rural and urban areas.
In rural or semi-rural areas, poverty is evident by the limited access to health services, constraints in transportation, and lack of economic resources. People in these communities are often exposed to infectious diseases, even though the housing in these areas is in a little better condition than that of the poverty stricken in urban areas. Some, however, still live in houses made of mud. The population in rural areas is a mixture of Latino and indigenous peoples, who follow the crop harvests for work.
In the urban areas, poverty is more evident and social risks to children and adults is greater, as many of them are exposed to violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other crimes.
As with any great work, it takes great relationships to get the job done. That’s why ISL Panama has partnered with nonprofits, hospitals, governmental and religious groups, and institutions to better serve the underprivileged of Panama.
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 downtown Panama City. 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 volunteers move to a new work site or as they travel to their recreation day location. Volunteers serving in the west area of Panama may arrive at the Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV) in David, Chiriquí, via Copa Airlines.
With ISL Panama, you’ll get to experience the culture of those you serve as volunteers. Here are some of the many possibilities:
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 park is only 20 minutes away from Panama City. 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 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 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 USA jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone for much of the 20th century and has remained a wilderness area, 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 in 1519, the city was the launching point of 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.
$6.00 per person
Metropolitan Nature Park – Cieneguita Trail
This was Panama’s first trail, established in 1987. It winds through the rain forest and takes approximately two hours to hike. We recommend silence when walking this trail; have your ears and eyes open and look for movement in the tree canopy.
Metropolitan Nature Park – Canopy Crane
An international team of scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) have set up a crane in this park to study the forest canopy, which is home to a complete ecosystem 30 -50 meters above the ground. Currently there are 12 cranes in the world used for this purpose, two of which are in Panama; you can have access to them through a guided tour, a unique experience you won’t want to miss!
Mi Pueblito, meaning “my little village,” is a mock village with life-sized replicas of colonial, Afro-American and indigenous buildings, showcasing the diverse customs and traditions of Panamá–a great option for pictures and a good place to buy handcrafts.
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, after the latter was attacked by pirates. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.
This bay-front area with unbeatable views is a favorite place for Panamanians and foreigners to stroll or jog along the water. Watch ships line up for passage through the Panama Canal and enjoy an impressive view of Panama City, as well.
Isla Taboga is part of an island chain 12 miles south of Panama City. The largest island in this chain, Isla Taboga dots the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and has the closest beaches to Panama City. Besides relaxing and enjoying the beach you can walk through the quaint and colorful town, hike to the top of El Cruce for an amazing view, go snorkeling, or take a historical tour.
Ferry-Boat Fares – $15 adults
The Amador Causeway connects three islands to the mainland near the entrance to the Panama Canal. From the causeway, there is an amazing view of Panama City, and the Bridge of the Americas. Many Panamanians like to spend their weekends here jogging, riding a bicycle or rollerblading, and having a meal in one of the many restaurants on the islands.
Bike rentals – $3 – $18 USD per hour
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 an accumulation of coral and are covered with palm trees and indescribable white sand beaches.
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.
Cost: $ 130.00 per person – a full day tour that includes: breakfast, lunch, boat and car transfers (jeep or 4WD round trip), entrance fee to the region of Kuna Yala, beach, snorkeling gear.
Whether lodging at 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 recreational opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers, as well as meeting spaces for 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 specific lodging in the Final Trip Document uploaded to your My ISL Portal 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.