Tropical Panama for Teens
A Teen Naturalist Rainforest Excursion
For Grades 9-12
February 24 to March 4, 2024
Financial Support Available (see Additional Information)
12 participants max
This February-break trip for teenagers is an introduction to tropical ecology and biodiversity. Our expert educators and Panama's premiere wildlife guides have worked together to build this unforgettable journey, designed with the goal of kindling a passion for nature connection and wildness that will last a lifetime.
As a close-knit group of curious learners, we'll together immerse in some of Earth's most biodiverse lowland jungles and highland cloud forests. As we take in the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of new landscapes, we'll witness how myriad species and systems function together to create complex, resilient tropical ecosystems. Throughout the journey, we'll use these experiences to understand our own responsibility to appreciate and protect nature abroad and at home.
We'll discover technicolor butterflies and astonishingly camouflaged praying mantids underneath forests full of toucans and tanagers. We'll gaze out our bedroom windows at monkeys and macaws moving through the rainforest canopy. We'll trek into the volcanic high-country in search of the sacred and stunning Resplendent Quetzal. We'll watch dazzling hummingbirds sip nectar from innumerable tropical flowers while the roars of howler monkeys echo in the distance. Join us as we take a left off the Pan-American Highway and head straight into the heart of the jungle.
Flow of the Day: The itinerary is designed to maximize our experience with the great diversity of birdlife and ecosystems that Panama offers. We won’t, however, be rushing from place to place to chase the largest species list possible. Our goal is to spend time appreciating the species we encounter at an enjoyable pace. Outings begin in the early morning, and we travel slowly to allow for the best bird and wildlife encounters and observation.
We visit several private reserves, gardens, and feeders where it is easier to find a large diversity of birds. The driving and the flights are scheduled during hot hours when wildlife activity is slower. Afternoon plans typically allow for some afternoon rest time at the lodges, though this is not always feasible when we are transferring between lodges and landscapes.
Climate: The temperature in the Canal area can be close to 90°F, and it ranges from 50 to 66°F at various mountain elevations in the Chiriquí Highlands. The period of lightest rainfall is from mid-December to mid-April.
Clothing: Pack light field clothing. Bring several pairs of long pants and comfortable, light, airy shirts. Long-sleeved (relaxed fit) shirts are useful for protection from the sun, as is a light hat or cap. Good rain gear is essential. Be sure to have a pair of comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots, plus a second pair of tennis shoes or sandals. A sweater or fleece is important for the Chiriquí Highlands. You may want more casual clothing for traveling or dinners. A small washcloth and handkerchiefs will be helpful.
Equipment: Bring a pair of binoculars, a field guide and a camera with extra batteries. The guides will have two spotting scopes. Pack sunglasses and sunscreen, a small flashlight or headlamp, a small alarm clock (a smartphone will work), insect repellent, and a small daypack.
Health Considerations: Please consult your physician before the trip for any recommended immunizations. While malaria is not a risk in the regions where we will be traveling, mosquitoes and other small, biting insects can sometimes be a nuisance in Panama, especially in the forested areas. Chiggers are found in most of the grassy areas. We suggest a stick-type repellent for your face and hands, plus at least one pump-style container of repellent for your clothing. As for foods, all salads, dairy products and meals at the different lodges are perfectly safe to eat. Bottled water is provided while on tours.
Participants should be able to hike on moderate terrain up to 2-4 miles per day, and be ready to expect conditions that may be hot, cold, dry, wet, or anything in-between.
Transportation: The land transportation is in registered minibuses with A/C, a necessary luxury in the humid lowlands of Panama. The sky transportation to the Chiriquí Highlands uses a F70 Fokker twin-engine jet airliner airplane with a 70-80 passenger capacity.
Weight restrictions: For our domestic Chiriquí Flights, a maximum of 50 lbs. of checked luggage and 10 lbs. of carry-on per person is allowed. Arrangements can be made to safely store extra luggage at the Rainforest Summit Hotel, where we will return to for the final night of our journey.
Peace of Mind: Panama is a place of kind hearts, modern infrastructure, and spectacular biodiversity. It is among the safest, easiest, and most comfortable places to travel in Central/South America. Travelers concerned about visiting unknown destinations where English is not the primary language will find that Panama is the perfect gateway to tropical nature travel.
Our NBNC guides are Teacher-Naturalists Pete Kerby-Miller and Carrie Riker.
Pete worked in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for two years studying tree growth patterns. Pete lived in Gamboa (within Soberania National Park), and has traveled throughout the country with binoculars and bird guide in hand. Pete has a decade of experience in youth mentoring and education. At NBNC, Pete instructs NBNC's afterschool and summer camp programs, embeds with public schools via our ECO program, and is instrumental in our owl banding and amphibian road crossing community science programming. More about Pete
Carrie has been working at NBNC for many years as our senior ECO and afterschool teacher, and is NBNC's Summer Camps director. Carrie also leads nature retreats and other adventures for NBNC youth. Carrie is a licensed teacher with a BS in Early Childhood Education and Geoscience, and a M.S. in Environmental Studies from Antioch New England. More about Carrie
Our in-country guide, Euclides, "Kilo" Campos, a regionally renowned bilingual bird expert with a deep knowledge of bird vocalizations and identification skills. Euclides is adept at finding many sought-after species, helping guests sight birds in challenging rainforest cover, and educating participants in the ecology and identification of each species. Euclides has a deep knowledge of natural and cultural history, and a degree in Nature Tourism. Born and raised in Panama, Euclides has a whopping in-country bird list of 768 species and has participated in several international avian research programs.
The trip cost includes:
- Pre-departure orientation gathering at NBNC
- Expert NBNC teacher-naturalist
- In-country expert naturalist guide
- Airport hotel transfers
- All accommodations
- Entrance fees to parks
- Domestic flights between David and Panama City
- International flights to/from Panama
- All transportation in a private bus
- Luggage storage arrangements
- All meals during the trip
The trip cost does not include:
- Cancellation insurance
- Extra hotel services
- Guide gratuities
It is critical that all participants have passports that are valid at least 6 months beyond the date of this departure.
It can take several months for new passports to be issued, so any interested participants who need a passport should begin the process of getting one as soon as possible.
For a list of bird species seen on a comparable itinerary by our in-country partners, Click Here
We believe that no student should be turned away for financial reasons, and we are committed to making sure that this opportunity is available to all.
To help families afford this trip, we are assembling a package of financial support that may include:
- Group fundraising events hosted by the students
- Aid from our Chip & Alisa Darmstadt Education Fund
- Contributions from participants on 2023 and 2024 Adventures Afar adult trips.
- Work-share opportunities for interested students to waive a portion of the trip fee in exchange for for volunteer stewardship work at NBNC.
If a student is committed to going on this trip, we're committed to making sure this financially possible!
Ready for Panama? Have Questions
Email [email protected] to get your teen signed up for this adventure!
- A $500 deposit is required to reserve your space on the trip.
- The remaining trip balance will be due 3 months before the departure date.
- Please contact us to inquire about the full trip price. We are committed to making sure that no students are turned away for financial reasons.
All payments can be made via check to: North Branch Nature Center, 713 Elm Street, Montpelier, VT 05602
We understand that incidents and emergencies arise that may force you to cancel your trip. However, NBNC invests considerable time and, in many cases, non-refundable payments to lodges and local contractors to secure our rooms and programming. NBNC aims to be as flexible as possible in our refund policy, but a full refund of your payments may not be possible after the dates indicated. All cancellations must be made via email to NBNC.
Cancellation more than 180 days before the trip: Full refund of all payments.
Cancellation 90-180 days before the trip: Refund of any payments minus the $500 deposit. If your space is filled by another traveler, we will also refund your deposit.
Cancellation 30-90 days before the trip: No refund guaranteed. If your space is filled by another traveler, we will provide a full refund minus the $500 deposit.
Cancellation less than 30 days before the trip: No refunds guaranteed.
Day 1: Arrival to the Rainforest
We are met at the airport in Panama City by our guide and driver and whisked away to the Summit Rainforest hotel, our lodge beside the jungle just 45 minutes away. The hotel is located atop a hill on the Cruces Trail National Park (Canal Zone), and contiguous with the Soberania National Park. Overnight: Summit Rainforest Hotel.
Day 2: Pipeline Road & Discovery Center Tower
We spend the day birding the famous Pipeline Road and the surrounding areas of the Soberania National Park. We’ll walk the famous Pipeline Road looking for showy birds like Great Jacamar, Black-tailed Trogon, Pheasant Cuckoo, and Broad-billed Motmot. We'll then visit the Rainforest Discovery Center Tower (a 100-foot-tall tower emerging into the rainforest canopy), and its gardens, where we'll search for toucans, howler monkeys, and the stunning Blue Cotinga. Overnight: Summit Rainforest Hotel.
Day 3: Jungle Boat & Wildlife around Gatun Lake
Today we head onto the Panama Canal for a jungle boat tour, exploring the shores of Gatun Lake for creatures like Green Iguana, crocodiles, and Three-toed Sloth. We'll also be on the lookout for a suite of primates like White-faced Capuchin, Howler Monkey, and Geoffroy's Tamarin. Tonight we'll also head out for a special nocturnal wildlife walk to search for mammals, reptiles, and insects that are only found after dark. Overnight: Summit Rainforest Hotel.
Day 4: Birding Gamboa and Drive to El Valle
This morning we'll explore some local birding destinations in search of species that we may not see elsewhere on our journey. This may include visiting Plantation Road, the Summit Ponds, or the Metropolitan Nature Park in Panama City. Some of the species we'll be on the lookout for include Spectacled Owls, Blue-crowned Motmots, Amazon, Green, and Ringed Kingfishers, nesting Boat-billed Herons, Spotted Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Olivaceous Flatbill, White-whiskered Puffbird, and more. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll drive 2 hours west to the town of El Valle. Overnight: Casa Grimaldo or Valle Luna
Day 5: EL Valle Foothills and Biking
This morning, we explore the Cerro Gaital and La Mesa area. This area is at higher elevation than the town itself. Much different than the lowland canal zone, this morning's habitat features wet foothill forests. We’ll spend the day searching for species typical of these environments, such as Tody Motmot, Spectacled Owl, Spot-crowned Barbet, Flame-rumped Tanager, Yellow-eared Toucanet and more. In the afternoon, we'll hop on bikes and explore El Valle on two wheels. Overnight: Casa Grimaldo or Valle Luna
Day 6: EL Valle Foothills & Drive to Western Highlands
We will bird the town of El Valle this morning, a picturesque town located in the crater of an extinct volcano. The town has year-round spring weather thanks to its 700-meter elevation. Here we may add Silvery-throated Tanager, Orange-bellied Trogon, and Blue-throated Toucanet to our list. After lunch, we drive four hours west to the Western Highlands, stopping in Boquete, where we will spend three nights at the edge of the cloud forests. Overnight: Bambuda Castle.
Day 7: Los Quetzales Trail & Boquete
Today is focused on finding Resplendent Quetzals. Though finding the bird is not easy, it forages primarily on wild avocados, and this region is flush with these trees. The Quetzal was a sacred symbol of the Aztecs and Mayas, and the bird itself represents liberty in today’s cultures. Its name is an ancient term for tail feather. The afternoon will be spent settling into the mountain town of Boquete. We may visit a coffee plantation, a botanical garden, or explore other activities here. Overnight: Bambuda Castle.
Day 8: Nature Hike to the Lost Waterfalls
Today we'll hike into Volcan Baru National Park, a region home to the highest concentration of threatened and endemic species in Panama. Our destination is Las Tres Cascadas, also known as "The Lost Waterfalls." Along this 2-3-hour cloud forest hike, we'll be looking for highland birds, mammals, hummingbirds, and everything else this region has to offer. The Volcan Baru National Park, also known as Parque Internacional la Amistad, is a World Heritage Site and part of the Talamanca Mountains. Overnight: Bambuda Castle.
Day 9: Chiriquí Highlands and return to Panama City
This morning we'll visit Tree Trek Boquete Adventure Park to experience one of the greatest zip-line canopy tours in the world, covering 3 kilometers on 11 zip-line cables. Professional guides and operators ensure that this is a safe and unforgettable experience for all. While at the Adventure Park, we may enjoy other activities as well, such as a walk on the Hanging Bridges trail, or take a coffee tour. In the late afternoon, we will head to David to take a flight back to Panama City. Overnight: Rainforest Summit Hotel.
Day 10: Departure to Tocumen Airport
After some early morning birding around the property and a hearty farewell breakfast, we’ll transfer from the hotel back to the Tocumen Airport in Panama City for our departure flights back home.