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Panama 12 Day Conservation Expedition

Panama 12 Day Conservation Expedition

Panama 12 Day Conservation Expedition

Dates: TBD  |  Tuition: Request A Quote Tuition Details

Group Organizer/s: 

Your contact info here.

SSA Contact: 

Morrison Mast, morrison@SmithsonianSA.com, 703-955-9718

Deadlines: TBD

Request a Quote

SAMPLE PROGRAM PAGE: This is an example of what your private program webpage and itinerary might look like, as you decide to organize a program with us. Please begin by reviewing the suggested itinerary listed under the Pre-Enrollment tab, and then feel free to read through other sections to get a sense of the in-depth information and support we provide for all programs.

Program Highlights

  • Visit the Panama Canal Museum
  • Assist researchers at the Howler Monkey Research Center
  • Hike to a secluded waterfall in the cloud forest
View Full Itinerary

Smithsonian Student Adventures was created through a collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution and Walking Tree Travel. Although this video is branded as Walking Tree Travel, it encapsulates the mission and spirit that is present in all SSA programming.

Important Program Details

Click on the sections above to learn more

Sample Itinerary

1USA - PanamaFly to Panama City at night, then drive across the glittering city and along the Panama Canal to Gamboa, where we'll check into our lodge next to Soberanía National Park, our home away from home for the next few days. Soberania Lodge
2GamboaAfter our first Panamanian breakfast, we'll have an orientation meeting and introduction to the center and the work of some of our hosts, all of whom are Panamanian researchers and biodiversity conservationists. Then strap on your hiking shoes! Today we dive in and spend our first full day in Panama observing and documenting wildlife in the rainforest in Soberania National Park, right around our lodge. We may be lucky to see some of the different species of toucans, motmots, trogons, and tanagers found here. We may even spot agoutis, perhaps an armadillo, or a coati exploring the grounds. In the afternoon, we will stop by the Panama Canal Museum and the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, to learn firsthand about the operation of this globally important waterway. You may be lucky to see how some gigantic ships, called PANAMAX vessels, just barely (but always successfully) squeeze through the immense locks. Soberania Lodge
3GamboaToday we will start the day with another early wildlife hike, with an introduction to the diversity of birds found in Panama by professional ornithologists. We'll also take some time to visit the local Wildlife Rescue Center- Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC). We will assist in activities that promote the Center's core mission and goals. In the afternoon, we'll take a boat tour of the Panama Canal itself and see even more wildlife that congregates around Lake Gatun. And after dinner, we will make a visit to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's Bat Lab and learn about the diversity of bats in Panama. If we're lucky, we'll even catch, measure, and weigh some tropical bats!Soberania Lodge
4GamboaThe morning will be dedicated to volunteering in local reforestation or invasive species removal projects with the national or municipal park service. In the afternoon, we'll go ziplining across a section of Lake Gatun, a manmade lake that was created to form the Panama Canal. In the evening we'll receive a lecture from a Panamanian primate researcher and conservationist, to learn more about the animals we'll be observing and researching over the coming days.Soberania Lodge
5GamboaWe'll continue our volunteer work in the morning, then in the afternoon, put our observational skills to the test as we conduct behavioral research on howler monkey populations in Soberania National Park. After dinner in the evening, we'll hear from Guido Berguido, the founder of a Panamanian organization that protects hundreds of acres of pristine primary rainforest. We'll learn about what each of us can do individually to positively impact the conservation of global biodiversity.Soberania Lodge
6GamboaToday we'll be volunteering alongside researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center, helping in facilities maintenance and research assistance with the butterfly lab or another ecological research project. After darkness falls, we'll go for a night hike through the rainforest to learn more about nocturnal tropical species!Soberania Lodge
7Gamboa / Panama CityToday we'll drive into Panama City and visit Smithsonian's Punta Culebra Marine Exhibition Center. We'll then visit the old quarter of the city, to learn about the French and Spanish influence on this important port. We'll spend the day walking amongst this patchwork of crumbling and renovated historic buildings, having ceviche in the fish market, and strolling through the vibrant artisan markets in Casco Viejo. We'll have raspados (traditional Panamanian shaved ice) before heading back to Soberania for dinner. Soberania Lodge
8Altos de Campana National ParkEarly today we will travel towards the Altos de Campana National Park to see a completely different ecosystem. At the heart of the mist-covered cloud-forest, we will be on the lookout for a few organisms unique to this ecosystem, giant trees, tree ferns, orchids, and an array of epiphytic flora. Here you will have the opportunity to conduct comparative observations of your study subjects to gain a sense of whether elevation represents a significant variable in the ecology of organisms. In the afternoon, we will visit a nearby community where we will have the opportunity to meet some of the local students, deliver school supplies, and see firsthand what a Panamanian school looks like.Soberania Lodge
9Gamboa - Guna YalaToday we'll get up early and drive out to the Caribbean islands of San Blas, part of the Guna Yala indigenous territory, or comarca. We'll watch the landscape change dramatically as we drive through the mountains from the Pacific coast to the shores of the Caribbean, making some strategic stops along the way to enjoy the scenery. We'll stop and visit a local school and donate any supplies we may have brought, then make our way out to the blue waters and the white sand beaches of Guna Yala. We will spend the night camping on a small island on the beach surrounded by coconut palms and the ocean waves.Camping in Guna Yala
10Guna YalaToday will be spent on the islands of Guna Yala, snorkeling, enjoying the beach, and learning about the indigenous Guna culture. We will have a practical lesson on coral reef ecology, and have the chance to explore the coral reefs of the Caribbean. We will also have the opportunity to learn about the Guna nation; their history, traditions, way of life, as well as their struggles to achieve autonomy from the Government of Panama.Camping in Guna Yala
11Guna Yala - PanamaWe'll enjoy a final morning on the Caribbean and maybe get in a final snorkel before heading back into the interior. We'll take some time to relax and get packed at the Soberania Lodge before heading into Panama City for a final dinner on the Amador causeway or Casco Viejo. Soberania Lodge
12Panama - USAThis morning we will drive back through Panama City one final time before heading back home!Your own bed!

Philosophy Of Travel

Our mission is to inspire the next generation to become global leaders by taking an active interest in the world around them. With a dedication to learning, along with an enduring passion for exploring the world, Smithsonian Student Adventures designs transformative and meaningful travel programs that uncover the authentic culture of each destination and inspire students to take action in their local and global community.

Smithsonian Student Adventures stands for a more open, curious, and compassionate approach to travel. We partner with select schools around the world to provide memorable small-group experiences, and invest in cultivating and maintaining longterm relationships with our partner communities. If you are interested in our organization and philosophy of travel, click here to learn more about us.


In order to provide a safe and memorable experience for our participants, teachers, and staff ; Program Leaders and Country Directors follow strict guidelines when deciding on lodging, working with partner vendors,  making reservations, and assigning program participants to rooms.

Student participants will always be grouped in rooms and/or sleeping areas by gender, and will never share rooms with people who are not associated with SmithsonianSA. Group Organizers and Program Leaders will be roomed separately from each other and from student participants. SSA partners with locally-operated, three star or equivalent hotels that are centrally located, clean, safe and wifi-enabled.

Below are a few examples of our partner hotels. Although these are our preferred providers, they are subject to change based on availability. Your final itinerary will provide complete information on your accommodations in the cities you will be visiting.

Panama City: http://casasucreboutiquehotel.com/

David: www.alouattasanctuary.org/

Boquete: http://refugiodelrio.com/

Bocas del Toro: www.dolphinbayhideaway.com/

Standards of Behavior

SSA provides fun, safe, and meaningful programs for our travelers. In order to achieve this goal, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct. Any of the following are grounds for early dismissal or in-country consequences at our discretion.


  1. Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  2. Associating with participants while they are in possession of or are consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  3. Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.


  1. Getting a piercing or tattoo
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials
  3. Threatening with or using weapons such as firearms, knives, explosives, etc.
  4. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle
  5. Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew
  6. Breaking group rules

These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of a travel program. Please take the time to review these rules as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before choosing to travel with SSA.

Tuition & Fundraising

When you travel with Smithsonian Student Adventures, your participation benefits the work of Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, national zoo, and nine research centers, helping to shape the future through science, research, and exhibitions. Tuition details are below:

Tuition Includes:
Smithsonian Custom Group Travel Tuition includes icons

Tuition Excludes:
Baggage fees, airline minor fees, personal shopping, passport or visa fees, and activities not listed on the itinerary.

Tuition is an estimate until dates and itinerary are finalized. 

We believe that cost should not prevent enthusiastic students from having the opportunity to join an SSA program. We are pleased to offer opportunities for fundraising and payment plans to help make this goal a reality. Please visit our Tuition and Funding page to find out more about tuition, fundraising, payment options, referral discounts, and more.

Visit Tuition & Funding

Passport & Visa Check

Passport must be valid for six months after the final day of your travel program, including one open visa page.
No Visa Requirements for US Citizens traveling to Panama.

Non US citizens should check with their country’s embassy abroad to verify vaccination and visa requirements.
US citizens traveling from a country other than the United States should check the State Department website (www.travel.state.gov) for more information regarding additional visa or vaccine requirements.

Please contact us for further information regarding vaccination and visa requirements.

Health and Safety

We strongly recommend visiting the CDC Panama website to get the most updated information on health and vaccination considerations in your destination country. In addition, we encourage you to consult with your personal family physician so you can be as informed as possible when making important decisions about vaccinations and other necessary health-related preparations before travel.

Our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. SSA will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.

Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.

We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.


Travel Insurance

Our experience has taught us that international travel can sometimes be unpredictable. As such, SSA will purchase basic secondary travel and medical insurance for all SSA travelers via Travel Insured International. This service provides the following coverage at no additional cost to our participants:


$500 Return Airfare for Trip Interruption
$750 ($150 per day) Trip Delay of six hours or more
$500 (Three or more hours) Missed Connection
$1500 ($250 per article) Baggage/Personal Effects
$300 Baggage Delay – 24 hours
$25,000 Accident & Sickness Medical Expense
$100,000 Emergency Evacuation and Repatriation
Emergency Assistance Non-insurance Worldwide Emergency Assistance Services Included

Once you have been accepted onto your program, SSA will be in touch regarding this insurance and other additional options (see below).


The following additional optional coverage upgrades are available upon request for an additional premium charge to the traveler. For further information on the premiums associated with these optional coverage enhancements, please email your inquiry to our travel insurance program administrator, Hayashi Insurance Solutions: travelinsurance@jshinsurance.com

– Trip Cancellation Coverage – Reimburses the traveler up to the trip cost insured up to a maximum of $10,000 per person if the trip must be cancelled for unforeseeable life events including but not limited to; medical/health reasons, bereavement, etc.

– Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) – Reimburses the traveler for 75% of the non-refundable trip cost. Cancellation must be made 48 hours or more prior to scheduled departure. Must be purchased at the same time as initial plan purchase and prior to final trip payment. *This benefit is not available to residents of New York State.

The Plan is administered by Hayashi Insurance Solutions (CA DOI 0F61680) a licensed Insurance Agency authorized to transact this insurance under the express authority of Travel Insured International, Inc. and its representatives, and on behalf of Walking Tree Travel, Inc. The Plan contains insurance benefits underwritten by the United States Fire Insurance Company. Fairmont Specialty and Crum & Forster are registered trademarks of United States Fire Insurance Company. The Crum & Forster group of companies is rated A (Excellent) by AM Best Company 2015. The Plan also contains non insurance Travel Assistance Services that are provided by an independent organization, OnCall International, and not by United States Fire Insurance Company or Travel Insured International. Review the Plan Document for complete terms, including benefits, conditions, limitations and exclusions that apply. Coverages may vary and not all coverage is available in all jurisdictions.

Global Leadership Curriculum

Walking Tree Travel has developed a curriculum that helps SSA travelers mature as global leaders before, during, and after their travel program. These simple, engaging tools are meant to spark discussion, frame the experience, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively both on our programs and in the future.

For more information about student learning objectives and format of the curriculum, click on the ‘learn more’ button below.

Learn More About the GLC

To view and complete the Pre-Program Activities, visit Walking Tree’s online portal at the button below.

Pre-Program Activity Portal

Language Resources


Want to learn a new language and be better prepared for your travel program? Duolingo is the easiest, most entertaining way to start learning and using a new language right away! The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to communicate with locals in your host country and help your fellow travelers navigate a foreign environment.

Tap the Duolingo owl to get started, or download the app to your mobile phone.

duolingo owl logo

Group Flight Information

Program participants will meet the group organizer at the below airline check-in counter three hours before the departure flight. If you have trouble locating the group, please notify your group organizer or contact SSA.




Air travel is unpredictable. Although we can ensure that our groups arrive to the airport with ample time and follow all airline instructions, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, mechanical problems, labor strikes, etc. Please note that in such an event SSA is not financially responsible for unexpected costs incurred by travelers. Our programs officially begin and end in our host countries. That being said, our travelers’ well-being and safety is our number one priority, so please know that should flight delays/cancellations occur we will do everything we can to get travelers home in a timely manner and will do our best to keep family members updated on developments.

SSA is not responsible for fees associated with checked baggage. Please also make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the final day in country.

Please confirm with your air travel provider as some airlines may require that travelers under a certain age have completed an unaccompanied minor parental consent form. Please consult the airline website to confirm if this is required on your flight.

Leader Profile

SSA will send a minimum of one experienced Program Leader on every program. In addition to this Program Leader, we also have a support staff in our host countries and 24/7 support from our headquarters in Denver, Colorado that are available to the group for additional help when necessary. Below you’ll find a list of the Smithsonian Student Adventures staff involved in the planning, organizing, and leadership of your program.

  • Morrison Mast Conservation Programs

    College of William and Mary – B.S. Biology and Environmental Science & Policy

    Morrison is an obsessive and experienced traveler, having been to 50+ countries in pursuit of the life-changing experiences offered by the wild places of the world. Fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, and broken French, he is an avid wildlife photographer whose favorite subjects are beetles, spiders, and the oft overlooked microcosms they inhabit. Morrison is a percussionist at heart and has performed nationally and internationally with groups ranging in style from symphonic to experimental rock and traditional Turkish music. During his undergraduate years, Morrison conducted research in Brazil and Madagascar with conservation organizations that are actively working with communities to strike a sustainable balance between humans and the ecosystems that support them. Education is surely the most rewarding aspect of his work; Morrison constantly strives to inspire positive change by communicating his overwhelming awe of the natural world to others. Morrison hopes to build a career in biodiversity conservation and is currently in charge of developing and implementing new Conservation Expeditions.

    Group Roster

    Please have all travelers check below to ensure their name is spelled exactly how it appears on your passport. For edits, email lacey@SmithsonianSA.com.


    Community & Project Details

    Located in the buffer zone of the Soberanía National Park , Soberania Lodge is a modest Bed & Breakfast offering outstanding opportunities for wildlife observation in the adjacent rainforests. Various room configurations are possible, from bunkrooms to singles, they all have air conditioning and private bathrooms with hot showers. On the grounds of the Soberania Lodge you can find a great diversity of animals, ranging from dozens of species of butterflies and moths, to iguanas and lizards, as well as scores of mammals like sloths, tamarin monkeys, night monkeys, kinkajous, agoutis, pacas, coatis, armadillos. Additionally, the bird diversity is impressive with nearly 200 species recorded from the backyard. With aprox. 48,287 acres, the Soberania National Park contains an amazing biodiversity. Even though it is found some 40 minutes from downtown Panama City, this protected area boasts an incredible assortment of wildlife including five species of monkeys, two kinds of sloths and some 400 species of birds; plus thousands of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, etc. Its geographical position in the middle of Panama allows for a nice variety of species both from Central America, as well as some organisms typically from South America. Located in the small town of Gamboa, in the buffer zone of the Soberanía National Park, the Soberania Research Station & Lodge offers outstanding opportunities for wildlife observation and research in the adjacent rainforests. It is a preferred location for biologists from around the world who come to this site to conduct various research projects ranging from bird ecology and diversity, to behavioral studies in tropical bees, as well as herbivory in tropical rainforests, and much more.

    Communication & Blog

    The easiest way for students to keep in touch with family and friends at home while traveling will be using Wifi (available at most hotels and some restaurants) via Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, and Wechat for free.

    SSA tries to keep families and friends updated as frequently as possible with text and photo blogs. If parents would like updates regarding the group beyond these blog posts and email updates, they should direct all general inquiries to info@SmithsonianSA.com. We are always checking this email inbox and will respond promptly to inquiries. You can also reach us by dialing 303-242-8541 from the U.S.

    Here is the link to your blog: -Coming Soon-

    Packing List

    What follows is a sample packing list, which will be updated for each program. We recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.

    Most importantly, be sure to remember your PASSPORT and STUDENT ID.

    Panama Packing List


    6 pairs of underwear
    6 pairs of socks (a mixture of good hiking socks and casual socks)
    4 t-shirts (some quick dry)
    2 long sleeve shirts
    1 sweater
    1 warmer jacket
    1 rain jacket
    2-3 pairs of travel/athletic shorts that are breathable and light
    2 pairs of comfortable/hiking/everyday pants (NOT all jeans)
    1 nice shirt/top to be worn to more formal dinners (girls might want a skirt or something a little nicer for such occasions)
    1 pair of durable athletic/hiking shoes
    1 pair of sandals (optional)
    1 pair of work gloves
    1 hat


    Sunscreen (you will use a lot)
    Mosquito repellent
    Band Aids and Neosporin
    Hand Sanitizer
    Medication in properly marked original container


    Journal and pen
    Camera (digital, disposable, waterproof)
    Power Converter
    Alarm Clock and watch
    Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $50-$150, depending on amount of desired souvenirs, extra items etc.)
    Durable water bottle
    1 quick-dry towel
    Deck of cards or other portable games
    Host family gift
    Spanish/English Dictionary


    Travelers often contact us regarding what an appropriate gift might be for their student’s host family. Host families are often curious about where our students come from and their families in the U.S. As such, we recommend a simple gift that describes, represents or depicts your home. Well-received gifts in the past have included calendars or picture/coffee table books from your city or state, a framed picture of your family, paraphernalia from a local sports team, toys, soccer balls, school supplies, or something produced or grown in your hometown, like chocolate, local candy, t-shirts, etc. The most important thing to keep in mind is not to worry about this…  Anything, no matter its value, will be well received!

    Tuition Details

    more tuition information

    Tuition is an estimate until dates and itinerary are finalized. 

    When you travel with Smithsonian Student Adventures, your participation benefits the work of Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, national zoo, and nine research centers, helping to shape the future through science, research, and exhibitions.

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