Information for Visiting Academic Programs
The Bocas del Toro Biological Station is an ideal location for the presentation of your field course or Study Abroad program.
Why Bring Your Field Course to ITEC?
Due to the availability of the two most-biodiverse ecosystems on our planet, lowland tropical rain forests and coral reefs, the Bocas del Toro Biological Station (Field Station) provides unparalleled opportunities for education and research. Within a few minutes walk are mature and secondary wet forests, hardwood swamps, raphia palm swamps, pastures, marshes, streams, ponds, limestone caves, beaches, estuaries, mangrove forests, sea grass beds, soft and hard coral reefs and rocky intertidal zones. Islands tend to be somewhat depauprate with regard to biodiversity when compared to an equal-sized area on the mainland. However, due to its size and proximity to the mainland and multitude of habitats, Isla Colon has a very diverse fauna and flora. See Data Basis for details.
Why Panama? The Republic of Panama represents an ideal country to visit for the tropical biologist. Panama is politically stable, uses U.S. currency (along with the equally-valued Balboa), has vast forests in Bocas del Toro and Darien Provinces, and boasts an extensive array of national parks and preserves. Three preserves occur within the Bocas del Toro Archipelago; the Bastimentos National Marine Park, the San San-Pond Sak National Reserve and Isla Pajaros. Panama has become an important destination for ecotourists and supports this with a modern infrastructure and availability of services.
Panama Culture Visiting students and instructors will find the diversity of cultures in Bocas del Toro remarkable. The primary cultures in the area are Afro-Antillean and the indigenous Ngöbe, but the indigenous Naso, Bokata and Guna are also present. Panamanian mestizo, Chinese and Arab cultures are also important in Bocas.
Field Station Location An important feature of our location is its isolation (9o 24’ 21.34” N, 92o 18’ 48.97 W). Bocas del Toro, and Panama in general, is experiencing a significant tourism boom. Our location on a large private preserve eight miles from the town of Bocas del Toro means that our education programs, research and other activities are not interrupted by tourists or other distractions.
Arriving at the Field Station If arriving by air to the Bocas del Toro International Airport, ITEC staff will meet you and provide transportation to the Field Station. After a short, 10 min. bus ride, we board our boats and travel north along the west side of Isla Colon through Almirante Bay towards the Field Station. The Field Station dock is accessed from Ground Creek, a small meandering creek that resembles a cave in the mangroves. The Field Station buildings are located on a hill at the edge of the forest 200 m from our dock on Ground Creek.
Packing We recommend that visitors travel with a 70-80 liter backpack and a smaller, book pack when visiting the Field Station. This greatly facilitates moving gear from the dock to the Field Station. We suggest that you pack lightly bring and only what you really need. See also What to Bring.
Excursions A wide variety of destinations are available from the Field Station. These include Bird Island (pelagic seabird nesting colony), Dolphin Bay (birthing area for bottle-nosed dolphins), Soropta Canal (excellent birding opportunities), Banana River (lowland hardwood swamp), San San Pond-Sak National Preserve (40,000 acre Raphia swamp), Soropta Beach (nesting site for leatherback sea turtles), Agouti and Mimitimbi Caves (limestone caves, bats) and Isla Bastimentos (poison dart frog color polymorphism), among others. All of the islands of the archipelago are accessible from the Field Station. Contact ITEC for details.
The Field Station consists of several major buildings that surround an open courtyard facing southwest with a view of Almirante Bay. Structures include a Dormitory, Kitchen/Dining Room, and Laboratory/Library/Classroom complex. Other structures includes the Dive Bodega (building to house dive tanks, boating equipment and marine field equipment) situated at our dock on Ground Creek, and a garage and shop. A 25 ft. concrete water tower provides abundant water pressure to our buildings.
Visitor Housing Students are housed in the Dormitory which has a 36 person capacity. Students sleep six to a room in bunk beds and each room has its own bathroom. Faculty reside in private rooms with a bath. For visiting groups, hand soap, bedding, towels and mosquito nets are provided.
Dining and Meals The dining room is spacious and will seat up to 50 individuals. Three meals are provided daily. Breakfast themes revolve around eggs, toast, cereal, pancakes, or French toast and always include fresh fruit. Coffee, hot tea, Tang are provided and non-dairy products, such as soy milk, are available for lactose intolerant individuals. Filtered water is always available. Lunch and dinner are typically Panamanian and include meat (chicken, fish, beef), rice and beans, hot vegetable and salad. A vegetarian option is prepared for spaghetti, chow mien and other casserole-type main dishes. Bananas are generally available all of the time. Vegetarians are well taken care of and we attempt to satisfy special requests whenever possible. Unless requested otherwise, meals are at 7:30 am, 12:00 noon, and 6:00 pm.
Station Store Due to our isolation, the Field Station maintains a modest store located in the kitchen that includes a variety of snacks and drinks available at cost. ITEC t-shirts and ITEC stickers are also available at the station store.
Laboratory Complex This structure provides space for a large laboratory with abundant bench space and supplied with a variety of laboratory equipment including lab glassware, incubator, refrigerator, dissecting microscopes, compound microscopes, beam and electronic balances, centrifuges, hot plates, etc. The library/lounge is an equally large area containing over 2000 volumes covering all aspects of biology and anthropology. The second floor is divided into two large classrooms each with a 30+ person capacity.
Instructional Facilities Lecture facilities are available at three locations each accommodating an audience of 35+. Digital projectors as well as blackboards are available without cost to all visiting groups.
Boats and Vehicles ITEC maintains a fleet of four boats ranging in size form 12 feet to 25 feet which is capable of transporting up to 20 individuals. Vehicles include a 4-wheeled drive pickup and 4-wheeler ATV. Aluminum and dug-out canoes are also available.
Utilities The Bocas del Toro Biological Station is completely off grid. Taking advantage of the 12 feet of rain that falls in Bocas annually, our water is collected from enameled roof catchments and stored in large tanks. At present the station has a 5000 gal. storage capacity which is enough to supply 30 people for three weeks when used conservatively. Our electrical power is derived from a generator that runs for about an hour in the morning and about four hours in the evening between 6:30 and 11:00 pm.
Emergencies While we have not had a critical emergency since establishing in 1996, the potential is there as a consequence of the sort of activities that we are engaged in such as diving, snorkeling, tree-climbing, canoeing, hiking, caving, etc. One species of poisonous viper is also present. The Field Station has in-place medical emergency protocols and maintains a large, well-stocked medical kit. In case of a serious illness or accident, individuals would be transferred to the Bocas del Toro Hospital in town. The Field Station maintains a boat that can be used for evacuation day or night and can travel to the hospital dock in 13 minutes.
ITEC Garden The Field Station maintains an organic agricultural plot that provides plantains, bananas, yuca, pineapple, limes, papaya, peppers, guava, peach palm, guandu and maracuya to our kitchen. More than 100 fruit trees have been planted on the property including coconut, cacao, citrus, mamon, guanabana, star fruit, bread fruit, loquat and mango, and many will be bearing fruit in the next couple of years.
Appropriate Course Subjects Virtually any course involving tropical ecology, biology, anthropology and geology could be presented at the field station. Previous courses taught at the station include rainforest ecology, coral reef ecology, primate ecology, plant ecology, ethnobotany, conservation ecology, entomology, canopy access techniques, archaeology, herpetology and bird ecology, among others.
Community Service Opportunities The village of Boca del Drago and surrounding area, provides an opportunity for community service projects. The village is only 15 minutes by trail from the Field Station and is home to about 200 residents. There is an elementary school, two small stores, four churches, and a baseball field. The village has no running water, sewage treatment or electricity other than private generators. There are abundant opportunities to help folks in Boca del Drago. Past projects have included painting the school (inside and out), beach cleanups, planting trees at the school, environmental education programs at the school, and donations of cooking equipment, playground equipment and teaching supplies. Currently, the population of the village is growing faster than the school can accommodate new students. Additional classrooms are sorely needed as well as a new kitchen. Providing an internet connection would provide a huge boost to the students in Boca del Drago. Please contact ITEC for additional potential projects.
Research Opportunities Short and long-term research opportunities also exist at the Bocas del Toro Biological Station. Research permits from the environmental authority ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente) are required to conduct research in Panama. ITEC can provide assistance in obtaining research permits.
Support Staff All of our support staff are indigenous Ngöbe and reside either on the property or in the nearby village of Boca del Drago. These include our station manager, Enrique Dixon, our cooking staff , our grounds keeper, Rey and handyman, Jose. Our licensed boat drivers are Enrique and Ricardo.
Station Availability The Bocas del Toro Biological Station is open and available continually throughout the year. Contact ITEC on availability for specific dates.
Costs The fee for visiting academic programs is $50 per person per night. This includes transfer from the Bocas del Toro airport, meals, lodging at the Field Station, use of vehicles, boats, field equipment, laboratory, laboratory equipment, library, instructional equipment and classrooms. If your group is arriving by land, we suggest that you book passage directly from Almirante to the Field Station. Contact ITEC for additional services available.
ITEC’s Consortium Partners and Visiting Institutions
Cambridge School of Weston
Ciudad de Saber (City of Knowledge) Panama
College of Charleston
Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE)
Emory and Henry College
Evergreen State University
Florida International University
Grand Canyon University
Landmark High School
Michigan State University
New College of Florida
Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS)
School for Field Studies (SFS)
School for International Training (SIT)
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
St. Louis University
Students Without Borders
Toronto French School
Tree Climbers Coalition
Ukiah Unified High School
University of Colorado
University of Missouri
University of New England
University of Northern British Colombia
University of Panama, Santiago
Virginia Intermont College
West Texas A&M University
Winterline Global Skills