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Bocas Del Toro


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Home >> Bocas Del Toro >> Spanish und Volunteer

Panama is a cultural and natural paradise, but most travelers see only the large, touristy resorts. Our unique program in Bocas Del Toro enables you to combine Spanish language study with volunteer work.
We have various volunteer projects to choose from in the islands. Whether you want to help the elderly, teach english to locals or with turtle conservation at one of 2 locations, you are sure to have an amazing and memorable time in Bocas Del Toro,Panama.

During your Spanish lessons and/or your volunteer project, you will live with in a local family or in basic accommodations at the Turtle Conservation Project of your choice.
You will be provided with breakfast while staying at El Paraiso's homestay and volunteering with either the elderly or teaching english. You will be provided  3 meals a day while participating in turtle conservation. You will gain an invaluable insight into the “real” Panama.

Eligibility and requirements:

  • Eligible to receive a tourist visa to Panama
  • Flexible in attitude, in good health and have a desire to contribute
  • Resilience to work in tropical conditions, and adaptability to relate with a new culture
  • Speak at least minimal Spanish
  • Compliance with the rules and procedures of the volunteer program as established by the program
  • Medical insurance
  • At least 18 years old
  • Good vision as a lot of the work at the turtle project is done at night.

Start dates:
Any week of the year - the turtle conservation program is available from March 1 - July 15 each year. Guaranted time to see turtels are the months of April and May.

Length of Program:
Minimum 1 week.  If staying more than 2 weeks, one can combine both  projects-  on Isla Soropta and  Playa Larga.

Visa Documentation:
Most tourist visas are valid for up to 3 months. We recommend checking with your local Panamanian Consulate for the most up to date visa information.
You are required to have a valid passport for at least 6 month to travel to Costa Rica and Panama as well as a plane or bus ticket out of the country

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We can offer you several opportunities to volunteer in Panama!
  1. Volunteer in Bocas town while you study spanish at El Paraiso.

    Prices of all packages below include: 
    • Registration fees and course materials
    • Accommodations
    • Cultural activities - different activity every week (cooking class, dance class, visit to places of interest)
    • Placement examination prior to start of classes
    • Free break time refreshments
    • Free use of internet while at El Paraiso
    • Certificate of attendance
2008 Prices - US dollars
Minigroup 20 HoursWithout Lodging  With Homestay, Hospedaje or
school stay
2 weeks$445 $665
3 weeks$625 $955
4 weeks$805 $1245
Additional weeks $175$285

Private Class 15 HoursWithout Lodging  With Homestay, Hospedaje or
school stay
2 weeks$506 $726
3 weeks$711 $1041
4 weeks$908 $1348
Additional weeks $188$298

Private Class 20 HoursWithout Lodging  With Homestay, Hospedaje or
school stay
2 weeks$645 $865
3 weeks$915 $1245
4 weeks$1178 $1618
Additional weeks $250$360

2) Sea Turtle Conservation Project - Study with us in Bocas Del Toro
and volunteer in the Turtle Conservation Project AFTER your stay
at El Paraiso.
**This program is available from March 1 - July 15 each year. 
    Guaranted time to see turtles are the months of April and May. **

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Three species of marine turtles are known to nest in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. These include the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green turtle (Chelonia mydas). Among these the hawksbill was historically very common and the Bocas del Toro region has been cited as one of the more important nesting grounds for this species in the western hemisphere. As little as 40 years ago hawksbill turtles were still abundant in the waters of the archipelago. Green turtles, which feed on offshore sea grass pastures, were also much more common than they are today.

The purposes of the turtle program are to:
1) determine the relative nesting population abundance for the three species of marine turtle in the Bocas del Toro region through the monitoring of nesting activity on the beach areas.
2) determine aspects of geographic migration, remigration, renesting, nesting behaviour, and longevity through the initiation of a long term tagging program,
3) construct and maintain egg nurseries (if warranted)
4) relieve poaching pressure through conservation, education and the establishment of alternative employment opportunities such as iguana farming, ecotourism, and the promotion of local folk art. Through the implementation of this program, our goal is to eventually restore turtle nesting populations to historic levels.

Choose one of our 6 ready made packages or you can design your own program.

  Prices of all packages below also include: 

  • Registration fees and course materials

  • Cultural activities - differrent activity every week (cooking class,
    dance class, visit to places of interest)

  • Placement examination prior to start of classes

  • Free break time refreshments

  • Free use of internet while at El Paraiso

  • Transport from Bocas island to Isla Soropta or Isla Larga

  • Homestay with breakfest while at El Paraiso and basic
    accommodations and 3 meals a day at the Turtle
    Conservation Project .

 2008 Prices - US dollars


    • 2 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 2 weeks volunteer work with Turtle 
      Conservation Program.

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 948


    • 3 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 3 weeks volunteer work with Turtle
      Conservation Program.

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 1,393


    • 4 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 4 weeks volunteer work with Turtle
      Conservation Program.

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 1,833


    • 5 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 5 weeks volunteer work with Turtle   
      Conservation Program .

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 2,278


    • 6 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 6 weeks volunteer work with Turtle Conservation Program .

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 2,623


    • 7 weeks of Spanish classes in a group, 4 hours a day, 20 hours per week, plus 7 weeks volunteer work with Turtle
       Conservation Program.

    • PACKAGE PRICE: $ 3,168

    Extra Weeks:

    • Additional week of Spanish lessons in a group with accommodations  - $285 US

    • Additional week of volunteer work - $160 US


      1)Changuinola/Soropta Beach.
       This extensive high impact beach lies north of the archipelago and stretches for about 20 km between the mouth of the Changuinola River and the Soropta Peninsula. It is widest at the north end near the river mouth and tapers to the south becoming impassable in some locations at high tide. The sand is derived from volcanic sources and is grey in colour. Permanent markers have been placed every 100 meters.

      2) Isla Bastimentos.
      Just to the southeast of Isla Colon is Isla Bastimentos (place for provisioning). The village of Bastimentos lies on the extreme northern end of the island. This is the longest island in the Archipelago (about 16 km) and is home to the Bastimentos National Marine Park.. This park covers an area of 13,226 ha. and was primarily established to protect the abundant coral reefs in the region, but protects a swathe of the islands interior as well. Playa Larga lies within the Park and is about 3 km in length. Permanent markers have been placed every 50 meters along the length of this beach. Leatherbacks and hawksbills nest on all of Bastimentos beaches but Playa Larga is the most important. Poaching occurs on all beaches of Isla Bastimentos. Access is by boat from Bocas del Toro and takes about 30 minutes.

      The group of volunteers will rotate between various field sites. Transport to Isla Bastimentos, Playa Soropta will be by boat from Bocas del Toro. Volunteers will remain at remote sites for one or more week periods.
      Field data will be recorded on data sheets and field notebooks and then transfered to a computer database.

      -Kilometer markers: To record the exact location of nesting activity markers have been placed either every 50 or 100 meters along the research beaches.
      -Data Collection Procedures:  The beach coordinator will demonstrate all measurement and data collection techniques and procedures.
      -Track Surveys:
      Turtle track surveys will be conducted every day by walking the entire beach back and forth. Generally surveys should be carried out early in the morning during personnel rotations. Based on track characteristics tracks are scored according to species (leatherback, green, hawksbill) and whether a nest was made (nesting emergence) or not (non nesting emergence or ‘false crawl’).
      -Policy on Poachers:
      Our activity with regard to sea turtles is strictly research and conservation. Policing is the responsibility of national park and law enforcement officials.
      Do not under any circumstances confront a poacher either on the beach or in the market.
      If you come across a poacher on the beach, ignore him and continue on by. They know that they are breaking the law and confronting a poacher may place you in harms way as well as jeopardizing our work in the region.
      -Relocation of Nests:
      Nests that are encountered being washed away through beach erosion caused by high tides may be relocated to a new site. Eggs need to be carried to the new site in their original orientation and deposited in artificial nests dug below the surface and reburied.
      -Tagging Protocol:
      Tagging of turtles will be conducted at night (between 20:00PM - 6.00AM). Nightly tagging teams will work in two shifts.
      -Nesting Behaviour:
      Data on nesting behaviour will be collected incidental to tagging operations.
      -Biometric Data: Several types of data will be collected from nesting leatherbacks.

      Remote stations on Bastimentos, Changuinola are very primitive, consisting of little more than a wooden hut. Cooking is done on a gas stove and rainwater is collected for drinking. Toilets and bathing is from well water or in adjacent rivers. Food is transported to the beaches weekly as the volunteers are rotated.

       This region lies 9° above the equator in the wet tropical zone (Holdridge Life Zone scheme). The average rainfall and temperature are 4m and 30°C (86°F). In general, the wet season (invierno) extends from May to December and dry season (verano) from January to April. However, rain occurs at all times of the year, only less in the dry season. Also there is a distinct dry spell in August-September which provides some of the best weather and water conditions during the year.

      The health and safety of participants in programs represent our primaryconcern, and we will take every precaution to ensure that all potential for accidents is minimized. However, we will be working in an environment unfamiliar to many and each individual must exercise caution, good judgment and common sense. We expect each participant to cooperate and follow rules of safety at the station.

      Each participant is required to immediately report to the beach coordinator or programm Director any sickness or injury. Delays in doing so may prolong or complicate your recovery period, impair your ability to actively participate in the program, and limit other participants ability to complete the research project. If necessary, emergency flights to San Jose, Costa Rica, or Panama City are possible from the airport in Bocas. There are poisonous snakes on the mainland. Generally snakes pose no significant threat to our work or safety because they tend to avoid areas frequented by people. There are also scorpions (non-lethal variety), crocodiles and sharks.

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      Please consult your doctor or public health service regarding vaccinations and medicines for traveling in Costa Rica and Panama. You and your doctor can make the most informed decisions based on your medical history. Malaria and dengue can occur in the Bocas del Toro Archipeligo.

      Because field work in the tropics can be physically demanding, you will need to provide information regarding your current physical condition and previous medical history (if pertinent). A certified medical examination from a physician is not required. You will also need to provide information about special allergies or conditions which may result in sudden illness (asthma, diabetes, etc.) you must inform the Director, coordinator and other program participants and a list of all prescription medication being taken.
      In addition if you require any special medication, you must bring an adequate and abundant supply. All prescription medication should be kept in their original bottles with the proper labeling indicating dosage. Keep all medication in your carry on baggage while travelling.

      No health or accident insurnace is provided. All participants are therefore required to have active medical insurance while enrolled in an the program. Consult your insurance carrier regarding specific coverage.
      All participants are responsible for paying medical costs whether or not you are covered by insurance. You should carry about $50-100 seperate from your other funds in case you require the services of a local clinic or doctor for minor illnesses or medication. Panama has a very good socialized medical system which is available to anyone including volunteer program personnel. A typical hospital visit will be around $20 including prescription medicines.

      Remember that while you are in Bocas you are a foreign visitor and a direct representative of EWT/ITEC and your home country. In order to maintain our integrity as a conservation organization we ask that all program parrticipants conduct themselves in a manner that reflects this conservation ethic and respect for the local community. Actions that are contrary to these ideals, such as eating sea turtle or their eggs, hunting wildlife, causing deforestation or littering, jeopardize our legitimacy locally and at home.
      As an EWT/ITEC volunteer, it is forbidden to engage in fraternization with local inhabitants of Bocas del Toro. We have had to establish this policy because of past situations where EWT/ITEC volunteers became personally involved with local individuals, seriously disrupting the operation and reputation of our program. We are not saying that you cannot make friends and strongly encourage you to do so. But, to be effective, EWT/ITEC must be perceived as a serious organization dedicated to the purpose of turtle research and conservation. If your personal involvement with a local individual is deemed disruptive to the project you may be asked to leave the program.
      The EWT/ITEC marine turtle program places people previously unknown to each other in a continuous group living arrangement that presents significant interpersonal challenges for everyone. Such is the nature of biological field stations. The most important qualities of a volunteer in this situation are not knowledge, motivation or physical ability but to be openminded, flexible, patient and have the ability to get along with others. Remember that ‘Murphy’ operates in Bocas too and things will go wrong at times. Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour. Compromise is the operative word here. Please leave egos in your home country and be respectful of other participants ways. We are a multinational group.

      This is a list of equipment that all turtle program volunteers should bring with them to Bocas del Toro:

      Flashlight, spare bulbs and batteries (additional batteries can be bought locally), lightweight raincoat, sturdy sandals (Tevas, are perfect) or trainers for walking the beach at night (something that you don’t mind getting wet), thin long sleeved shirts & long pants (preferably in dark colours and quick dry material), lots of socks and underwear, bathingsuit or two, water resistant digital wristwatch, pocket knife, insect repellent, hat or cap, sunscreen, tshirts & shorts, towel, mosquito net (get the finest mesh you can), day pack, small personal first aid kit, spare set of prescription glasses or contact lenses (if applicable), ziplock bags in various sizes, a few large trash bags to keep packs dry during transport

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Costa RicaEl Paraiso Spanish School
Km 1, via Manuel Antonio, Manuel Antonio
Tel: + 506-2777-4681 Fax:  + 506-2777-1048
Mail: P.O. Box 6350-317 Quepos, Costa Rica
Panama El Paraiso Spanish School & Cabinas Mar e Iguana
Entrada a los terrenos de la feria el Itsmito,
Isla Colon, Bocas Del Toro
Tel: + 507-6902-1029
Canada Contact Tel: + 519-747-1627