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Panama City, Playa Venao , Panama

Program Description

This course will give students knowledge of tropical ecology and the issues surrounding reforestation in a developing country, through peer-reviewed article discussions during class time and a mandatory field trip to Panama over spring break.

Lecture topics covered will include tropical forest dynamics, reforestation, climate change impacts, ecosystem services, and human land use.

Independent research projects will be developed during the first 6 weeks of the semester and carried out in the dry tropical forests of Panama. Students will gain experience with study design (pre-field trip), data collection methods (during field trip), and statistical analysis (post-field trip). Students will also learn identification and natural history of plant and insect species within dry tropical forests.

Students should expect to spend a major part of each day outside in the natural tropical environment over spring break. Enrollment is limited to 12 students.

Location Description

We will be stationed in the small beach town of Playa Venao on the Pacific coast of Panama, approximately 5 hours from Panama City. March is a relatively hot, dry time of year with high winds.


Heather Griscom | | Biology


We will be staying at the Eco Venao Hostel. Students will be in shared rooms (men and women separate). There is Wi-Fi, a full kitchen, and laundry facilities. EcoVenao also has a restaurant and coffee shop.

All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) will be provided as part of the program.

Additional Items to Consider

Passport: If you do not already have a passport, you must apply for one immediately. If you are a U.S. citizen, you may pick up an application at most post offices or at If you already have a valid passport, please make sure that it does not expire for at least six months after your trip ends AND that it is in good condition! If you are not a U.S. citizen, please go online to confirm that you do not need an additional visa to enter Panama (typically having a US visa is sufficient).

Health: Please visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website and consult your doctor to determine what vaccinations you will need: The government of Panama does not require any vaccinations in order to enter the country (unless you are entering from a country with yellow fever). Please bring a full supply of any medicines you anticipate needing while in Panama, especially any prescription medications. For emergencies, there are many good private clinics and hospitals, with the biggest and best equipped located in Panama City. Note that there is a warning for Zika in Panama at this time. Also note that there is rabies there, so do not attempt to pet or touch any wild animals or stray dogs/cats. If you are scratched or bitten, you will have to be flown back to the US to get rabies shots and will miss most of the course.

Water: Panama has some of the cleanest drinking water in Latin America. Water is safe to drink from the faucet in most areas but also purified bottled water is sold in most convenience stores and supermarkets.

Money: The Panamanian currency is referred to as the Balboa and has the same value as the US dollar. Panama uses US paper currency and has its own coinage which has the same denominations, shapes and sizes as US coinage. All major credit cards are accepted in Panama at most shops, supermarkets and hotels. However, you will need cash for making small payments.

Electricity: Same as in the US, no special adapters needed.

Telephone: Calling cards are required to make international calls. You can buy them at local store or pharmacy. They usually cost several "units" per minute of talking. If you have an international phone/data plan, you should have cell network access.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Must be a biology major or graduate student within the biology department.

Junior or above

Prerequisites: BIO 124/BIO 250 for undergraduates. No requirement of biology graduate students.

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($40 fee)
  • Short Essay 
  • Interview with Program Director
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


BIO 427: Topics in Biology with Laboratory: Tropical Ecology and Forest Restoration (4 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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