Five Reasons To Study Abroad In Panama

by Joel Tan

There are probably a hundred or more reasons why anybody would want to study abroad in Panama. It’s a beautiful, multifaceted country, offering a wide array of sights and adventures for the discerning traveler. Here are 5 of the top reasons that convince students to travel to the southernmost country in Central America for a year, semester, or summer abroad in Panama.

Taking a trip out of the classroom- creating sustainable marine environment.
Taking a trip out of the classroom- creating sustainable marine environment. Photo courtesy Greg Grimes

So Close And Yet So Far…

It’s the southernmost country in Central America, but the travel time from the U.S. is relatively short. Panama shares the Eastern time zone with the United States. It only takes about six hours to travel from Los Angeles to Panama City, about five from New York, and three from Miami. Students who want immersion into a completely foreign culture don’t have to spend a day or two just getting there.

Marine Marvels.

Panama’s proximity to the equator gives it warm and often humid weather, and its slender S shape makes it possible to enjoy two oceans in one day. Want to have the most monumental beach day in the world? Watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean in Panama City, and spend the morning on the beach; drive about an hour to Colon City, hit the beach again … and then watch the sun set over the Atlantic.

Anyone studying marine biology, oceanography, or similar will want to study abroad in Panama. Bocas del Toro is a scuba diver’s wonderland, thanks to its coral reef and the varieties of fish in its waters. Coiba National Marine Park is another international scuba and snorkeling hotspot, thanks to more than 800 marine species in its waters. Surfers will want to check out the wave action at Santa Catalina, along with other international surfers who travel here with their boards.

Cityscape of Panama

Cityscape of Panama

Magic Beans.

The coffee in Panama is among the best in the world. With light, bright, soft flavors gently balanced with fruity undertones, Panama’s coffee has earned the country an esteemed spot among coffee connoisseurs worldwide. After going largely unnoticed for years, Panamanian coffee was brought to the forefront by the “Best of Panama” coffee competition, where specialty coffee growers garnered international attention. The town of Boquete in Chiriqui Province is the coffee-growing capital of Panama. Its award-winning Esmeralda Especial Gesha is produced from a variety of coffee plant in high demand, but comparatively short supply. Students of sustainable agriculture, agribusiness, botany, horticulture, or cuisine get a huge career boost from their experiences studying abroad in Panama and working with local coffee growers and producers.

Cool History And Culture.

Anyone studying abroad in Panama will want to check out the Pearl Islands, dotted throughout the Gulf of Panama. Not just because they are full of gorgeous tropical hideaways with amazing marine wildlife, but their history is fascinating. The best-known of the Pearl Islands, Contadora Island, was once a gathering point for Spanish conquistadors. They would stop along the sandy shores to take inventory of their booty, and stock up on pearls harvested around the islands.

San Blas Islands is home to the indigenous people known as the Kuna, who still live with their centuries-old culture remarkably intact. In the 1600s, these hidden islands used to be a rendezvous point for pirates. Bocas del Toro, a stunning archipelago off northwest Panama, is now an eco-adventure destination and home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Back in 1502, Columbus “discovered” these paradise islands while searching for a passage to the Pacific, and they became an international haven and trade hub. Today, many cultures and influences are reflected in the islands’ traditions, customs, music, dance, and cuisine.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal.

You can't really go home from studying abroad in Panama without telling your family and friends that you have seen the Panama Canal up close. The shortest water route between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, the canal is traversed by about 815,000 vessels per year. The Panama Canal is more than a vital channel for international trade. With its massive locks that lift ships up to lake level and then back down to sea level, it’s one of mankind’s greatest feats of engineering, and one of the “Seven Modern Wonders of the World.”