The Kalu Yala Institute: Environment & Community Internships in Panama
99% Rating
(27 Reviews)

The Kalu Yala Institute: Environment & Community Internships in Panama

At Kalu Yala, we are in the process of building the world's most sustainable modern village nestled in the Panamanian rainforest in an ecologically-responsible way. Within the Institute, programs take place in two venues: creating the town's foundation in Kalu Yala, and developing relationships in our neighboring town of San Miguel. All programs will participate in a outdoor valley-based seminar each Monday on the Foundations of Innovation, Creativity, and Sustainability, and many interdisciplinary and cultural programming with be offered. Many programs will collaborate with and learn from Panamanian contacts in various academic fields and esteemed institutions.

  • Biology: Gain a broad understanding of rainforest systems
  • Business: Plan, fund, and launch a new company in only two months
  • Construction Arts: Become adept at post & beam carpentry and structural masonry
  • Culinary Arts: Work directly with local farms on maintaining a local, seasonal menu
  • Design Thinking: Combine independent thinking with technical skills
  • Engineering: Design, build, and test all the systems necessary to support a thriving population
  • Hospitality: Learn how to manage a visitor experience built around human connection to nature
  • Media Arts: Reinvent the way we tell stories about sustainability and the world as a whole.
  • Outdoor Recreation: Enhance your outdoor skills and knowledge out in the field
  • Political Science: Dive into rural challenges and solutions in Latin America
  • Public Education & Community Development: Develop effective community-organizing tactics
  • Public Health & Wellness: Learn what constitutes the wellbeing of individuals and communities
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Grasp permaculture farm planning & management
  • Sustainable education
  • Off-the-grid living
  • Farm-to-Table meals
  • Design your own project
  • Free Spanish classes
North America » Panama » Panama City
Age Min.
Year Round
Large Group (31+)
Starting Price
Price Details
Each semester lasts for 10-weeks with a tuition for the Spring & Summer 2018 semesters of $7,495 USD. Inquire further about financial aid and scholarship options. Your tuition covers housing, meal plan, transportation to and from Tocumen airport (PTY), highly-qualified instructors, program and project supplies, and other Institute needs – all of which directly correlate with ensuring an amazing Institute experience. Budget breakdowns are available upon request.
Other Locations
San Martín, Panamá

Questions & Answers

Different semesters have different numbers of people applying and so do different programs. Generally the summer semester has the most people wanting to come, but program popularity can vary a lot from one semester to the next. Overall, though, about 1/4-1/3 will be interviewed after applying, and about 1/4-1/3 of people will be accepted and attend.
We don't have independent accreditation, but the majority of people that come and are currently enrolled at an accredited institution get their semester approved for credit through their school. Overall, about 75% of students who are enrolled in a college or university and try to get credit for their semester at Kalu Yala are able to get it qualified. You'll need to speak with your adviser and/or...
While most of Kalu Yala's participants are enrolled in university studies, it isn't a requirement. Some people may be taking a gap year or even a career break when they attend.
Hi Reader of Kalu Yala Reviews! I was there with the KY company in Panama City during the dry season (U.S. spring time) of 2013. I also visit the KY HQ in the village of San Miguel, as well as the KY jungle base in the outskirts of Tres Brazos. Knowing Spanish is moderately valuable if you are doing a program such as business interning in the city, most valuable in making closer connections with...

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The Best Latin American Internship Experience from an Asian-American Perspective

Hi Reader!

Are you a college student or recent graduate looking for an intensely cool experience?

Have you seen ads in your campus to study abroad for anything, even for science (particularly biology and environmental science), but didn't know where to start?

Do you love Spanish, beaches, jungles, deep friendships, and being in harmony with the culture around you, while saving money big time for international travel?

If you answer yes to these questions, Kalu Yala is seriously the right place for you, no matter who you are and what people thought you could do with your life! You can reinvent yourself at K.Y. and grow to be the happiest person who can be, with a vision for success and a refreshed body from the stress of your hometown life.

My daily experiences in the biology internship group included the chance to build a water system to nourish local villagers from the ground up with close team members, and to establish your very own pilot project of science research at local hydrological companies including Indicasat and FSU's GIS department (I personally did this research alongside another team member for her study abroad program in hydrology, which involved collecting water samples throughout the country and analyzing their quality in the lab). This gives you the wonderful opportunity to tour Panama, learn to use its inexpensively good transportation system, speak good Spanish, and visit the most beautiful waterfalls and tropical forests you could have ever imagined!

Panama is one of the safest Latin American countries as it has the Panama Canal and plenty of revenue to eliminate crime and poverty in this fine nation. Plus, it rivals even Mexico for fine tourist destinations that you will have a chance to go to, including Bocas Del Toro, San Carlos, and San Blas.

If science internships are not your interest, you can still have other interesting opportunities such as business interning (affiliated with the TED-X Organization, a reputable movement for accomplishing the dreams of visionaries). My personal experience with those business interns has been to work together to sell the water plant I helped create to our new, sustainable village. Beyond the business and biology programs, many other great programs exist in Kalu Yala, including the Community Outreach program, where I personally joined 20 other soccer fans to play Latin-style soccer and to help teach English even. The Panamanians here are very welcoming to visitors from abroad, so please visit if you have a heart for adventure!

This internship is the most affordably priced program to live abroad for a full semester (3 months), and offers an alliance of coworkers who will give you the peace of mind of having a family abroad who will protect you if you get sick or need help. Other internships may include NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership Society), or Kumbaya, but the cost of NOLS may be about $5k compared to the $2k I invested in Kalu Yala. And, Kumbaya isn't even abroad (it is within the USA). For the hundred days you will spend in Panama via the Kalu Yala organization, the cost of living turns out to be about $20 per day, while having something worthy to put on your resume.

You will even have bragging rights to say that you survived living in the jungles of Panama should you choose the biology program, and to have genuine collegiate experiences that you may have missed out on in a smaller university or because you were too timid before your undergraduate years ended to be adventurous. No matter who you are (such as an Asian-American or other minority), I have seen firsthand how positive this place feels to catalyze your way to becoming a healthier and more sociable person.

If you are hesitating to apply for the Kalu Yala Internship program simply because you aren't sure if it is a legitimate program, then I reassure you that you will be fulfilled with its authenticity!

How can this program be improved?

There will be tons of insects biting you and peer pressure to go beyond your comfort zone to be more adventurous than you might have previously experienced as a studious person. For example, a regular mile hike across the mountain is encouraged; I had difficulty to find a decent set of hiking boots prior to arriving. Nevertheless, Panama City has modern selections of Columbia sporting goods and even Gore-Tex boots. Be prepared to combat the mosquitos downtown with deet and the ticks in the mountains with permethrin cream and spray. Make sure to take some of these medicines with you to stay healthy; no man is strong enough to endure all the toxins of those insects!

Yes, I recommend
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Life Changing Experience

If you are looking for an experience that will absolutely change your life for the better, look no further. As an Outdoor Recreation intern, you will be living in the jungle. That's right. You will be living a few miles away from the nearest small town which is about an hour away from Panama City on bus. You will meet some of the most influential, passionate and caring individuals ever. You will sweat a lot and cry tears of blissful happiness. You will wake up and fall asleep with the sun and the stars. I was an intern in the summer and surprisingly, the weather was not too hot and the rain every now and then was the most glorious thing. On the real, I suffered from depression before my Kalu Yala experience and can confidently say that the jungle and the beautiful souls I came in touch with have cured me. Best experience of my life, hands down. I plan on returning one day for a longer stay!

How can this program be improved?

They now have internet out in the valley apparently. I repeat, they have internet in the jungle. If you aren't in love yet, this program may not be for you.

Yes, I recommend
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Internship in the jungle- Kalu Yala

There was always something to do. We had personal projects that we worked on but we also helped each other with their projects, did chores around camp, had time to read and explore, went swimming, and lived as a community. In addition to getting close with the other interns all of the staff were great. They were always there whenever and for whatever you needed them. I learned a lot about myself while I was there and I'm so proud of all that we were able to accomplish. Definitely an experience I would recommend to everyone even if you aren't used to camping, peeing outside, bugs or bathing in rivers.

How can this program be improved?

I don't think I would change anything because everything was part of the experience but know what you're getting into. The hike into the valley was rough for me personally but it's a great feeling once you do, there are lots of animals around including bugs, frogs, and our neighbors' pets, working a lot in the hot sun, and many other things I didn't expect. When I came home I was a little bit sad I couldn't just go pee anywhere, I didn't like that my family didn't compost and it felt weird to not have dinner and conversation with 20 other people. If you're on the fence I would say do it!

Yes, I recommend
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KY is Unique

My experience with Kalu Yala was unlike any internship or study program that I've participated in before or since. I was an outdoor recreation intern in Summer 2012. I can still remember the first week vividly in my mind. The adjustment to living in the jungle with the team was physically challenging but mentally stimulating. I still reflect on many of my experiences as an intern and with the other interns/directors/staff in Panama. The location=humid and/or hot rainforest; the people=interesting, fun, deep, engaging; the company=creative, unique, up and coming, basically the definition of entrepreneurship.

How can this program be improved?

Like some other reviewers, I was a little concerned about organization when I left, however, I believe this was mostly due to the young company's first major transition phase during my semester. Feedback and communication since than has led me to believe that the organizational problems have been fully addressed.

Yes, I recommend
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Kalu Yala

Kalu Yala Internships is an amazing program. Rather than being interns just becoming cogs, interns are actually instrumental in paving the path of Kalu Yala. It was a life changing experience for me.

How can this program be improved?

I would bring internet to the valley so interns can do research on their projects at anytime. But they've already done that since I left!

Yes, I recommend
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Panama City Opportunities

The 11 weeks spent in Panama City with the business internship was one of the best times I have ever had. I was able to meet great life long friends, network with business leaders, and grow personally and professionally. Kalu Yala allows interns to create their own projects based on their vision, and provides the tools to meet those goals. We are allowed the best resources: The CEO of one of the worlds most sustainable timber operations, a thought leader in economic models, a permaculture expert pushing the limits of ecological design and many more speakers that came in to share their experiences with us. Kalu Yala is where future leaders go and becoming part of the Kalu Yala family is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The internship is not for everyone as it is very demanding, but for students that wish to challenge themselves, the reward is great. This internship allows you the freedom to make of it what you will. If you want to have a vacation and find yourself that is great, if you want to start a business, test a theory, or experiment in the jungle you can do it. Enter the internship with a plan and goals.

How can this program be improved?

Understand what you are applying for. Each program is different and has different requirements. Ask questions and reach out to the directors or former interns to understand if it is right for you. Read the blog posts and do your research.

Yes, I recommend
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Best Experiences of My Life

I took a semester off during my second year of undergrad on a whim to be a Kalu Yala intern in the spring of 2011. I was welcomed by loving people (staff and citizens of San Miguel), amazing food, and breathtaking views straight out of a photography book. I created my own research project and my work remains a tool that I am continually contacted about by other interns. The positive reinforcement, the passionate people, and the vision of the company as a whole were just a few of the reasons that I applied to be a program director. As a paid employee I was allowed to create my own program, carry out IRB-approved research, and help to shape the lives and experiences of my interns, my fellow employees, the local individuals, and Kalu Yala as a company and driving force in the sustainability movement. Kalu Yala has been a springboard for me to get related jobs in research. They remain helpful and encouraging from afar.

Other unique experiences from both of my stints with KY: collected medicinal plants with an Emberá healer, helped raise chickens, hiked in and out of the Kalu Yala valley, traveled around Panamá, harvested yuca and other plants with local San Miguelians, created a book detailing local plant knowledge of 150 plants, conducted 21 recorded interviews in Spanish with local women regarding healthcare; created lifelong bonds with interns, staff, and locals alike.

How can this program be improved?

During my time, the organization was off, but the situation has improved and most issues have been completely abolished. I'm impressed by their development. This company started slow but is now moving fast! Jump on the train and go for the ride of your life!

Yes, I recommend
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There is Always Something to Do

Kalu Yala is such a beautiful place, and there is always something to do. I got the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects. It was a fabulous work environment because there is a mentality that everyone helps each other out. The directors are knowledgeable and exceptionally ambitious leaders. They encouraged me to do my own project. They supported me by sharing proven research materials and listening to my ideas and providing feedback.

Yes, I recommend
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Perfect for what I wanted to do

I got to work on what I wanted plus get 5 days of travel time for every 10 days of work- so I accomplished both my goal to grow in the work environment plus see the sights of Panama. Win-Win.

Yes, I recommend
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Kalu Yala - Sustainable Community

Kalu Yala was a perfect internship program to end my college career. They have great values and goals for the future. I was actually in the outdoor recreation program, not the community outreach (teaching) program. We spent most of our time in the jungle, which was one hell of an experience! Projects included; blazing trails, signing trails, building structures, creating activity itineraries and more. The great thing about this internship, for a person like me, is that you can work on anything that inspires you...making you own project. If you like adventure, Kalu Yala is for you!

Yes, I recommend
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Kalu Yala is a great experience for young people looking to make social change in a foreign setting.

My favorite part about being a part of Kalu Yala was the life long friendships that I made while there. Along with that, the feeling that we were able to help empower the community of Sn Miguel, through small yet meaningful projects was very fulfilling.

Yes, I recommend
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Good Experience

Kalu Yala is a young and energetic organization that is all about flexibility and figuring out a way for each of its employees to find personal fulfillment while in Panama. I really enjoyed my time there

Yes, I recommend

About The Provider

The Kalu Yala Institute offers an alternative study abroad program with a distinct focus on learning-by-doing. You will live, study, and design projects within a burgeoning, sustainable modern town nestled in the tropical Panamanian jungle. At Kalu...