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"It was the most beautiful island any of us had ever seen."
June 25 - July 9, 2018 // 15 Days
July 12 - July 26, 2018 // 15 Days
Our 15-day teen community service and Spanish exposure program takes place on Panama’s beautiful San Blas Archipelago of more than 350 islands in the Caribbean.
Living and working with the Kuna and Embera Indians, we embark on a unique summer travel program. We construct community structures, explore white sand beaches, experience Panamanian culture, sail, surf, paddle board, and snorkel the turquoise waters.
Learn more about “Los Cayucos,” our summer community service program in Panama now! Click on the Description tab below.
The Kuna nation consists of 49 communities on more than 350 islands. Each community elects its own chief, or sahila (pronounced sigh-la) who presides over the daily congresso from his hammock while everyone else sits on wooden benches.
The Embera live as hunter-gatherers and fishermen, constantly moving in small social groups through the most remote parts of the rainforest.
Bioluminescent phytoplankton are one of the most beautiful forms of life in the sea. Swimming among their swirling light as the moon shines above is an otherworldly experience.
A visitor could spend an entire year traveling among the 100 nameless islets, 113 named islets, and nearly 30 islands. Many are uninhabited, covered with coconut palm trees and surrounded by white sand beaches ... water, sand, and sun in every direction. A true paradise!
Traditional Kuna women’s dress consists of sarongs, beautiful molas, gold nose rings, and the most astonishing beaded arm and leg bands. The beading is sewn on in distinctive patterns and worn until it eventually falls off.
Colorful panels called molas are used by women in their traditional dress and sold as crafts. These squares of cotton fabric are laid atop one another. Cuts are made through the layers to form intricate geometric designs.
On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened to connect the world’s two largest oceans. With the loss of more than 5,000 lives, it remains one of the world’s most courageous and significant engineering projects.
Yes, pearls are found here, including the 400-year-old 31-carat Pelegrina owned by Elizabeth Taylor. But the true jewels are picturesque waters, lush vegetation, prolific marine life, and remote beaches.
A naturalist’s heaven with more than 300 mammals and 900 bird species, Panama is alive with scarlet macaws, toucans, sloths, and squirrel monkeys, to name a few. Sea turtles and starfish are frequently spotted residents, and the humpback whale migration begins in July!
Sailing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, and snorkeling along the beautiful beaches are great ways to soak up the beautiful surroundings. There is something for everyone on this trip – flamboyant fish, graceful manta rays, sea turtles, and dolphins all have been spotted here.
Within the Embera Village
A Certificate of Community Service indicating the total number of hours worked and a Presidential Volunteer Service Award will be issued upon successful completion of the program.
Exposure within community and country
Sea Kayak: Local boats throughout the San Blas Archipelago
Snorkel: Contadora Island & the San Blas Archipelago
Sail: Saboga & Contadora Island
Paddle Board: Contadora Island
Explore: Panama Canal; Chagres National Park
Cultural Exchange: Kuna and Embera Indians
We sleep in bunkbeds in a hotel in Panama City where showers are available. During the service portion of the program, we sleep in bunk beds in open-air structures, take bucket showers every three to four days, and use latrines. While in the Pearl Islands, we sleep in a hostel.
Panama City, Panama
Join in on the fun! Check out #LosCayRLT for a behind-the-scenes look at photos from past participants and leaders.
Panama and the vibrant San Blas Islands are some of the most jaw-dropping destinations on the planet and where we spend 15 days on our Los Cayucos teen community service program. This rarely visited Caribbean jewel is a beach paradise. We experience the beauty of the islands (nearly 400) and their people, the Embera and Kuna Indians, while we enjoy the sand, snorkeling, and sailing.
We visit the home of the Embera, where community members adorned in colorful textiles and unique body paintings welcome us for an evening of distinctive music, dance, and customs. Evenings are spent with the children and families playing games, sharing songs, and telling stories. Younger women chat and work on molas and loops of bright yellow and red beads that are wrapped around their tanned skin.
We travel from mainland Panama to the heart of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and the San Blas Islands. Here, the Kuna reside on shimmering sand islands and strive to preserve their history, language, and cultural identity independent of the Panamanian government.
We island-hop through waters teeming with ochre starfish and other marine life and camp on tropical beaches. Walking just a few feet into the water with snorkel mask and fins in hand, we enter a natural aquarium in one of the world’s largest coral farms where octopus, parrotfish, rays, and nurse sharks abound.
Heading back to the Pacific coast, we board a ferry to the Pearl Islands. In the protection of Contadora Island, we paddle board, sail, and snorkel until the sun goes down.
We spend our last days of our community service program basking in the beauty of this rarely visited tropical paradise, forever changed by the generous people who opened their doors and hearts to us.
Arrive in Panama City, transfer to accommodations, settle in.
Group orientation in the morning before exploring our neighborhood that translates to "Beautiful Sea" and visiting the Panama Canal.
Spend your evenings dancing, feasting, and playing with local community children. We'll immerse ourselves in their food, art, music, and dance, and get a better understanding of this beautiful culture.
Say farewell to our Embera friends and transfer back to Panama City to rest and prepare for the next portion of the program.
Spend time with the Kuna people while we explore the amazing waters around the islands.
Enjoy the pristine beauty of these island jewels by sailing, paddle-boarding, and sea kayaking. Close the trip in Panama City with our traditional final banquet.
Board your flight home and say goodbye to the adventure of a lifetime.
The Road Less Traveled does not require any vaccinations or immunizations to travel with us, other than an up-to-date tetanus shot or booster (within the last nine years).
Please visit the CDC’s website to read more about recommended vaccinations for travel to Panama. The decision to get some, none, or all of the recommended vaccinations is a personal one, and should be discussed with your family doctor.
Please click below to view your program’s equipment and packing list!
Panama and the San Blas Islands: Los Cayucos Packing List - Coming soon!
For an emailed copy of this program’s day-to-day calendar, please call our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST at 773-342-5200 and we’ll happily send you one!
It is imperative that no one make any travel arrangements until RLT provides instructions for specific arrival and departure time windows. Those details are typically released in mid-spring.
Families are individually responsible for booking their own airfare to get their student from home to the starting destination on the first day of the trip, and from the ending destination back home on the last day of the trip.
In-country flight will be booked and invoiced by RLT, in addition to the tuition.
This program offers an optional leader-escorted flight for those families who are interested.
If you wish to have your participant fly directly into the starting location, please call the office for details.