Costa Rica: From to the Mountains to the Sea


Example itinerary (for faculty-led programs)

and program overview (for open enrollment)

Faculty-led programs are customizable


Day 1

Arrival and Travel to Monteverde

Welcome, check-in, and orientation to Costa Rica and the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Allow 1.5 hours. A smooth arrival and transition into this new experience is vital to set the tone and expectations for the rest of the trip.

Day 2

Natural history walk at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Explore the cloud forest with one of our expert naturalists in search of the local biodiversity. (2-3 hours).

Workshop. Life zones and biodiversity of Costa Rica. An in-depth review of the main ecosystems in Costa Rica, from the mountains to the sea: Subalpine paramo, tropical cloud forests, lowland rainforests and tropical dry forests. Learn how to use Holdridge’s Life Zones. (3.5 hours).

Night walk. Explore the ecosystem at night and experience the nocturnal forest ecology. (2 hours).

Day 3

Early morning bird monitoring in the cloud forest. Grab breakfast to go and immerse yourself deep into the bird world. Help record useful data for our bird population survey (4-5 hours).

Forest canopy exploration via SkyWalk suspension bridges. A unique opportunity to explore and learn about the three-dimensional structure of the rainforest (2-3 hours).

Discussion: Quetzal research and conservation. Engage in a discussion on current research findings, ecology, natural history, and conservation initiatives of one of the Monteverde Reserve’s most important focal management species, the Resplendent Quetzal. (1.5 hours).

Day 4

Tropical plant identification workshop. An introduction to plant systematics to recognize the most common plant families in the tropical region. (3 hours).

Insect identification workshop. Learn how to classify insect orders, a useful skill to enhance field experiences and research. (3 hours).

Discussion: Climate change and the extinction of the Golden Toad (Incilius periglenes). An in-depth discussion about humans’ impact on the environment, biodiversity loss and conservation alternatives. (1.5 hours).

Day 5

Bellbird Biological Corridor and the Pacific Slope Trail (Full day). An inspirational trek on the upper part of the Bellbird Biological Corridor and the Pacific Slope Trail. See how a small rural mountain community is moving forward with its own environmental and cultural conservation model.

Reforestation. Participate in our habitat restoration efforts by helping at our native tree nursery. Activities include identifying parent trees and collecting viable seeds in the forest, helping to care for and propagate trees in the nursery, and monitoring recruitment and growth rates in the reforestation sites. Planting is only done during the rainy season (May-October).

Experience a sustainable farm. One of the main challenges in biodiversity conservation are conventional agricultural practices. We must develop new techniques to reach food security without destroying the environment. Learn how farmers in San Luis de Monteverde are making progress on this goal.

Dinner with a local family. Develop a connection with the local culture and practice your Spanish skills while absorbing the Pura Vida lifestyle of Costa Rica … and enjoy a delicious dinner!

Day 6

Travel to the Turrialba area. While we transit to the Caribbean region, we will experience different ecosystems, biodiversity, foods, stunning landscapes, and diverse cultures. We will make a quick stop to jump in the Pacific Ocean, enjoy some flavored shaved ice near Puntarenas and drive through San José and Cartago (former capital of Costa Rica) before we reach Turrialba in the mid-afternoon. (4 hours).

Visit the Guayabo National Monument. Stay at Guayabo Lodge near Turrialba Volcano. This unique archeological site gives us an opportunity to learn about the organizational structure, architecture and engineering of the pre-Columbian people that lived in Costa Rica. Stone architectural structures that were built over a period of time between roughly 1000 BC and 1400 AD have been designated to be a Civil Engineering World Heritage by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Allow (2 hours).

Day 7

Whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River. An inspiring descend to the Caribbean lowlands on the Pacuare River, rated one of the top rivers in the world for its breath-taking scenic beauty. Incredible rainforest, waterfalls, exotic birds and other wildlife, and exciting Class III-IV rapids make this trip an unforgettable tropical adventure. (5-6 hours).

Travel to Veragua Rainforest. Welcome at Veragua Rainforest by the research team and guides, who will give an orientation to the Veragua Reserve and facilities. (90 min).

Day 8

Amphibians workshop, Part I: Analysis of behavior, biology, and bioacoustics of poison dart frogs. Travel on Veragua’s sky gondola to the Victoria River canyon bottom to study the altitudinal distribution of poison dart frogs in Costa Rica, learn how to recognize their calls, and discuss their biology. Participants will also learn and practice how to calculate the relative diversity of frogs by using bioacoustics analisys.

Amphibians workshop, Part II: Lemur and Tiger frogs conservation ponds. A discussion about the importance of amphibian restoration sites for their conservation, where participants will learn about the effects of environmental variables on their reproductive biology. Evaluation of riparian habitats in amphibian diversity and conservation: Victoria River. An opportunity to study the concept of ecosystem services and the contribution of riparian environments in amphibian diversity and conservation. (4.5 hours, all three activities).

Visit to the reptile and amphibian habitats. A detailed analysis and discussion on management and conservation techniques of the main reptile and amphibian species found in the region.  (4 hours).

Insect biodiversity monitoring workshop, Part I. An introduction to insect diversity in the area with a visit to Veragua’s insectarium and butterfly garden. Includes a lecture on research techniques for collecting, preserving, and studying the biodiversity of butterflies and beetles, and a field activity to install butterfly traps (that keeps them alive). (3 hours).

A night walk through the Veragua Reserve with emphasis on owls and insects. (1.5-2 hours).

Day 9

Insect biodiversity monitoring workshop, Part II. As a follow up to Part I, participants will engage in a catch, ID, and release of butterflies from the traps placed in the forest and will also collect more samples using butterfly nets in the field. (2 hours).

Discussion on the effects of climate change in amphibians and habitat restoration techniques for conservation. An in-depth discussion about Veragua’s amphibian habitat restoration project for Tiger and Lemur frogs. Followed by field research and habitat restoration activities. (3.5 hours).

Mammal monitoring workshop, Part I. An opportunity to learn about mammal diversity in the rainforest, conservation methods, and monitoring techniques. (1 hour).

Monitoring of nocturnal reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. A nocturnal transect through different habitats to record amphibian, reptile, and mammal species in the company of a specialist who will help interpret the data collected in terms of species richness and behaviors. (1.5-2 hours).

Day 10

The Original Canopy Tour. Glide through the trees on silent carbon fiber cables! You will safely traverse 11 zip lines in the tree canopy and have spectacular views of La Amistad International Park, as well as Chirripó and Veragua Reserves. (2 hours)

Roundtable with Cabecar indigenous community members. One of the fundamental elements in our conservation and research efforts at Veragua Rainforest is the integration with the local indigenous Cabecar community. Their ancestral knowledge and distinct appreciation of natural processes are invaluable. Many members of the Cabecar community work with us. They play several key roles as researchers, educators, and conservationists, which is a point of pride in our organization. This is an extraordinary opportunity for an authentic cultural exchange and interaction with our Cabecar team members. They will openly share with us their experiences, vision, and cosmology that makes them so in-tune with nature. (1 hour).

Mammal monitoring workshop, Part II. An opportunity to evaluate different wildlife monitoring methods, including following tracks, spotting bat tents, and distinguishing foraging behaviors. Mist-nets will be installed to capture-release bats during the night program. (3.5 hours)

Bat monitoring activity. We will end our workshop on mammal monitoring by collecting data from the mist-nets we installed in the afternoon and analyzing the biology of the species we captured (before releasing them). (1.5-2 hours).

Day 11

Travel to the Pacuare Reserve. On our way to the Pacuare Reserve, we will travel through the La Amistad Caribe biological corridor, leaving the Central Caribbean mountains toward the coast. The Pacuare Reserve in Matina – Limón protects nearly 2,000 acres of tropical rainforest and 6 km of coastline, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and a fresh-water canal system. (2.5 hours)

Arrival and check in to Pacuare Reserve. Orientation to lodging and other facilities, house rules and the community. (45 minutes).

Orientation to Pacuare Reserve. Orientation talk describing the strategic goals, history, research projects, community outreach, and local biodiversity. (30 minutes).

Lecture: Wildlife monitoring and field techniques. A discussion on the research initiatives that Pacuare Reserve is leading in sea turtles, forest mammals, and Agami herons, among others. Information on field research techniques and implementation of research findings in conservation will be shared with program participants. (2 hours).

Night walk in the rainforest (only available during non-nesting season, September through February). An opportunity to explore the coastal rainforest to learn about its wildlife, natural history, and adaptations for thriving at night. (2 hours).

Sea Turtle Protocol (only available during nesting season, March through August) Participants will receive an introduction to the sea turtle monitoring protocol in order to fully engage in the monitoring process at night. Learn about what information we collect, what to bring, and how to experience firsthand the nesting process. (1 hour) .

Sea Turtle Census (only available during nesting season, March through August). Engage in a sea turtle census with our field researchers, collect biometric data, and learn about the sea turtles’ ecology and their nesting process. Participants will be assigned to different shifts throughout the night. (4 hours per shift,covering 6 km).

Day 12

Bird monitoring. An outstanding opportunity to review and increase the bird species inventories in the area, while exploring different ecosystems: canals, rainforest, beach, and lagoon. (4 hours).

Discussion: Climate change and the impact on sea turtle populations in Costa Rica, efforts and studies carried out at Pacuare Reserve. Pacuare Reserve is considered to be the most important nesting beach in Costa Rica for Leatherback sea turtles. Learn about how climate change is impacting the sea turtles’ populations and how hatcheries are playing a significant role in their conservation. (2 hours).

Biodiversity exploration at the freshwater canals. Canal systems that run parallel to the coastline are common in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. This ecosystem offers a unique niche for aquatic wildlife. A 6 km boat ride will provide an excellent opportunity to observe the canals’ biodiversity. During the trip, we will also visit a community and meet a local artisan whose work is inspired by sea turtles and who uses forest materials, such as seeds and bones, for her artwork. (2.5 hours).

Sea Turtle Census (only available during nesting season, March through August). Follow up from the previous night! Engage in a sea turtle census with our field researchers, collect biometric data and learn about the sea turtles’ ecology and their nesting process. Participants will be assigned to different shifts throughout the night. (4 hours per shift, covering 6 km).

Day 13

Travel to Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo and the southern Caribbean coast have some of the most pristine beaches and stunning coral reefs in Costa Rica. It is one of the most culturally rich areas in the country where African-Jamaican and indigenous ethnicities converge. The beaches are touched by lush coastal rainforest. We will travel along the La Amistad Caribe Biological Corridor to reach this destination. (1 hour, 45 min).

Cacao and Chocolate Tour. There is no chocolate without cacao! On this educational tour with George Grant, cacao producer and owner of G&E Chocolate Adventure Company, you will learn everything about the production of this “fruit of the gods”. From cacao cultivation to the development of sustainable products, you will also learn how George and his company are positively impacting farmers by adding value to their work and expanding their opportunities. The best part is that you can make and take home your own chocolate. (1.5 hours).

Snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. Finally, you made it to the sea! An outstanding opportunity to explore the astonishing marine life in the coastal coral reef of Manzanillo Beach, guided by local experts. Snorkeling and safety gear will be provided on-site. (1.5 hours).

Caribbean-style dinner. One of the most delicious cuisines in Costa Rica is found in the southern Caribbean. We will have dinner in one of the area’s most iconic restaurants right by the beach. (2 hours).

Day 14

Time at the beach. After so much adventure and learning, you’ll need a break to relax, rejuvenate, and meditate about the journey. There is no better place to do this than at one of the area’s picturesque beaches. (3 hours).

Travel to San José. Farewell dinner. (2 hours).

Certificates and surprise!!!

Day 15

Departure to the airport