Costa Rica: Applied Tropical Biology

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Research and field work are the focus of this innovative program on tropical rainforest ecology and conservation. In addition to camera tracking and water quality testing, students use visits to research stations in Isla Verde and Cahuita, plus those to rural farms, pineapple plantations, and coral reefs, to understand sustainability issues and compare conservation techniques.

Welcome to the rain forest. Literally up in the clouds of the Costa Rican continental divide, Monteverde is a tropical mountain home to tens of thousands of species. Big cats like pumas live here, as do monkeys, 420 species of orchids, and the endangered three-wattled bellbird. Monteverde is a small, international community, nestled along the edge of the cloud forest in the Tilarán mountain range of northwest Costa Rica. It is perhaps best known for the famed Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, which offers some 200,000-plus yearly visitors a portal to a lush haven for biodiversity. The region, comprised of numerous small towns (Monteverde, Cerro Plano, Santa Elena), is home to about 5,000 people of diverse backgrounds. Drawn to the area’s spectacular beauty and opportunities to see quetzals and monkeys, tourists now contribute the principal revenues, although coffee plantations and dairy farms still dot the landscape. The region, comprising of numerous small towns (Monteverde, Cerro Plano, Santa Elena) is home to about 5,000 people of diverse backgrounds. These include Costa Ricans, who

can trace their local roots back for several generations, North American Quakers, who colonized the upper elevations alongside Costa Rican pioneers some 60 years ago, and many international artists and biologists. Although highly diverse, the local community leans toward values favoring family, environmentalism, and pacifism. However, recent opportunities for economic development at the expense of nature, quality of life, and peacefulness have ignited debates about whether and how sustainable development is possible. This dynamic makes the perfect venue for students of sustainability and environmental conservation.

Program Highlights

This is an example program. All CIEE Faculty-Led & Custom Programs can be customized to meet your academic goals and financial requirements.

Duration: 10 days

  • Orientation and welcome dinner 
  • Poás Volcano National Park
  • Guided tour of crater and hiking trail
  • Traditional farm visit
  • Hike through Cahuita National Park
  • Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge for turtle conservation talk
  • Leatherback turtle nesting beach walk
  • Monitoring of coral, seagrass, and mangroves
  • Puerto Viejo – Local perspective on pros/cons of ecotourism

Our Staff

Karen Masters and Alan Masters are the Directors of CIEE's Study Center in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Karen Masters has a B.S. from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. She has been directing and teaching for the Sustainability and Environment Program since its inception in 2009. Her research is on the effects of climate change for cloud forest ecology. More recently, she has been involved with climate-smart conservation and agriculture. Alan R. Masters, Ph.D, has an M.S. and Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida and a B.S. from Illinois State University. He has lived in Monteverde for over 20 years. Since 1993 he has been director of CIEE’s Tropical Ecology and Conservation summer study abroad program. While originally a lepidopterist, Alan studied over 22 species of mimetic butterflies in Monteverde: what makes them taste bad and what that means to predation risk. Since teaching with CIEE, Alan’s interests include not only plant-animal interactions but all facets of tropical diversity and conservation.


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