This course is intended to provide an introduction and broad overview of Amazon forest ecology and conservation, with a taxonomic focus on plants and a geographic focus on the Madre de Dios basin in southeastern Peru. The overarching theme is the incredible biodiversity of Amazon rainforests, the key factors and processes underlying its creation and maintenance, and the impact of anthropogenic disturbance – past, current and future – on these critically essential forest ecosystems. Classroom-style lectures will complement extensive field-based activities and interpretation, and individual and group projects. The basics of tropical plant taxonomy and field botany skills will be imparted through hands-on instruction and practice. The 2-week course will be divided between two long-term research sites and field stations on the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers that provide access to a variety of representative habitats. Note that the same two sites are not used in each course.
- Food & Lodging
- Program Costs & Student Aid
Explore one of the most biodiverse areas in the world for plants – lowland Amazon rainforest – from two unique field sites.
Hike over a quarter of a mile on the iconic Inkaterra Rainforest Canopy Walkway, 98 feet above the ground.
Setting up vegetation transects and plots for floristic inventories and long-term monitoring
Learn to identify plants in the absence of floral and fruit characteristics
Several hours of boat ride and wildlife viewing along meandering Amazonian rivers
Explore a variety of ecosystems- lakes, palm swamps, bamboo patches, clay licks, primary (old growth) forest, secondary forest, and riparian successional forest.
Visit Colpa Chuncho, a spectacular clay lick located within the 1000+ square-mile Tambopata National Reserve that attracts large numbers of several bird species, including scarlet macaws and toucans
Stay on after the field course and visit iconic archaeological sites such as Machhu Picchu.
This course will provide you with basic field skills, in-depth exposure to the conservation and ecology of the Peruvian Amazon, and what you need to know about tropical field botany. Specific topics include:
- Rainforest soils and nutrient cycling
- Primary riparian succession and the development of diversity
- Hyperdiversity: creation, maintenance, processes and patterns
- Phenological cycles, keystone resources and climate change
- Primer to Neotropical plant systematics and taxonomy
- Conservation & Sustainable use of Amazon forests
Varun Swamy, Ph.D.
Dr. Varun Swamy is a tropical forest ecologist with over 14 years of experience conducting ecological research in the lowland rainforests of the Madre de Dios River Basin in the Peruvian Amazon. A native of India, he spent 19 years in the United States, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Connecticut College, and a Ph.D. from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, specialising in tropical forest ecology. His first visit to Peru and Madre de Dios was in 2003 to begin his doctoral dissertation research, and he has returned to Peru every year since. Dr. Swamy is currently a Research Fellow at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and lives in the city of Puerto Maldonado.
Read his full bio here.
There are a few simple requirements to determine eligibility for this course:
- You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the course.
- You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.
- We have no citizenship requirements. Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas independently if necessary.
- You do not need any training in biology – our course is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.
- Courses have a maximum capacity of 12 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many spots we have left.
- Course readings: Download the reading list HERE. These are intended to foster better comprehension and discussion of course topics and should be ready ahead of the course start date. Readings will be emailed to course participants one month before the start of the course.
- Download the syllabus: HERE
- Download our Sexual and Gender-Based Policy: HERE
- Download our Student Policy Manual: HERE
The course is held over several sessions (see Dates in right menu), at two different sites. Participants will first fly directly into Puerto Maldonado and take a 1-hour boat to the Inkaterra Guides Field Station (IGFS). After the first six nights, the group will travel back to Puerto Maldonado to board another boat destined for the second field station, which changes from session to session. Winter sessions will go to Malinowski Biological Station (MBS) on the Tambopata River. The remainder of the course takes place at this second site. On the 14th day, everyone travels back to Puerto Maldonado and visits a plant herbarium before concluding the session with a beautiful farewell supper.
At the IGFS, housing is in shared single-sex dorms, with four people in a room and a shared private restroom. At Malinowski and other sites, dorm arrangements are broader, with larger single-sex rooms and shared restrooms. All sites have dedicated common areas, including a dining room.
At all field stations, you will be provided with three meals each day – breakfast (~6 – 7 am), lunch (~12-1 pm) and dinner (~6:30 – 7:30 pm). These meals are healthy and will fill you up, but this being the middle of the rainforest, don’t expect to get all your food groups represented in the same way you try to eat while you are at home. If you are concerned, take a multi-vitamin while at the field station. Rice is a major staple of almost every meal, with proteins, vegetables, and fruits widely available. The stations have fabulous cooks who can make tasty dishes with basic and wholesome ingredients. Vegetarians will sometimes get tofu and soy meat substitutes. Being vegan on this course can be difficult (but it is not impossible).
You will also have access to cookies, crackers, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, at all times during the day (while you are at camp). If you think you will do better with Cliff or Luna bars (or the like), please bring some for yourself. Any additional treats you bring (including precious chocolate) will be fair game for small rainforest creatures, so bring plenty of ziplock bags in which to place your food. Also, avoid leaving wrappers in your rooms containing anything at all edible because that will attract some curiosity from miniature wildlife.
International Air Travel: Getting to Peru from a different country is accomplished primarily by air. We recommend using Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to book your flights online. Please do not book flights until October 1 for version 1 of this course and until December 31 for version 2 of this course. If you want to stay on to visit Machu Picchu, let us know, and we can provide travel recommendations.
Local Air Travel: Winter courses – You may fly into Puerto Maldonado any time on December 31st or February 1st. Your departure should be anytime on January 14th or February 15th, but if required you could also depart after 12 pm on January 13th or February 14th (missing one visit to a herbarium and the final supper, but a good option for those with slightly earlier schedules). Summer course dates will be announced shortly.
As with all of our courses, a comprehensive travel packet that contains information on when and how to book your travel, visas, vaccinations, and packing tips, will be made available to all students. This packet is provided to students once they have registered for the course.
Please see the FAQs below for initial information on visas and vaccines.
The fee for this course is $2500, and includes the following:
- Food and lodging for the entire course.
- Transportation to and from Puerto Maldonado to the field sites.
- Experienced instructors and field equipment.
This course fee does NOT include:
- International travel to Peru.
- Local airfare to Puerto Maldonado
- Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
- Rubber boots, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are required to take this course).
There are two ways to obtain financial assistance for attending this field course. You may participate in both of these programs simultaneously as follows:
- Scholarships: This year, we are offering two scholarships to participate in this class, one targeting a Peruvian citizen and the other is open to applicants of different nationalities. For the application details, please visit our scholarships page.
- Fundraising: FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowdfunding platform for all field course students. You will be able to make your fundraising page to share with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the fundraising period, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you raise enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised in excess of your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your fundraising page.
Please read our cancellation policy carefully before applying to a field course:
- $100 of your deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
- If you cancel on or before the course-specific registration deadline we will refund all course fees paid in full (except for the processing fee of $100).
- If you cancel your reservation 30 days before the course begins, you will be refunded 40% of your course fee. (Note, for some sessions, the registration deadline is 30 days before, in which case, the full course fee will be refunded, minus the processing fee of $100).
- Course fees cannot be refunded for cancellations made after these dates.
- If FPI has to cancel this course due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to all participants.
- Early departures from the field course are not entitled to a refund for any reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us.
Participants can acquire credit directly from their universities. You would provide your university with the course syllabus, and the school may decide to accept the instructor’s grade and issue credit for the course. For more details on obtaining credit or deciding if credit is for you, please email us at email@example.com
The United States university system runs on credits – typically 2 to 4 per class. A student needs a certain number of credits to graduate with a bachelors’ degree eventually. However, this system has little to no meaning outside the US itself, and thus, when we offer credits, we are primarily targeting those students within the US to whom this is relevant. Course credit is therefore only available to students in the US, or possibly countries like Canada, who can transfer credits from US Universities to their institutions to apply towards their degrees.
For all other students — and there have been plenty who have attended our courses — you receive many other benefits to taking the course, such as:
- A certificate from FPI showing that you attended and completed the course
- A detailed report of your performance and your final grade, which you can share with future employers or anyone else in any manner you wish to.
To be clear: You are not required to sign up for credits in the US university system if you come from a country in which this system is itself not recognised. Furthermore, there is no requirement for US students to take this course for credit either. Course credit is an optional item and will incur credit fees from the university in question.
Questions to ask yourself before signing up for credit:
1. Will my university accept transfer credits from another university? Please consult your advisor and confirm this before signing up, because this is not the responsibility of either the university or Field Projects International
2. Can I afford to take the course for credit? The credit costs are paid directly to the university while the course fee is paid to FPI. Both will be necessary before you can take the course for credit.
Apart from the valuable skills, knowledge, and experience, you will acquire, FPI encourages alumni to network, support, and collaborate with each other after the course is done. Also, our staff remains available for academic and career advice. Many of our alumni have returned as research assistants, and later even joined us as research collaborators, field team leaders, and instructors.
In addition to the specific training that will benefit those going into many fields, our courses also entail pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and are challenging both mentally and physically. Furthermore, this is a chance to visit remote research stations in one of the most bio-diverse regions of the planet, and to learn about the incredible flora and fauna that you will see at every turn.
Preparing to travel to Peru
Every country has different requirements for visitors, depending on their citizenship. Tourist visas are free for US citizens and are available upon entry (see the US State Department’s information on travel to Peru here). For all other nationalities, please check here for your specific requirements. It is possible that you will have to apply for a visa at your local embassy before you arrive in the country so please confirm your visa requirements early. Visa applications can take as long as six weeks sometimes, during which your passport will need to be with the embassy in question.
One further thing to consider is the visa requirements of any country you are transiting. For example, flying from Asia into Peru can be done via Europe, or via the UK, Canada or USA, which require transit visas. So when you consider purchasing a flight, please look at the visa requirements of any stops along the way.
Download a packing list here. Please read sections below for explanations for each item as well.
The currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nueve Sol. We say 1 “sol” and many “soles”. The currency exchange rate is ~ 3 soles to 1 USD (see here for current rate). Changing US dollars in Peru is a difficult thing to do; you will need to bring brand new,high-denomination bills, without any blemishes on them, for a bank to exchange them for you. You can find currency exchanges easily in the airport in Lima as well as in Lima city. In Puerto Maldonado, you will have to change currency at a bank (so keep in mind bank working weeks and hours). Thus, the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card.
Things to consider: Bring two cards, in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on both of your cards before you come to Peru. You can use an ATM in Lima, Cusco or Puerto Maldonado very easily. The most you can withdraw in a single day from an ATM is 700 soles or ~$260. ATM charges can apply, including conversion fees, so check with your bank about that. Withdrawing from an ATM is convenient, and prevents you from carrying around a lot of cash, which is always a much safer way to travel.
Traveler’s checks are entirely a thing of the past – just don’t buy them!
You do not need to have cash on you at the station except for possibly 100-200 soles at the very most, for emergencies. There’s nothing to buy, no stores to spend it on; cash, in short, is irrelevant in the rainforest. You only need enough to allow you to return to town in comfort.
You will require gumboots (aka wellingtons or muck boots), which are knee-high rubber boots. These are essential for all activities, every day at the station. You can bring these from home or buy them in Puerto Maldonado. If you have unusually large feet, don’t risk it and please buy your boots at home. Select a natural coloured or black pair, if possible. You will wear these boots every single day while you are in the forest, so if you’re bringing them from home, break them in if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.
A pair of sneakers will come in handy during your travels and for use while at the camp itself. You will never wear flip-flops at camp, for your safety. You may, however, prefer to bring a pair so that you can wear them to — or in — the shower.
Pack in something you can carry on your shoulders. Suitcases are not very practical (though people have managed with them). We recommend bringing a big duffel bag, or a backpack with most of your things in it. Try to make it waterproof, or buy a waterproof cover. In the worst case scenario, though, you can put your whole bag in a giant plastic bag to keep it dry once you get to Puerto Maldonado. You’ll also need a small daypack when on site.
The most important things you need in the forest that we will NOT be providing are your daypack, a water bottle, insect repellent, rain jacket or poncho, and a pair of binoculars. Additionally, a laptop (not a Chromebook) can be extremely helpful, as will be a digital watch with a repeat timer. Check your packing list for more details. Also, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (check it in, don’t hand carry – it will get caught), a bandana or hat, and some energy bars as an extra snack.
You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs on this course. This headlamp will be your best friend and is useful since it is hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring one that is bright, and that has a red light option, as the red light scares nocturnal animals a lot less. Headlamps will need batteries, and we strongly suggest that you bring rechargeable batteries with you. This means that you must also obtain a small battery charger. If you can’t and have to bring regular batteries, please buy energy efficient ones so you use as few as possible, since you will have to take all batteries back with you and recycle them (you cannot leave them at the field station).
Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you.
Passports are valuable items that you want to protect from mould in the rainforest. The best way to do this is to put them in small ziplock bags and then leave them entirely alone. Do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets mouldy very quickly.
The weather at the Los Amigos and Inkaterra stations is typically warm and pleasant (~24C or 75F). However, the weather at Wayqecha is considerably colder with an average of 54.5°F (12.5°C), with evenings considerably colder and damp. Therefore, you have to pack for both warm and cool weather.
The field stations and the course do not provide any medications to students. As such, you must bring a small medical kit for minor issues:
– A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)
– A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of Immodium (to be used in emergencies only)
– Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice flavoured ones are much nicer than the medical ones)
– Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections
– Anti-itch medication: over-the-counter lotions are ok
– Camphorated alcohol – a local anti-itch/disinfecting method that we highly recommend (can be purchased in Puerto Maldonado)
– Antacids to comfort your stomach
– Band-aids, tweezers
– An Epi-pen if you are allergic to anything at all
– Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)
– A venom extraction kit: these are useful in case of wasp or bee stings.
You will have to provide proof of a regular vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to Peru, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Typhoid (oral or injectable), Yellow Fever, and Tetanus. If you have the flu shot for the year, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY.
We take the health and safety of all participants very seriously. We look out for each other and take care of our students. The field sites have stringent protocols on safety procedures in the case of an emergency that we are obliged to follow. From Los Amigos, should anyone need medical help, they can be transported downriver to town in a matter of three hours, where they can be treated or evacuated to Lima for treatment. Inkaterra is only one hour from Puerto Maldonado. For specific emergency protocols, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither the field station nor Field Projects International will be responsible for costs associated with medical emergencies. Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a brief medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a severe or life-threatening disadvantage.
All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs. We make special references to an alcohol policy in our participation contract – we have a zero tolerance policy at this field station. You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will your supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is a problem at this field site in particular. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.
Field Station Amenities
The stations will provide you with sheets during your stay. However, we strongly encourage you to bring a spare towel for use while one is in the wash or drying.
We strongly encourage you to bring your laptops on this course, as well as your cell phones. They will come in handy for data entry, entertainment, assignments and for checking email. Due to the intermittent/slow nature of the internet, as well as the need to use Garmin Basecamp software, Chromebooks are not recommended.
Electronics have to be treated differently in the rainforest than you would anywhere else. Do not bother to bring a soft sleeve for the laptop with you, because it will suck up moisture from the air and will envelop your computer in it, which is terrible news. We find that simple plastic ziplock bags work better than sports dry bags. We recommend that you purchase at least two ziplock bags that are large enough to fit your computer. You can also buy silicon gel packages online (Amazon Smile or Jake’s Silica Gel are good places to try, along with local stores like REI). Put a couple of 5-gram packets inside the ziplock with your computer and bring at least two more packs with you.
Peru uses a different set of plugs than the U.S. or England. The field sites, however, will have extension cords and power strips that accept US plugs. If you want to plug things in while you travel, though, you might consider picking up a small converter for your electronics that will fit plugs in Peru (see here for a full explanation). The Peruvian system uses 220 volts, instead of 120/140 volts as in the U.S. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in at the station or anywhere in Peru. If they don’t work at both voltages, you will need to bring a step up converter such as this one. Also, note that you will not find three-pronged sockets in most places, so definitely at least bring a three-to-two prong modifier (such as this) for your electronics.
Electricity at the field stations will be provided via a generator for a period each day, during which you will charge your electronics as needed. You may certainly bring solar chargers if you feel the need to, but most of the day you will not be using your electronics at all.
Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury at this site. We will prioritise charging absolutely everything else over those items.
Wifi internet access at Inkaterra Guides Field Station is available. This means that smartphones, iPads, tablets, and computers of all kinds should be able to connect to the internet to send an email or make wifi phone calls. However, this is limited to certain times during the day when solar panels are charged, and the network can be turned on. There is no internet at the MBS, however, there is a satellite phone that can be used for extenuating circumstances. Other sites are likely to have the same conditions as the MBS.
There is no cell phone signal at either of the field stations. If you have a phone with an international travel plan, then you will be able to make phone calls and send messages while in Lima and Puerto Maldonado. If this is important to you, we do suggest that you contact your cell service provider in advance to confirm that your phone will work in Peru.
Things to consider: You can rent a cell phone at the Lima airport with a local number if desired. You can communicate through internet phone services like Whatsapp while you are at Lima airport and Puerto Maldonado wherever there is a wifi access point (such as Starbucks or your hostel).
You will do your laundry at the field stations, so bring (preferably) biodegradable laundry detergent from the US with you. You don’t need a lot of it, a 10 oz bottle of liquid or a small packet of powder should be more than enough for the duration of your stay. You can purchase non-biodegradable detergent as well as clothespins (to secure your washing to a line for drying) in the Puerto Maldonado market.
This is the Amazon rainforest, and as with all tropical areas, there are disease risks. Unlike towns, however, this field station does not hold enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for many diseases.
Malaria is not a significant concern, and none of our principal researchers takes malaria prophylactics. Your travel doctor will most likely disagree because their information is about the region in general, and it is true that malaria can be contracted in Puerto Maldonado. As such, the choice to take malaria prophylactics is entirely personal – if you feel better about it, take the medication. FPI offers no recommendation or medical advice whatsoever.
In recent years, there have been a few cases of dengue at this site, although it is hard to verify whether researchers have contracted it in town or at the field station. There is no vaccine, but there are cures – we remain watchful for this disease.
Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease that is found at this site – and several researchers have contracted it in past years. It is not a painful disease, but it can be unpleasant if left untreated. As such, if any student or researcher receives a bite that does not heal in a week, we advise them to get tested locally. This has worked for everybody in preventing leishmaniasis and will be the rule for our team at this field site. In short, any misgivings you may have about using high concentration DEET are significantly outweighed by the unpleasantness of leishmaniasis. Treatment for leishmaniasis can be obtained in Peru or abroad at a travel/CDC clinic.
The recent Zika outbreak is of concern in much of Latin America, although a great deal is still not known about this virus. Since Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are the primary vectors of the virus, we again recommend DEET to prevent bites. For much more detailed information, please see the next section in this FAQ.
Chiggers are annoying but do not carry disease. They are small mites of the family Trombiculidae (also known as harvest mites) that can cause you some irritation. They cause small welts, like mosquito bites, that can itch very badly. They clear up quickly, and there are rarely any scars. Using insect repellent can help in preventing these bites. Also avoid sitting directly on the ground, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Wearing tall rubber boots will also help greatly. FYI, the mites are 1/60th of an inch long (nearly invisible to the naked eye) and are long gone by the time the bites start itching. Sulphur soup is helpful for ameliorating chigger itch.
A great deal is still not known about this virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. There is a possible link to a condition called microcephaly in children born to infected women. While mosquitoes are the primary vector of the virus, the virus can be sexually transmitted.
The CDC’s travel advisories for pregnant women have extended to Peru, suggesting that students who are pregnant — or likely to be pregnant at the time of the course — use caution. There is currently no evidence of any effect on future births for those who are not pregnant at the time of infection, and only around 20% of all infected people exhibit even the minor symptoms of Zika (fever, rash, etc.). There is an additional suspected link to a rare but more severe condition called Guillain-Barré, however, this risk is exceedingly low.
The Peruvian government is taking numerous proactive measures to prevent the spread of Zika within the country. These include the use of ovitraps to identify the virus in mosquitoes at many monitoring sites around the country, allowing for a swift response if detected.
This is a developing story, and much is still unknown regarding the transmission and health risks of this virus. We recommend that each prospective student and researcher determine their comfort levels by weighing the available data against their own relative risk. At this point, FPI’s non-pregnant investigators and other staff remain confident about safely returning to the field.
To reduce mosquito bites, we recommend repellents with DEET as the active ingredient, along with loose-fitting clothing and long-sleeves. Clothing may also be treated with permethrin. Furthermore, mosquito bed nets are provided at the field station.