College Prep: Costa Rica | Field Projects International

Costa Rica

Applied Wildlife Research & Conservation, Sustainable Agriculture, and Forest Restoration
Programs are available all year round in 8 and 15-day trips

The country of Costa Rica is a narrow land bridge between the continents of North and South America. This isthmus, relatively recent in geological terms, is the site of the merging of the flora and fauna of these two continents, creating a zone of incredible biodiversity over a fairly small geographic area. Costa Rica boasts almost 900 species of birds (more than in all of North America), 250 mammals, and a staggering 500,000 invertebrates (that we know of!) – all in a country roughly the size of West Virginia.

Besides this abundance and variety of life, Costa Rica is also a global model for conservation and sustainability. Tropical forests around the world are threatened, yet Costa Rica stands out in recent times as having slowed and even reversed some of the effects of deforestation, with an economy that is supported mainly by ecotourism.

The Osa Peninsula, the principal field site visited on this program, is home to the country’s largest protected reserve, Corcovado National Park. It boasts vast areas of primary and secondary growth tropical rainforest, a dynamic system of rivers, and an immaculate coastline. It is an area well-known for its biodiversity, ecological significance, and relative accessibility to ecotourists, and is an ideal place to study both the natural sciences and the effectiveness of local conservation efforts.

Program Goals

Goal One: Tropical Systems
First, students will acquire in-depth knowledge of tropical ecology: why do the tropics exist, why are tropical systems important, and how does the ecosystem function? They will come to understand the mechanisms that generate and maintain heightened biodiversity, gain greater familiarity with fundamental biological concepts including life cycles, symbiosis, dispersal, population dynamics, and evolution. This information is imparted through short lectures and readings, but more through practical demonstrations and activities in the field.
Goal One: Scientific Research
Second, students will learn the process and challenges of designing and implementing research in the field. They will participate in professional, ongoing research projects on-site, and create their own research questions and test them through observations in the field. While we don’t expect all students to become scientists, we believe that a better understanding of the scientific process and the critical thinking involved in creating a hypothesis are useful skills for anyone interested in learning about the natural world. As successful research and conservation involve communication and peer review, students will have help sharing and discussing their projects with the group.

Goal One: Conservation Education
Third, students will gain a better appreciation for conservation work by meeting with local landowners and activists, and even assist some of their efforts. The history and identity of many Costa Ricans are tied to the natural environment, and this is what inspires people to integrate environmental protection with agriculture or tourism more so than elsewhere.

Program Highlights:

Tracking monkeys in the rainforest


Walking canopy bridges in the cloud forest

Night hikes for nocturnal wildlife

Pressing fresh sugarcane with local farmers

Observing rare rainforest animals like tapirs, tamanduas, and maybe even jaguars!

Trip Details
  • 8-Day Sample Itinerary
  • 15-Day Sample Itinerary
  • Food & Lodging
  • Health & Safety
  • Travel Logistics

1Flight to San José, Costa Rica
  • Program introductions
  • Icebreaker activities
  • Dinner in San José
2Flight or bus to the Osa Peninsula, ending the day at Piro Biostation
  • Site orientation
  • Forest navigation techniques
  • Introductions to tropical ecology and the natural history of the Osa Peninsula
3Piro Biostation
  • Waterhole stakeout and camera trapping
  • Primate OR avian survey
  • Turtle conservation program (afternoon)
  • Nocturnal forest survey
4Piro Biostation
  • Tropical reforestation program (morning)
  • Mangroves expedition
  • Population modeling OR migration activities
5Prio Biostation
  • Day of independent exercises
  • Discussions
  • Guest speakers
6Around the Osa PeninsulaSustainable economic activities (morning)
  • Agriculture
  • Mollusks
  • Ecotourism
Local student meet and greet (afernoon)
Video night and discussion (evening)
7Around the Osa PeninsulaAdventure day to:
  • Swimming beach
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Snorkeling / zip lining / island tour
8Return by flight or bus to San José. Depart for the USAProgram debriefing

1Flight to San José, Costa Rica
  • Program introductions
  • Icebreaker activities
  • Dinner in San José
2light or bus to the Osa Peninsula, ending the day at Piro Biostation
  • Site orientation
  • Forest navigation techniques
  • Introductions to tropical ecology and the natural history of the Osa Peninsula
3Piro Biostation
  • Waterhole stakeout and camera trapping
  • Plant diversity, classification, sampling (morning)
  • Forest reforestation Program
  • Nocturnal forest survey
4Piro Biostation
  • Day of primate census, follows, and observation
5Piro Biostation
  • Turtle conservation program
  • Mangroves visit
  • Migration and population modeling activities
  • Nocturnal forest survey
6Piro Biostation
  • Waterhole stakeout and camera trapping
  • Independent data collection exercises
  • Presentation and discussion with group
7Around the Osa PeninsulaSustainable economic activities
  • Agriculture
  • Mollusks
  • Ecotourism
Local student meet and greet
Service project (if time)
8Around the Osa PeninsulaAdventure day to:
  • Swimming beach
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Snorkeling / island tour
9Return by flight or bus to San José
  • Afternoon tour of Costa Rica's capital
  • Intro to final project
  • Overnight in San José
10Bus to San Luis de Monteverde, transfer to UGA Costa Rica Campus
  • Site orientation
  • Nature hike through cloud forest
  • Introductions to cloud forest and the biogeography of Costa Rica
11UGA Costa Rica
  • Trip to canopy walk, focus on avian and lepidopteran diversity
  • Final Project data collection
  • Resident researcher presentations
  • Nocturnal forest survey
12UGA Costa Rica
  • UGA sustainable agriculture program and reforestation activity
  • Final Project data collection
  • Final Project presentation planning assitance
13San Luis de Monteverde & UGA Costa Roca
  • El Trapiche Tour (morning)
  • Final Project data collection
  • Nocturnal forest survey (optional)
14UGA Costa Rica
  • Downtime
  • Complete Final Project data collection and analysis
  • Presentations
  • 15Return to San José for flight homeProgram debriefing and arrival home

    Meals in Costa Rica tend to be more formal, social affairs where students, staff, and researchers sit and eat together. They are the best chance to share stories, network, and learn a bit about each other’s’ cultures. Most meals will be in field station comedores (dining areas), a few will be in restaurants or sodas (cafés), and a couple will be in the field, bag-lunch style.

    Meals generally include a meat dish along with a delicious salad, flavoured rice and a variety of beans. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see rice and beans offered at every meal, including breakfast, as they are the national staples. It also must be said that Costa Rica is a fruit lover’s dream come true. Tropical fruits such as pineapple, banana, papaya, watermelon, mango, star fruit, guava, and guanabana abound. Costa Rica brings to mind simple, fresh, and satisfying food. Accommodations for vegetarians are easily made, however, it may be difficult (but not impossible) to remain vegan on this program.

    Students are encouraged to bring packaged food with them as snacks between meals, but we encourage them to leave no trace in the forest,  keep food in a place separate from their living quarters, and never eat in front of the monkeys (this is important!)

    Finally, coffee is as much a part of Costa Rican identity as it is a part of their diet, and will be available all day. Ticos will tell you that coffee is arguably the best in the world. During transit through towns, there will be stops for local ice cream and smoothies.

    Lodging will be at a hotel in San José for 1 night, and in field stations for the remainder of the time. Field stations can be remote but will have power, running water, and average internet (but it can be slow at times). Housing is dorm-style, with multiple same-sex students per room in bunk beds. Dorms are closed but screened, and washrooms may be in separate buildings and open-air. Mosquito nets and linens are provided.


    FPI takes students to foreign and often remote field sites for maximum exposure to environments that are high in biodiversity. Here we provide information that is important to maintain participant safety throughout the program. However, we also wish to highlight some reassurances about Costa Rica that often go unnoticed.

    1. There is no wildlife in Costa Rica that considers people as natural prey, or that goes out of its way to cause harm to humans.
    2. Field research stations are removed from large human populations and are usually only visited for short periods of time.  As such, they do not maintain significant human reservoirs necessary for the majority of human communicable diseases.
    3. In the field, participants are removed from risks associated with moving vehicles, street violence, or any other human-caused danger, which are responsible for the majority of the hazards to a person’s health or well-being in more urban settings.

    Health Insurance: All students are required to have health coverage that will be valid for the entire duration of their field course. If participants are unsure if their current health insurance will cover them while abroad, they should contact their insurer prior to travel. Medical evacuation coverage is another requirement that not all health insurance providers offer, and should be purchased for participants as needed (see World Nomads). Participants must provide FPI with proof of health insurance coverage, including a scanned copy of their health insurance card or policy documents, before travel. 

    Vaccination History: All field course participants must provide proof of an official vaccination record (as listed HERE by the CDC). For travel to Costa Rica, we require that students also get the following vaccines: typhoid, tetanus, and Hepatitis A. For many vaccinations, there are a series of injections over time, so students ought to get their shots EARLY!

    Travel and Program Safety Rules: Participant and group safety during travel and in the field is our utmost concern, and as such all participants will be required to sign FPI’s Participant Contract (available upon request before registration). However, below are the most fundamental safety rules that all participants must follow:

    • At all times, participants must notify and receive permission from the FPI trip leader to go anywhere (including onto a trail system) separate from the group.
    • Participants will provide all travel documents to the trip leader, or a designated teacher or parent chaperone for safekeeping when not in use.
    • Participants will refrain from all plant and wildlife handling outside of supervision by trip leaders or other designated instructors.
    • FPI prohibits rude language or behaviour directed at other participants, trip leaders, instructors, field site staff, or other people met during travel.
    • We strongly oppose sexual or gender-based misconduct, and all participants must sign and agree to our policy before travel.

    Health Risks: While our field stations do not have a large enough population to support reservoirs for many human diseases, travel to and from the field locations may increase exposure to risk. FPI does not offer medical advice; thus field course participants should contact their doctor and a travel clinic for travel-related medical recommendations.

    Emergency Procedures: There are site-specific emergency medical evacuation procedures in place for all of the locations visited during this program (Piro Biostation and University of Georgia Costa Rica, available upon request). Outside of these two locations, the group is in a city with close medical facilities.

    *Note* Additional information is in our participant manual, which is available upon request before registration. 

    FPI will handle all group arrangements and travel logistics, beginning with flight departures from participants’ home cities and ending with their return. We also provide a travel packet, which includes the following information:

    • A detailed itinerary finalised with your consent and input 
    • The names, locations and contact information for all hotels and field stations
    • Emergency evacuation protocols for each field station
    • Air travel itineraries
    • Comprehensive packing lists with recommendations for vendors for specific gear
    • 24-hour FPI telephone hotline to staff that have open lines of communication with trip leaders at all times


    • Group Requirements
    • For Educators
    • For Chaperones
    • For Parents
    • Reservation & Fee Details

    For your group’s program to be finalised, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

    1. All students must be in high-school.

    2. All educators and chaperones must be over 22 years of age

    3. The minimum number of students in a group must be 6

    4. The maximum number of students in a group cannot exceed 15

    5. With the help of an FPI travel coordinator, you must pick your program dates and itinerary before paying the downpayment that will reserve the program for your group


    For every six students, one chaperone can attend this program for free. Group sizes will not exceed 15 students, and thus groups with 12 to 15 students can include the travel of two chaperones for free. Typically, these chaperones consist of one educator and one parent, but we can accommodate alternative solutions on a case-by-case basis.

    The educator’s role in planning

    We hope that our college preparatory travel-study programs can be incorporated into the science or international studies curriculum of your school. To accomplish this, we collaborate with educators to tailor our programs as needed to fit each group.  We provide the general framework, the local and scientific expertise, and with input from educators, we are more than happy to hone in on specific topic areas and cut out others altogether. Here are some questions that we ask educators to consider:

    1. Should students be subject to periodic tests or quizzes?
    2. How would you like to evaluate student participation?
    3. Are there overarching assignments that students are responsible for?
    4. Should time be set aside each day for reflection on the materials covered?
    5. What proportion of the time would you like students to work together and independently?
    6. Are there particular presentations, special topics, or activities that you want to attempt in the field?

    We will do our best to accommodate special requests and the objectives of each educator. We evaluate all changes or tweaks to the program based on the following criteria:

    • Does it fit with FPI’s mission to impart knowledge and training in conservation, plant and animal research, and sustainability?
    • Do we have the expertise and infrastructure to facilitate the experience as requested?
    • Do we have the requisite permissions from local and state authorities to accommodate the request?

    In almost all cases we can provide educators with the experience they desire, or at the very least, something resembling it.

    Educator involvement in program preparation and execution

    We expect that educators maintain a leadership role before and during the program by supporting the efforts of the FPI planning team and trip leader. We hope that they will:

    • Understand the trip itinerary from start to finish
    • Work with FPI to make sure that all students are adequately prepared before departure
    • Enrich the experience of the students by enthusiastically participating in activities
    • Monitor student well-being and acclimation to new surroundings
    • Maintain a calm and composed presence even if confronted with stressful conditions, environmental or otherwise (e.g. travel delays, loss of baggage, someone is injured or has an unknown allergic reaction)
    • Conduct grading and student evaluations
    • Ensure that FPI’s basic rules of conduct will be followed at all times

    Educator eligibility

    Educators that co-lead FPI trips must meet the following minimum requirements:

    • Be at least 22 years old
    • Be in generally good health, as determined by a physical examination
    • Be able to hike for at least 2 miles
    • Be capable of lifting a 30 lb bag
    • Be in possession of a valid passport
    • Have general interest and curiosity in the natural world

    It is NOT required that teachers:

    • Speak Spanish
    • Have field research or conservation experience
    • Have extensive travel experience

    If 12 students sign up for a course, an extra adult chaperone (in addition to one educator) may accompany the group for free. Of course, additional chaperones who want to accompany the group as a participant may do so at any time for the same student fee.  

    The chaperone’s role in planning

    Adult chaperones are an essential part of the program experience. They provide familiarity to students in a foreign environment that some may find stressful, and they also assist the educator and the FPI trip leader in supervising the group. As such, the best chaperones are known to the majority, if not all, of the students. Chaperones with experience or interest in the natural world also add value to the group experience, and we welcome their involvement.

    Adult chaperones should be identified several months in advance of the trip. They should be proposed by the educator or other school administrators involved in program planning and interviewed by FPI to ensure that they seem compatible with the program. The parents or legal guardians of all participants must be aware of this decision and comfortable with the selected adult chaperone.

    Chaperone requirements

    Chaperones that assist FPI trips must meet the following minimum requirements:

    • Be in generally good health, as determined by a submitted physical examination
    • Be able to hike for 2 miles
    • Be capable of lifting a 30lb bag
    • Be in possession of a valid passport
    • Ideally, have a general interest or curiosity in the natural world

    It is NOT required that chaperones:

    • Speak Spanish
    • Have field research or conservation experience
    • Have extensive travel experience (although this is a plus)

    Parents should realize that our primary goal throughout the program is the safety and well-being of your child, both physically and mentally. We want them to return to you with exciting stories, pictures, videos, and lots of knowledge to share. Parents that have a unique set of concerns specific to their child are encouraged to speak with the educator who will be accompanying this trip and directly to FPI staff (we are happy to arrange a phone call or correspond by email). In some cases, we can even send someone from FPI to your child’s school to share more information about the program.

    Here are frequently asked questions that we have received from past parents:

    Is my child going to be safe?

    We know that traveling internationally brings to mind fears of terrorism, disease, car accidents, mugging, and other random things that happen to good people. We are constantly checking the State Dept. Travel Advisory page in the countries that we operate, and in the event of an alert that effects this program we will be in touch with groups immediately to discuss changing the destination, altering program dates, and if called for, canceling the program.

    Specific to Costa Rica, there are presently no travel alerts. While we are spending 1-2 days in San Jose (a big city), our tour is restricted to the downtown commercial areas, very nice neighborhoods, and specific attractions (zoos and museums). Security is extremely high in all of these areas. Outside of the city, we will be passing through the safe, small town of Puerto Jimenez on our way to PiroBiostation. Outside of the city, we are at forest field sites and stations, with small and dedicated groups of staff that keep the place clean and running. At field stations, students are accompanied by their teacher, the FPI trip leader, and adult chaperones at all times, when not in their dorms.

    Please read through the health and safety section above, and if you have specific questions that were not addressed, or require further details, get in touch with your teacher or directly with our administration.

    What kind of transportation is being used, who is operating the vehicles?

    Outside of the international flight into Costa Rica, and possibly another domestic flight to Puerto Jiminez, we hire private bus transportation services to get around San Jose, around the Osa Peninsula, and for the short ride from San Jose to the UGA Costa Rica campus. Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for foreign high school groups, and the bus transportation services are excellent quality, both comfortable and safe.

    Where will my child’s food and water come from?

    Please read the above “Food and Lodging” section. At no point during this trip do we encourage students to eat street-side food. In cities and towns, students are taken to reputable restaurants for lunch and dinner, and the hotels we use all provide breakfast. Outside of field stations, we encourage students to only drink bottled water.

    All of our field stations source food locally, and they take great efforts to make sure it is prepared with the utmost care and highest sanitary standards. The drinking water at the field stations is clean, filtered and refreshing, but students wishing to drink only bottled water can easily do so.

    What happens if my child gets sick or hurt while on the program?

    High school students are typically NOT very experienced travelers who know what health signs to watch out for. Also, they may not be comfortable bringing up and sharing details of what they feel. We counter this by watching students carefully, ensuring that they are eating and drinking well, have energy, and not worrying any particular itch, cut, or scrape. FPI staff have been working in the field for a long time, and in most cases, our staff realizes that a student needs help before they do.

    The most common illness faced by students, or any traveler, is minor indigestion, in worse circumstances, this becomes diarrhea or vomiting. In nearly all cases, a single course of antibiotics that can be prescribed in advance by your child’s pediatrician and taken under supervision, as needed, will bring them back to good health quickly. Outside of this concern, we repeatedly remind students to use sunblock and bug repellent, take daily showers, wash hands frequently, don’t share drinking bottles with others, and eat well; the basic ingredients for a healthy trip.

    For high fevers, unusual aches and pains, bad cuts or scrapes, apparent ear or sinus infections, etc., you would be notified and your child would be taken to a local, private medical practice for diagnosis and treatment. There are several we have used in the past, and if you desire this information please get in touch with FPI staff.

    My child is a female, how will she get practical advice or assistance about feminine care matters?

    There are certain hygiene and health matters that females, in particular, need to be cognizant of when traveling abroad and staying at fairly remote field stations. We have a feminine hygiene and care hand-out that your child will receive with other standard informational materials on how to prepare for this trip. If you would like a copy in advance, please contact FPI staff.

    Should an event occur in the field that requires assistance or advice from someone experienced, and the FPI trip leader, teacher, and adult chaperone, are not qualified, there are a few options. 1) There is nearly always a female staff member at the station who is able to assist your child, 2) the student can be put on the phone with FPI staff who will provide direction as needed, 3) in some cases there is another female student who is able to assist your child, 4) the trip leader will call a qualified local assistant to help as needed (usually to bring supplies that were forgotten).



    Please read this section carefully, as it provides you with everything you need to know regarding reserving a program, fundraising for a program (if desired), and program cancellation.

    Cost Overview 

    The cost for each program participant will include FPI’s program fee, travel costs, and any additional costs associated with visiting local attractions. These costs are estimated below, but could vary depending on how close to travel a group can reserve their flights (the earlier the better):

    DurationProgram costs per headFlight cost estimate*
    8 Days2150 USD700 - 900 USD
    15 Days3150 USD700 - 900 USD

    *Flight costs will vary based on group numbers and time of booking

    Program reservation and payment

    Step 1: Complete a college-prep program reservation form at least four months before travel dates. Keep in mind that we have a 6 participant minimum with one educator travelling for free. If you are submitting this form with under four months left to your proposed start date, don’t worry – we have solutions for you. 

    Step 2: We will then invoice you for a down payment of $1200 to reserve the program dates. You may choose to pay online or by check. This amount will reserve six student spaces + 1 educator space in the course. Since you are travelling as a group, we make every effort to be flexible in how you can make this downpayment on behalf of your group. 

    Scenario 1: If someone who is paying to attend the program (i.e. a student) makes the down payment on behalf of the group, then we will credit it towards that participant’s program fee.

    Scenario 2: If someone who is not paying to attend the program (for example, a teacher, chaperone, or school administrator) makes the downpayment, we will refund it in full once we receive final payments from the minimum number (6) attending students.

    Scenario 3: If the school is paying for the course on behalf of the students, we will credit the downpayment toward the full program fee.

    Step 3: Assuming the reservation was made in time, the final payment of the program and travel fees is due 100 days before the program start date. Note, in certain circumstances, it may not be feasible to stick to this final payment schedule, in which case FPI will determine a separate due date with the school liaison.

    Individualized Fundraising Assistance

    FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowdfunding platform for all field workshop students. You will be able to share your fundraising page with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the pre-agreed 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 workshop payment. If you collect 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 roll into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the program after fundraising begins, please note that your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those resources would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up a fundraising page, please register for a workshop first.

    Program Cancellation

    • $300 of the deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
    • Since the execution of this program requires multiple advanced bookings of air travel and field site reservations, no refunds will be provided once final payments have been received in full
    • If FPI has to cancel this program due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to you.
    • A cancellation schedule with dates specific to your group will be sent to you at the time of registration

    Program expulsion or dismissal

    Our programs bring you into areas that are remote, and normally only accessible by researchers doing tropical field biology research. As such, we have a responsibility towards the environment we are in, and the countries that we visit. Before the trip begins, we will meet with the group to discuss our code of conduct, and we will all pledge to follow it. If despite these efforts, a participant intentionally breaks this code, they can and will be removed from participating in the remainder of the program. In such an unfortunate situation, no refunds will be possible, and any costs incurred for the early return of said student will be borne by the student’s family. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us.

    Preparing to travel to Costa Rica

    Do I need a visa to travel to Costa Rica?

    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 Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica can be done via Europe, or via the UKCanada 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.

    What should I bring with me?

    A detailed packing list will be included in your travel packet upon registration. Please read sections below for explanations of many recommended items.
    How do I deal with Costa Rican money?

    You are NOT required to bring cash with you to the field. However, you may want to have some for the purchase of souvenirs or gifts.

    The currency in Costa Rica is the Colón. Roughly 576 CRC = one USD. Changing US dollars in Costa Rica is possible in a bank in San José or Puerto Jiménez, and we recommend that you bring 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 San José, or the city itself, but the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card.

    Things to consider: Bring two cards (credit and/or debit), in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on your ATM card(s) before you travel. You can use an ATM in San José very easily, and less easily in Puerto Jiménez. 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!

    What's the lowdown on footwear?

    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 stations. Purchase a natural coloured or black pair, if possible. You will wear these boots every single day while you are in the forest, and you may want to break them in before the trip if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.

    A pair of sneakers or sandals with secure straps will come in handy during your travels and for use while at base camp. 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.

    What kind of luggage should I use?

    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.

    You’ll also need a small daypack to use in the field.

    What do I need in the forest?

    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. Also, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (in checked luggage, don’t hand carry it), a bandana or hat, and some energy bars as an extra snack.

    What about battery-operated equipment?

    You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs during the 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, but bring a couple of regular batteries as a backup in case of an emergency. If you can’t bring any rechargeables 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 sites you will visit). 

    Do I need a watch or alarm clock?

    Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you.

    How do I care for my passport and papers?

    In the field, passports will be stored by the trip leader, your teacher, or a designated chaperone in a dry, safe space. Any other paper items you will want to keep dry in ziplock bags.  Do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets mouldy very quickly in tropical climates.

    What is the weather like at the field station?

    Average temperatures range between 21C (70F) and 27C (81F). You should always bring a few items of clothing that will keep you warm in cooler conditions, and having a simple winter hat and gloves is always a good idea.

    What medications should I bring?

    The field stations and the course do not provide any special medications to students. If you take regular medications, bring plenty, and some backups that are kept in a separate place from your main supply. Upon request, and on a case-by-case basis, we can coordinate a system by which the trip leader, teacher, or a designated adult chaperone supervises the taking of medication by a student. Additionally, we also recommend that students bring the following for common illnesses, cuts, or scrapes that may occur:

    – 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)

    What vaccinations do I need?

    You will have to provide proof of an official vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to Costa Rica, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Tetanus. If you have the flu shot for the year, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY. Please follow their recommendations on malaria prophylaxis, and any other recommended vaccinations. We do not provide medical advice in this regard. Note: Upon entry, Costa Rica requires proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccine only if you are travelling from a country with risk of Yellow Fever.

    What about health and safety?

    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 serious 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 the 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 on this field course 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 will take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.

    For specific information on emergency protocols, please contact our staff at

    Field Station Amenities

    Do I need to bring linens and towels?

    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. 
    How do I care for electronics in the field?

    We encourage you to bring your laptops to the field 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 in the field, 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 envelope your laptop in it, which is bad 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 purchase 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 2 more packets with you.

    Costa Rica uses the same type of electrical plug as the U.S. Please check here to see which converters you may need to bring. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in on your trip. If they don’t work at both 110V and 220V, you will need to bring a voltage converter.  Also, you may 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.

    Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury on these trips. 

    Is there internet at the field station?

    The field station common areas have Wifi, but it is good to prepare yourself for slower than normal and sometimes intermittent internet signal since you are at a remote location.

    Is there phone service at the field station?

    Good cellular phone reception is not likely at the field site, though we are constantly surprised at how quickly telecommunication companies expand their network coverage to new areas. In the case of emergencies, there is a phone on site that can place calls.

    How do I do laundry at the field station?

    On a short trip, you might be able to avoid doing laundry entirely, but for the longer 15-day trips, you will do your laundry yourself at the field stations. In this case, please bring (preferably) biodegradable laundry detergent from the US with you. You don’t need a lot of it, so a 10 oz bottle of liquid or a small packet of powder should be more than enough for the duration of your stay.

    What is the risk of disease in the Costa Rican rainforest?

    In Costa Rican rainforest, and as with all tropical areas, there are disease risks. Unlike towns, however, the field stations do not hold enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for many diseases.

    The choice to take malaria prophylactics is entirely personal – please follow closely the recommendations of your travel doctor. FPI offers no recommendation or medical advice in this regard.

    The recent Zika outbreak is of concern in much of Central and 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 onsite. 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 directly on the ground, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Wearing the 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.

    How concerned are you about the Zika virus?

    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 Costa Rica, suggesting that participants 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.

    This is a developing story, and much is still unknown regarding the transmission and health risks of this virus. We recommend that each prospective participant determine their comfort levels by weighing the available data against their own relative risk. At this point, FPI’s non-pregnant staff remain confident about safely in 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 stations.

    Read more:

    General information from the CDC

    CDC travel advisories

    Discussion of Zika (Cosmos Magazine)

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