Costa Rica Field Trip

Costa Rica Field Trip
23 February - 13 March, 2000

Participation in this field trip requires that you be physically fit. You must be able to walk for a full day, covering 25km (15 miles), in a lowland tropical rainforest, carrying a backpack with your bedding and personal effects (but not food or cooking gear).

You must be able to tolerate the physical discomfort of high heat and humidity, and ectoparasites such as mosquitos and ticks.

You must be mentally prepared to accommodate the inherent dangers of the program, such as venomous snakes and tropical illnesses.


The field trip will begin on Wednesday, 23 February, when we fly from Seatac airport to San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. We will first travel to Volcan Arenal. Arenal is an active cinder cone, surrounded by cloud forest, hot springs, Costa Rican settlements, and a major hydroelectric dam and lake. The lava flows of various ages on the flanks of Arenal provide dramatic examples of primary succession.

We will then travel to Santa Rosa National Park in northwestern Costa Rica. There we will learn about tropical dry forest, and the ambitious efforts to embed Santa Rosa in a larger Guanacaste Conservation Area. It will be mid-dry season when we are there, and we will camp under the arching Ficus trees in the Santa Rosa campground.

Our next stop will be Monteverde, a small town in the mountains northwest of San Jose. We will see the wind-swept elfin forest and surrounding cloud forest habitats. Monteverde, the home of the Monteverde Institute, is also a laboratory for landscape ecology and conservation issues, with its mix of agricultural and forested landscapes, rural development, ecotourism, and biological research. It also has an interesting social history, being founded by North American Quakers, and now merging with the traditional Latin American town of Santa Elena.

After an overnight stop in San Jose, we will embark on a week-long trip to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica. Corcovado is one of the most spectacular lowland rainforests in the world. It is remote, facilities are meager, and wildlife is abundant. We will hike across the peninsula, over to Sirena station on the Pacific coast. This is a rigorous hike, hours slogging through mud in the tropical heat, and can be debilitating if you are not emotionally and physically prepared. After several days of mosquito swatting, chigger scratching, and high-density tropical biology at Sirena, we will take a boat along the coast to San Pedrillo station for more of the same, including a day-hike to Llorona (where mangrove habitats will be highlighted). We will be sleeping in tents in Corcovado. You may be wet but you won't be cold! Finally, we will depart San Pedrillo by boat and head up the Rio Sierpe, to be met by a bus for transport to La Selva Biological Station.

La Selva is a very modern and sophisticated field station embedded in rainforest in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica. It is one of the most important tropical field stations in the world, and is a major center for research and education in tropical biology. The laboratory clearing contains dormitories, a dining hall, air-conditioned laboratories, a library, and conference facilities. The 1500ha station property has outstanding mature rainforest, with easy access by a well-maintained trail system. We will wrap up the field trip here, where you will have access to the library, computers, telephones, and email. For those staying in Costa Rica for the Rainforest Research quarter, this will be an excellent place from which to plan your research program.

The last day at La Selva will be evaluation conferences, after which we will go to San Jose for a final dinner. Monday morning, 13 March, is the official end of the field trip.


Wednesday, 23 Feb: fly from Seattle to San Jose; overnight in San Jose.
Thursday, 24 Feb: breakfast at hotel; bus to Los Lagos y Junglas (Arenal Volcano); lunch and dinner at LLJ.
Friday, 25 Feb: bus to Santa Rosa National Park campground (leave in time for lunch in Liberia); orientation walk.
Saturday, 26 Feb: breakfast in campground; full day at Santa Rosa around monument and headquarters area.
Sunday, 27 Feb: breakfast at Santa Rosa; bus to Monteverde; lunch in Monteverde; orientation to MVI, community.
Monday, 28 Feb: full day Monteverde; excursion to Cloud Forest Reserve, triangle walk; bat mistnetting with Richard.
Tuesday, 29 Feb: full day Monteverde; landscape ecology/San Luis trip with Nat.
Wednesday, 1 Mar: breakfast in Monteverde; bus to San Jose; students free afternoon and evening in San Jose; money for lunch and dinner on their own.
Thursday, 2 Mar: store excess baggage in hotel; very early morning departure for Osa; brunch at Cerro de la Muerte; transfer to tractor at La Palma; tractor to Cerro de Oro.
Friday, 3 Mar: walk from Cerro de Oro to Sirena.
Saturday, 4 Mar: full day at Sirena.
Sunday, 5 Mar: full day at Sirena.
Monday, 6 Mar: full day at Sirena.
Tuesday, 7 Mar: boat from Sirena to San Pedrillo.
Wednesday, 8 Mar: day walk to Llorona.
Thursday, 9 Mar: boat from San Pedrillo to Sierpe; bus from Sierpe to La Selva (via hotel to gather excess baggage).
Friday, 10 Mar: full day at La Selva.
Saturday, 11 Mar: full day at La Selva.
Sunday, 12 Mar: evaluation conferences at La Selva until mid-afternoon; bus to San Jose; check-in at hotel; final program banquet.
Monday, 13 Mar: official end of program; students disperse.

What to bring: The student fees cover almost all food, lodging, transportation, and entrance fees during the field trip. Additional expenses to plan for are 1) transport to airport on departure, at most $15 for taxi from San Jose to airport, 2) airport exit tax, usually $15-$20, and 3) extra funds for personal purchases, gifts, additional snacks and drinks, etc., usually at least $100 or so.

We will be experiencing most of the climates that Costa Rica has to offer. The lowlands can be very hot and humid, but Monteverde is not a tropical beach! It is often cool (often between 60 and 70F) and wet. A light jacket or windbreaker is recommended. A collapsible umbrella that fits in a daypack is convenient in the lowlands. Past participants recommend that you travel light and bring a diversity of clothing for all climates, but no too much of any one thing. Put your name on everything. They are easily misplaced in the confusion of 24 people living in close quarters.

Although airline luggage allowances are two pieces, students on this program may check only one piece of personal luggage, due to space limitations on buses and housing facilities. Call the airline regarding size and weight limitations.

General Checklist

Communications: You will have access to public telephones while traveling from site to site, but access at our field sites will be absent or extremely limited. Calling cards can be used to make long-distance calls out of the country. There will be no place where you can reliably receive calls. Emergency contact will be through the Monteverde Institute. Institute staff will always know where we are and how to contact us in the event of an emergency. The Institute telephone number is 506-645-5053 (from the US, dial 011 first for an international call; 506 is the country code; there are no area codes within Costa Rica). Mail: the field trip is too short to reliably receive mail in Costa Rica.

Additional resources:

Guanacaste Acacias and their ants

Costa Rican mangrove species

Return to Tropical Rainforests home page.

John T. Longino, The Evergreen State College, Olympia WA 98505 USA.

Last modified: 30 December 1999.