Earth Expeditions
Collared redstart, neotropical bird with yellow breast
Neotropical panorama
Pair of tree frogs on a leaf
Tropical bat roosting beneath palm leaf
Mural depicting indigenous person with basket
Students in motorboat head up river

Course Overview

Trek through lowland rain forest, montane forest, and coastal ecosystems while investigating the biotic, physical, and cultural forces that affect tropical biodiversity.

Due to their astonishing diversity and high rates of destruction, tropical ecosystems play a central role in debates about the nature and maintenance of the earth’s biodiversity.

Travel to Costa Rica to explore issues of biodiversity in lowland rain forest and montane cloud forest environments. Scientists equate the rapid loss of species due to human activities in the modern era to the massive extinction events evident in the geologic record. However, these two types of extinction events differ in important ways. In the extinction event in which we now live, humans make decisions about which species to save. We also decide, explicitly or implicitly, which species will go extinct. How well do we understand this process? On what ecological, economic, and political factors do we base these decisions? Understanding and formulating solutions to modern extinctions is a central concern of conservation biology, a discipline that requires skills in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

Burgeoning ecotourism in Costa Rica is playing a greater and greater role in the conservation of biodiversity. Questions remain as to whether ecotourism can truly fulfill the promise of social, economic, and environmental benefits. What are the pros and cons of ecotourism; what constitutes best practices and who is defining or enforcing them? Does ecotourism by indigenous communities help or hinder the promotion of livelihoods and community empowerment? What new approaches can best save vulnerable species such as Costa Rica’s sea turtles?

Course Themes

  • Ecology of cloud forest and lowland rain forests
  • Sea turtle conservation
  • Ecotourism in the neotropics
  • Indigenous communities and community-based environmental education
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Participatory education

A typical Earth Expeditions day in Costa Rica is likely to include:

  • Visits to field conservation sites
  • Lectures
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Engagement with local communities
  • Open inquiries
  • Journal writing

"[This Earth Expeditions course] was personally the single greatest experience of my life and will have far-reaching effects. We came for an intense learning experience in the field, and we got it!"

- Paula H., Teacher, Middletown, Ohio

Planned Sites in Costa Rica


Talamanca is a “canton” (similar to a county) located in the province of Limón on the south eastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This region is one of the most culturally diverse in Costa Rica, home to Afro-Caribbean and indigenous communities.

Talamanca covers over 1,000 square miles, 88% of which is protected, including three national parks – Amistad, Cahuita, and Chiripó – as well as the indigenous territories of Kekoldi, Talamanca Bribri, Talamanca Cabébar, and Telire, and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, an important nesting ground for sea turtles such as hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and leatherback.

Talamanca is home to the largest indigenous communities in Costa Rica, primarily the Bribri and Cabécar people.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The enchanting cloud forests of Monteverde contain one of the leading tropical research communities in the world. We will gain direct knowledge on topics such as the ecology of cloud-forest canopies, the role of birds in determining forest structure, ecological succession, schoolyard ecology in the Neotropics, and how climate and geology shape tropical ecosystems.

(Course locations are subject to change.)

Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit

More Information

For more information on the admissions process, physical requirements, and more, please visit Admissions and/or FAQs.

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Course Details

Notes from the Field


Discovering the power of inquiry

Jessica Begonia, Jessica Walker, and Sarah Rae

from Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Costa Rica

Students plot transects to investigate bromeliad presence in forest gaps vs. forest cores.

Student-generated investigations are part of every Earth Expeditions course.

Begonia is a marketing director in Lima, Ohio; Walker is an elementary school art teacher in Ottawa, Illinois; Rae is a middle school science and ELA teacher in Peoria, Illinois

Program Costs