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Costa Rica: Ecology & Ecotourism

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

Course Overview

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 rainforest 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? How can indigenous communities promote livelihoods and community empowerment in ecotourism? What new approaches can best save vulnerable species such as Costa Rica’s sea turtles?

Prior to and following the field experience in the Costa Rica, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops’ web-based learning community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Details
In-person travel dates:

June 18-25, 2024 

Students arrive at least one day before and depart the day after (or some opt to fly home very late the last day of the course).

On the Web: Pre-travel preparations: February-March
Login to online course: April
Summer course: May 16-August 9
Fall course: Late August- early December
Credits: Summer course: 5 graduate credits

Follow-on Fall course: 2 graduate credits

All Miami University credits can be applied to the GFP or AIP (or other programs if approved)
Costs: Summer course: $3,550* + your own airfare to San Jose, Costa Rica.
* $3,550 calculated as = $455 per credit tuition x 5 graduate credits + $1100 program fee + $175 Miami global fee


Course Themes

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

A typical day 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
Karen Morely on an Earth Expeditions trip to Costa Rica

Planned Sites

Google Earth image of Costa Rica with two locations marked. A second image shows the marked locations zoomed in and labeled Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Talamanca


Talamanca is a “canton” (similar to a county) located in the province of Limón on the southeastern 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 Cabécar, 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.)

2024 Costs Include:

In addition to covering the price for five graduate credits of Miami University tuition, field course costs cover all basic expenses, including:

  • Meals (incidental snacks and drinks not included)
  • Lodging
  • Field station fees
  • Course activities (optional activities are not included)
  • Ground transportation (van, boat, train, etc., as needed)
  • Park entrance and guide fees

Course costs do not cover personal expenses, such as airfare to the course, personal gifts, or ancillary costs, such as passport fees, country entry fees, required course readers, and any additional course texts.

Airfare: To estimate fares applicants may wish to visit an online fare finder or call a travel agent. Bear in mind that airlines have seasonal fluctuations in fares.

Miami University also requires all international workshop participants to purchase travel health insurance for about $40. (Successful applicants will receive more details in their web-based learning community course workshop.) In some classes an additional textbook is required. In some countries, you may have to pay entrance and departure taxes/fees at the airport.

Because of support from Miami University, the course costs listed above are a fraction of actual program costs. Earth Expeditions recommends that accepted applicants to the program check with their school district or employer to see if professional development funds are available to further offset costs.

We offer some further ideas on Helping to Fund your Degree and Scholarships for Current Dragonfly Students

U.S. Students and Students Living Abroad

To support involvement by a broad range of professionals nationally and globally, Miami University discounts tuition for participants accepted to an Earth Expeditions graduate course. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and hold bachelor’s degrees. Upon successful completion of both the field and Web-based components of the Earth Expeditions course, participants earn seven graduate credit hours.

Students Seeking Undergraduate Credit

Undergraduate students at Miami University or elsewhere may apply for an Earth Expeditions course and earn five credits for the field component, with the option to complete two additional credits for the fall Web component. Normal Miami tuition rates apply, as do eligible summer tuition waivers and scholarships. Contact Project Dragonfly for more information.

Course Options for Miami Students

Are you a current Miami University undergrad or grad student interested in participating? Check out our Miami Students page to learn more about program requirements.

*Note that costs shown above are for graduate students only. Course costs for undergraduate students are based on each student’s tuition rate. If you have questions regarding your tuition promise rate, please contact the Bursar.

Inquiry & Action Follow-on Course

The 2-credit follow-on course, Inquiry & Action, puts the Earth Expeditions course ideas and concepts into practice. Students in this course will choose a research topic and construct a multidisciplinary semester-long project of their choice that includes inquiry-driven learning, participatory education, and community-based conservation to experience and promote action in real-world contexts. Students will connect and collaborate with peers and their instructional team throughout the semester working to make a positive difference in their local communities. This class is a required part of the Global Field Program (GFP) master's course sequence. Inquiry & Action is recommended though optional for non-GFP students.

Course cost: $910 (2 credits)


Do you have questions? Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page for some answers.

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