CIEE Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde
98% Rating
(19 Reviews)

CIEE Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde

Come explore Costa Rica’s diverse and imitable ecosystems and gain comprehensive insight into its conservation through theory, hands-on exposure, and direct experimentation.

Through rigorous coursework, and unique field opportunities including two extensive field trips to Costa Rica’s varied ecosystems and the Panamanian coast, studying abroad in Monteverde acquaints you with practical biological problems associated with agricultural development, eco-tourism, and grassroots conservation efforts in developing countries.

Study abroad in Costa Rica and you will:

- Gain hands-on experience through an independent research project

- Participate in two, two and a half week field trips, including a trip to Panama to observe marine diversity in the coral reefs off the Bocas del Toro Islands

- Live in a biological station surrounded by the Monteverde Cloud Forest

- Get to known rural Costa Rica during a one-month homestay with a local family

Costa Rica
Program Type
Subject Areas
Conservation and Preservation
Earth Sciences
Natural Sciences
Wildlife Sciences
Degree Level
Host Family
Official Transcripts
Letters of Recommendation
GPA Requirement
Starting Price
Price Details
The program fee includes:

- Tuition and housing
- Pre-departure advising and optional on-site airport meet and greet
- Full-time program leadership and support
- Field trips and cultural activities
- CIEE iNext travel card, which provides insurance and other travel benefits

CIEE also offers several scholarships for participants; please see website for full details.

Questions & Answers

There is a shorter summer option than condenses the semester program! A coworker has done it and had a similar experience to my semester program.

Program Reviews

based on 19 reviews
  • Academics 8.7
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.5
  • Housing 9.3
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 15 of 19
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Beautiful Sights, Wonderful People, Hands-on Learning

Studying abroad with the CIEE Monteverde Tropical Ecology and Conservation program was truthfully one of the best decisions I ever made. I deliberated long and hard over several different semester long programs, but ultimately chose this one because of the price, the focus on seeing many diverse ecosystems, and the educational topics.

First of all, I would like to emphasize the quality of teaching on this program; all of the professors and TAs were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about ecology, conservation, animal and plant diversity, how people interact with their environment, etc. The director of the program is an American who has lived in Monteverde for decades, and the remaining professors and TA's are all native Costa Ricans. This provides a unique local perspective. Having been in Costa Rica for all or most of their lives, the teaching staff can give firsthand anecdotes about how climate change is affecting the cloud forests in Monteverde. All of the staff, especially the TAs are very helpful and caring-- they will gladly help you with any physical or emotional troubles you may have during the program.

Next, this program approaches learning from a hands-on perspective. We learned about different plant and animal species, while looking at those species in their natural habitats. We also devoted several days to field ecology techniques: in Tirimbina, we marked and recaptured leaf-cutting ants, in Bocas del Toro, we did point-counts of fish while snorkeling, in Corcovado, we measured tree above ground biomass, etc. Spanish class occurs in Monteverde and is an immersion program, meaning the Spanish class is all in Spanish. They will place you in the correct level and put you in a small interactive class. At first, I was very nervous since I hadn't taken much Spanish, but my professor was endlessly helpful, kind, and funny, and Spanish class ended up being very fun and engaging. The Humans in the Tropics course takes students to different places to learn how people affect their environment. We visited many places including coffee farms, a pig farm, wind turbines, and tree plantations. The Tropical Ecology and Species Diversity courses have a strong focus on reading and comprehending scientific papers, which is useful for anyone going into scientific fields. I also cannot stress how valuable the independent research projects are in giving students the opportunity to design and carry out their own research (with guidance from professors and TAs) and then draw conclusions, write a scientific paper, and present their work. I worked with Lesson's Motmots, which helped me to get another internship with bird research this past summer.

This program includes two field trips, one on the Pacific coast and one on the Atlantic coast. These trips take you to many different ecosystems, from coral reefs, to dry forests, to rainforests. These were, for me, the most rewarding part of the program. Here's a very brief list of some of the amazing experiences we had on the field trips: we saw a wild puma in Corcovado National Park, hiked a very remote part of the Children's Eternal Rainforest and stayed in a small lodging there, snorkeled in coral reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama, had many sing-alongs around campfires, saw a massive leatherback turtle at Pacuare National Park, and swam in beautiful waterfalls.

The housing in this program includes two longer stays at the Monteverde Biological Station, a month long stay with a Costa Rican host family, a few short stays in hotels and hostels, and some time camping. The Biological Station gives you a space to hang out with friends, and be a few steps away from a beautiful cloud forest that you can hike at your leisure. The food there is very tasty and eating meals with the other students and the staff is enjoyable. The month with a Tico family is also incredible. I got to practice my Spanish and spend time with locals. My mamatica even invited me to a family party, where I had a blast! Students in this program will get to know the places and people in rural Monteverde well.

Because this program allows a good amount of independence, you will also have multitudes of opportunities to do what you want in Costa Rica and Monteverde. I spent much of my time birding, went to local restaurants and bars, went zip-lining, bungee jumping, and even participated in a 10k in the cloud forest! The other students I met on this program were tirelessly interesting and wonderfully motivated. I have truly made fifteen new friends for life. It must be emphasized, however, that this program is A LOT of work, and you will have to spend a lot of time studying and writing, but it is certainly worth it. Be prepared to work hard, but play hard too.

Yes, I recommend

Life changing

-field experience: being able to travel all over the country and learn about the different ecosystems and species first hand was incredible
-homestay: immersing fully by living with a Costa Rican family both allowed me to finally be comfortable speaking Spanish and build a strong connection with my Mama Tica
-independent research: being able to fully choose and implement my own research project with full support from staff (thanks Moncho and Alan) was instrumental in deciding what I want to do with my future... I will be continuing my research in Oregon this fall
-location: Costa Rica is absolutely gorgeous and we got to experience places that very few others get to - Corcovado National Park (saw a puma!), Eladio's Refuge (10 mile backpacking hike to get there), Pocosol (another 10 mi hike through the Children's Eternal Rainforest)

I have neither seen nor heard of any program that gets to experience all of these: homestay, language immersion, field experience, independent research, travel, challenging academics (science) and more!! The program has everything, and while it was a physical, academic and emotional challenge, I would highly recommend to people who are looking for that. Know however, that it is very academically rigorous and science-based so be prepared for that.

How can this program be improved?
Space out the academics more so there aren't weeks of overwhelming amounts of work and then weeks of hardly anything
Yes, I recommend

Life Changing Experience

This program fulfilled and exceeded all of my expectations. I extensively researched programs before going abroad and this program showed potential to cover a variety of interests, and it delivered. There were parts of the program I was worried about, such as the month-long homestay, but every aspect of this program ended up being extremely valuable to me. The way this program implements academics in nature's true elements is impressive. I have never had such a valuable academic and cultural experience. If you have a love for the environment, want to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and want to change the way you view the world in a positive way, this is the program for you. It is unlike any other in a beautifully unique way. You will go on hikes in the middle of no where, sleep in the heart of Costa Rica's nature, and experience a truly hands on learning environment.

How can this program be improved?
This program does not have any sort of break in the middle, but this ended up being fine as I instead traveled for a week after the program. You will also travel a lot throughout the program with two field trips (about 2 weeks long each) and will experience Costa Rica in a way you wouldn't be able to on your own.
Yes, I recommend
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Amazing experience

I cannot say enough about this program. Amazing experiences, amazing staff. This program feels like the most stress free traveling I have ever done. The academics are exciting and fun. With this program you get to see almost all of the beautiful country. My favorite memory is of a backpacking trip we took during the second field trip. The hike we took was so breath taking, I think I will remember it for the rest of my life. Truly a fantastic semester. Again, it is hard to describe in words- the experience was awesome.

How can this program be improved?
It is pretty flawless in my opinion.
Yes, I recommend
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Ecology in a Tropical Paradise

Just like every student that studies abroad says.. It changes you. I feel this so strongly and I really thank CIEE for making such a life-changing, fulfilling, and perfect program for students interested in a first hand look at the tropical ecology of such a beautiful landscape. Not only was this the most changing semester of my life, but it was the best. From night hikes, snorkeling, interesting lectures, camping, and home stays this program has it all. For any student of the sciences I would recommend this program if you are down to get dirty, have a different adventure every day, and learn from the most amazing professors there are around.

Yes, I recommend
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Costa Rica Fall 2016

This was an amazing experience and it's hard to pick any one story to share. Corcovado was one of the first places we explored, and definitely a great example of what the program was about! We got to adventure, see and interact with wildlife (turtles, whales, monkeys, frogs, coral, so much!). The passion of the professors and my peers was contagious from the very beginning! We witnessed to Olive Ridley sea turtles mating between Corcovado and Isla del Cano. It was amazing, but seeing my professors in such awe told me how spectacular what we were witnessing truly was. And connecting that experience to the experience of seeing green sea turtles laying eggs and hatching in Tortuguero brought the experience full circle. I fell even more in love with biology, ecology and all of its' complexities.

Yes, I recommend

Study Abroad Adventure

My favorite part of the program was the field trips. I learned so much by hiking with the the professors and talking about ecology as we encountered different species. Its incredible how much information you can absorb when you experience nature up-close like that. My favorite memory from the trip was a night hike where we found ourselves waist deep in a swamp tracking snakes and frogs. So extreme, so fun, and so exciting!

Yes, I recommend
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CIEE Tropical Ecology and Conservation Review

What I loved most about this program, besides the tight-knit community of students and professors who quickly became my friends, was how it simultaneously made me feel totally immersed in the forest, and totally safe and comfortable. During the field trips, every day brought a new adventure, a new activity or a new species to learn about. There is something magical about learning the natural history of a tree while standing under it, or pausing in writing down info on a species of millipede to let it crawl across your arm, or learning about a bat from the guy who discovered and named that species while he is literally holding it in front of you. You quickly develop the understanding that the world is your classroom, and realize that you need only to walk into the forest to discover something new and amazing. This program teaches you the beauty and value of tropical diversity, from the smallest intricate details to the largest complex interactions, not so much through lectures in the classroom, but by allowing you to live it every day.
Despite the deep immersion into tropical forests that this program provides, I never felt unsafe. Three meals per day were provided, along with any equipment and supplies we might need. The professors are experts in handling dangers in every area we visited, and their first priority is always the comfort and well-being of their students. I felt I could ask them for help with any problem I was having, and they would do as much as possible to help me. No issue was too small, and no baseline level of discomfort was assumed. Furthermore, they do their best to provide breaks and fun activities to keep spirits high.
I have so many memories from this trip that I will never forget, but one that especially comes to mind happened at the end of a full day of hiking. We were backpacking though the Children's Eternal Rain Forest, and after several days staying at an isolated shack in the forest, we were hiking out to a (somewhat) more densely populated area. There was only one trail, and so people had broken off to hike at their own paces, and I was walking alone. Suddenly I heard a rustling from above and looked up to see a troop of spider monkeys passing through the canopy. A few paused to look at me and drop a stick or two before moving on. I was struck at this moment by how truly remarkable this program was. Feelings of discovery and wonderment, of self-confidence and peace flowed through me at that moment, as I stood there with everything I owned on my back, looking up at this amazing creature I had so causally stumbled across. I remained in that spot, with what I'm sure was a stupid smile on my face, long after the troop had passed.
I went to Costa Rica looking for adventure and a break from my normal routines. On this trip I found those things, but also so much more: vast stores of knowledge on subjects I would never have otherwise studied, exposure to new cultures and ways of life, a passion for ecology, friendships forged strong on long hikes through the jungle and late nights clustered around the guitar, beautiful vistas, invigorating swims, sunsets, waterfalls, huge trees with life draped across every branch all shrouded in Monteverde mist. If you are a lover of biology and the beauty of our natural world, or even if you think you might like to become one, do yourself a favor and take this trip. I promise it will be unforgettable.

How can this program be improved?
More pre-trip information on schedule, the places we would be visiting, what we should pack and how much we should bring in total.
Yes, I recommend
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Go on this trip

If you study ecology or biology then there's no reason you shouldn't do this program. You learn so much about the tropics and ecology in general. The professors are the best I've ever had and they have set up the program in the best possible way, a third of the trip is spent on field trips! No reason not to do this program. I not only saw countless plants and animals but I learned all about their biology. Additionally the independent research project was a great way to get experience and the professors do a great job teaching you how to do research.

How can this program be improved?
I really don't have any suggestions, perfect how it was.
Yes, I recommend
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The best 3 months of my life

My semester in Monteverde will forever be imprinted in my memories as the happiest phase of my life (yet). Our family-sized group challenged each other physically (with our extensive, educational and majestic hikes) and mentally (through papers, research, and species recognition). Our professors and program managers made campfire songs, dinners on the town, and beach days regular events that rewarded our hard academic periods. My photographs are especially colorful with the authentic smiles of my classmates in the foreground of palms, ferns, colorful fruits and birds. This program emphasized practical, hands-on outside learning, which meant that we got to tour Costa Rica in a respectful way while gaining real experience and expertise. I now have a great understanding of the scientific research process, and this has helped me in college and beyond! I now also have refined camping and hiking skills, a vast understanding of the Costa Rican landscape, lifelong friends and the best memories I could ask for. I could not critique this program in any way even if I thought long and hard

How can this program be improved?
No way, really!
Yes, I recommend
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Life Changing-Heart Opening-Brain Filling-Laugh till you Cry Study Abroad Experience

I woke up to the deep guttural yell from a Howler Monkey in a nearby palm tree. As I unzipped out of my tent, I instantly felt the warm sun greeting me. I stepped out onto a isolated sandy beach, and gazed out watching the ocean waves roll in. As I looked to the other side, nothing but a wall of green- plants of all new varieties to me danced before my eyes. This was only day 5 of what was to be a semester long study abroad experience and I just sat there in a dream state for a moment. I was snapped out of it when I heard "Miguelito! Breakfast, come on!" from my new friend and teaching assistant, and I knew in that instant, that my life would never be the same after this semester.

Memories of moments like these flood me when I recollect on my study abroad experience in Costa Rica through the CIEE - Tropical Ecology and Conservation program. Although based in Monteverde ( a serene cloud forest town high in the mountains near the continental divide), this program took us around the whole country traveling by foot, boat, and bus. From the beautiful tropical forest in Parque Nacional Corcovado (which is where the above described memory occurred) to dry forests in Santa Rosa, to the Caribbean coast watching sea turtles laying their eggs, this program gets you up close and personal with life to the fullest. It is a biologists, ecologists, or any lover of life's dream. Beyond this you learn about the human dimension- culture, farming, coffee, cacao, socioeconomic issues, development, sustainability, food, food and food!

To be quite honest, I had no expectations going into the program. When I reflect on the CIEE- Tropical Ecology and Conservation program I could go on and on about the incredible education, cultural immersion, soul-shaking experience that this semester was but I want to share with you something that sets it apart from the others. And this has to do with the way the program as a whole is structured. Instead of a study abroad experience where you go to a different country maybe get set up with a host family, attend a local university, meet a few new friends nearby, the CIEE TE & C program sets you up with a family. (Yes 1 month is spent living with a Costa Rican host family and it is awesome) What I mean by this, is because the way the program is structured, you are exploring, learning, laughing with the same 30 or some classmates and instructors every single day! Yes there is plenty of space for solo time, but by the end of the semester, the group that began as strangers has formed into a tight- knit family from shared experiences and this family stays. Four years after the program and I am still keeping in touch with my classmates and faculty that now live all over the world and are continuing to be incredible humans and doing awesome things.
If you are on the fence about which study abroad program to consider, I would like to leave you with this. If you are ready to: dive in with your whole being to a life changing experience, ready to learn more in 4 months than many do in 4 years at other universities, excited to wake up every day and experientially learn through place-based learning, and to be apart of a new family then the CIEE - Tropical Ecology and Conservation program is for you!
Please feel free to contact with questions.

Yes, I recommend
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A literal life changing experience

This program is fantastic. From exploring the tropical rainforest to the experiential learning model they use to the fun-loving and open community, everyday there was something new to learn. It’s crazy how many things they packed into three and a half months!

My favorite part of the whole program was the experiential learning model they employed and the fact that were we literally learning about the place we were in. Class time was often spent hiking through absolutely gorgeous forests (fun fact: for some reason we don’t call tropical rainforests “the woods”, everyone says “the forest”). Anytime we saw an animal, plant or anything interesting we would stop and discuss the species, their distribution, what they ate, etc. and relate it to what we were studying at the time. We also did this in our “humans in the tropics” class by going to palm oil plantations and farms. These Costa Rican forests were the most diverse ecosystems I'd ever seen at that point - it was not difficult to see animals at all. I'd see monkeys, frogs, coatis, birds, insects and more on the daily. For me, a student who learns best by vocal, physical and social avenues, this was a fantastic system and I still think about many of the lessons I learned during those classes.

The instructors are another awesome part of the program: they are fun-loving and very open to helping the students. Among the professors and TAs, you’ll have about 5-6 people with a wide breadth of knowledge about Costa Rican ecology and conservation. The classes and independent project are rigorous undertakings but it is definitely do-able with their assistance and support (and so satisfying to complete too!) If I had a question, they would be down the hall or simply an email away.

The homestay was something that brought the entire experience into perspective. Monteverde is a very touristy town, but the homestay made us feel like we were part of the community rather than just observers passing through. I got to know local tico(a)s and their stories, I celebrated birthdays with my host family and I even shared my culture by leading an Indian classical dance workshop through this completely serendipitous connection I had with the owner of a local yoga studio. I’d say the best part was bonding with my host mom and getting to learn all the secrets to traditional Costa Rican cooking (I still make gallo pinto at home with a healthy dose of Lizano!)

And lastly this whole experience was just plain FUN. It was definitely a theme running through the whole program. All the new experiences, rigorous classes and backpacking trips created a very intimate environment where you can really bond with the people you’re with. My cohort that year became a sort of family away from home. We’d go on hikes together, go on bungee jumping adventures, help each other with projects and more. This intimate setting was a big part of why I chose this program.

Coming into the program I knew I loved biology but I was headed towards a career in medicine. After going to Costa Rica and learning about tropical species, ecology, and conservation I switched gears and never looked back. I ended up coming back to Costa Rica to do research after I graduated and now I’d call myself a conservation biologist! Even if a career shift isn’t in your future, this program is great opportunity to put the curiosity back into learning and give you another lens through which to view the world. I’d highly recommend this program!!!

Thanks Alan, Kathy, Johel, Bronco, Moncho and Maricela!

Yes, I recommend
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Once in a lifetime

I had considered studying abroad for a while when I finally chose this program. You know, been to study abroad fairs and such, and they all seemed awesome. This program stood out because of the amount of field-based learning and intensive biology. So upon arriving I was excited for the adventure that surely awaited me, what I wasn't ready for was to leave with a whole new outlook on life, new confidence, new friends, and a vast amount of new skills and abilities - and I had fun while gaining all those priceless things. The educational experience provided by this program is unparalleled. Lessons in the field combined with classroom learning and lab-type scenarios, including multiple group and individual research projects, create an extraordinary learning experience. The staff of this program create a totally unique atmosphere that encourages questions and learning above grades and standards. Not only were staff helpful with program-related questions or issues but they were some of the best advisors I had ever met. Much better than anyone I'd talked to at my home institution. I came away more educated, more driven, and more confident. I now know what I want to do and how to get there, and I am confident that this program has change my life drastically for the better.

Yes, I recommend
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CIEE Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde

This program really exceeded my expectations. The total of four weeks of travel around the country allowed us to see some really cool places, camp, hike, snorkel, and learn about a variety of ecosystems. Learning is really hands on and includes lectures (usually outdoors or on hikes), group projects, mini-research projects, etc. While living at the station in Monteverde, there are some more traditional classes, but also time to explore the forest and town, take Spanish classes once a week, and go on field trips for the humans in the tropics class. The last month involves living with a homestay family and conducting an independent research project, which is a really unique opportunity and super helpful for anyone wanting to do science in the future. The program is a small group of people (students and staff) who you spend nearly 24/7 with so you get to know everybody very well, which some people really like and some people do not. Compared to other study abroad programs, you will probably learn a lot more, work a lot more, and have considerably less free time. While you don't have weekends free to travel on your own, etc. you get to go to so many different places in the country (plus a week in Panama) and do a ton of fun activities while the classes are going on, so this was a positive thing for most people. You learn as much Spanish as you put into it. Classes are in english and you are spending most of your time with other americans, but if you really want to learn, there is plenty of opportunity and the homestay gives you that chance. If you don't really like learning about ecology, nature, biology, etc. this program is probably not for you, though some people came into the program from non-ecology majors and discovered that they really enjoyed learning something different and loved all the outdoor activities. All in all, I learned more during my semester in Costa Rica than in any semester back home, met some great friends, and had a lot of fun.

Yes, I recommend
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Challenging yet Life Changing

The beauty of this program is the diversity of ways in which the curriculum is taught to you. I would say that the entire program is split up into three different parts. The reason this worked so well was that it allowed people to gain information in different ways and seeing as everyone learns differently it has something to offer to anyone who might go.

The three parts were split up into field trips, normal classroom setting, and independent research. There is over four weeks of field trip throughout the program which allows for real hand on learning out in nature. Personally I found this very helpful because I am a very hands on visual learner. Actually hiking through a primary forest and talking about a tree that is right in front of you is much different than sitting in a classroom looking at a picture of it. The classroom setting portion allowed us to talk much more in depth about what we had already seen on the field trips and also learn valuable scientific skills such as reading manuscripts, and working with stats. The last portion, individual research, seemed to be the most unique portion of the program. While I know of many other programs that require their students to do research, I felt that CIEE, in particular, had their students go much more in depth than is usual. For starters, it is a month long portion of your overall studies which allows for real results to be recorded. The professors are helping you every step of the way by advising you in choosing a topic, writing research proposals, setting up trials, and finally writing a finished research paper as if it were to be published. Seeing as it is out of the ordinary for undergraduate students to have research experience this is something that can really help to set you apart in the future.

Overall this is a great program and I would recommend it to anyone that is passionate about ecology and is also ready to be challenged to progress their scientific knowledge at a faster rate than they ever have before.

How can this program be improved?
One improvement would be a higher funding for materials that can be used to do individual research. The professors do a great job at helping you get the necessary supplies but it would be easier overall if there was more supplies to pull from.
Yes, I recommend

About CIEE

A nonprofit, non-governmental organization, CIEE is the world leader in international study and exchange programs. For 65 years, CIEE has helped thousands of students, professionals, and educators gain the knowledge and skills necessary to live and...