Central and South America
Students interested in tropical biology and environmental studies can participate in our trips to the beautiful countries of Central and South America. Over the past decade, we have been to Ecuador, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico. Most trips last about two weeks in May.
These short study abroad opportunities are ideal for students who have not been out of the U.S. before, or those who may not have time or money for longer semester programs. Many of our students have described their travels to Central and South America as a highlight of their college experience. We usually travel with two TLU faculty members and about 10-12 students.
In June 2015, students traveled to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology and nonprofits. During the 11-day trip, we experienced the rainforests and learned about how nonprofits work to enhance the environment of Costa Rica. The tropical ecosystem proved very photogenic and brought to life everything the students studied in class the months before. While exploring Carrerra National Park, Savegre and Hacianda Baru, students spotted crocodiles, monkeys, amazing birds such as the resplendent quetzal, the elusive blue morpho butterfly, the dreaded fer-de-lance, two- and three-toed sloths, lizards, tropical and highland plants, and more. For the BIOL 379 Tropical Ecology course, we hiked almost 60 miles led by local guides through lowland tropical forests in and around Uvita, mountain trails in the Talamanca Mountain range and all the way up to the tropical highlands at 11,000 feet elevation at the Cerro de la Muerta park. As part of the Geography 379/Social Entrepreneurship 379 Nonprofits & NGOs, the group heard from Amy Work from GEOPORTers about the role of GIS in Escuela Verde School’s environmental community projects and then volunteered their time trash mapping to help her group find the cause and solutions to excess trash effecting the environment in Bahia.
In May 2013, nine TLU students and two TLU faculty traveled to Belize to study tropical ecology and environmental science. The first part of our adventure was spent on the remote island of Calabash Caye in the center of the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the Americas. Calabash Caye is located in the Turneffe Atoll, which recently was designated as a marine reserve by the government of Belize. The reef is known for its diversity of marine life and for a high density of American crocodiles, which we observed at night. We snorkeled in a variety of reefs and mangrove habitats and saw dozens of species of fish and invertebrates. The second part of our trip was spent on the mainland, and included visits to a community-sponsored sanctuary for howler monkeys and horseback riding in the jungle. We stayed at a lodge at the foothills of the scenic Maya mountains. The lodge is located adjacent to a 3000 acre reserve of primary rainforest. We observed toucans, parrots, boa constrictors, leaf-cutter ants, and many more species of rainforest animals. We also learned about the ancient Maya, and visited one of their sacred caves and the largest Maya city in Belize.
In May, 2010, we traveled to Ecuador, one of the countries with the highest biodiversity on Earth. In one day, one can travel from glaciated mountaintops to lowland rainforest. After a day of exploring the beautiful colonial city of Quito, we drove up to Cotopaxi to observe high-elevation habitats of the Andes. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world, and we could certainly feel the lack of oxygen as we hiked at 15,000 feet above sea level. We then moved down into the mountain cloud forests on the east side of the Andes where we stayed at an awesome hacienda near Banos for a few days. Next, we descended into the Amazon basin to explore lowland tropical rainforest along the Napo River. On our way back to Quito we stayed at the thermal springs in Papallacta. During our trip, we played soccer with local kids, visited a gold-plated cathedral, ate local foods, planted some trees, visited an animal refuge, and continually soaked in the fascinating culture of Ecuador.