Overview Description Requirements Outline Itinerary Cost Application Instructor Rainforest And Reef Penn State Lehigh Valley
Rainforest and Reef

Tour Provider:
Rainforest and Reef Costa Rica

Tour Leader: Dr. Jacqueline McLaughlin, Assistant Professor of Biology, Penn State Lehigh Valley; Director, CHANCE

Tour Field Assistant: Timothy R. Dugan, PA DCNR, Bureau of Forestry Forester

Trip Includes
: All instruction and guide services; all meals and lodging as stated in the itinerary; all ground and water transportation within Costa Rica; all entrance fees to National Parks and other sites; round-trip international airfare to Costa Rica.

Trip Does Not Include: International airport departure tax (26.00 US$ per person), departure tax at the border Costa Rica/Panama (12.00 US$ per person), passport fees, insurance, gratuities to guides, drivers, or transfer personnel, laundry, telephone calls, or any other expenses of a personal nature.

Field Presentations: Daily presentations on key environmental and conservation topics/issues by invited researchers, Dr. McLaughlin, CHANCE staff, or CHANCE participants will occur at some point every day after leaving San Jose (Day 1).

* This experience will be rigorous and challenging. Please review physical requirements before considering to participate.



Day 1 - July 5th
outside Paseo Hotel, San Jose

Following your arrival at Juan Santamaría International Airport, outside of San Jose, Costa Rica, you will be met by Rainforest and Reef staff members and transferred to a hotel. After dinner, there will be a brief orientation session. Paseo Hotel, San Jose.

Overnight at Rosa del Paseo Hotel, San Jose.

Day 2 - July 6th
our accommodations (homestays)

Following breakfast, we will depart via buses towards the Costa Rican Caribbean coast. We will pass through the Caribbean port village of Limon, where Christopher Columbus first landed in 1502. Then we will continue onto the village of Gandoca, near Panama. This village is the access point to one of Costa Rica's marine reserves, Gandoca-Manzanillo Natural Refuge. This area recently gained protection due to its importance as a major nesting site for the endangered Leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea. After we settle into our accommodations (homestays) and become acquainted with our new families, we will meet the staff of Asociacion ANAI, a small Costa Rican based NGO that has pioneered some of the tropical world's most successful community-based sustainable development practices. Anai staff, and researchers from around the world, conduct research in Gandoca on the nesting, egg laying, and hatching of the Leatherback sea turtle, as well as run a conservation program that works to ensure the survival
of this species by helping the local community become more economically self-reliant through environmentally friendly activities. We will participate in an informative training session by the staff at ANAI.


Note: Lodging and meals at Gandoca will take place at the houses of local families in this community.

Day 3 - July 7th
checking turtle nests

Following breakfast, participants will assist in the daily research and conservation activities of ANAI. Research activities include obtaining data on hatchling viability, and temperature's role in gender determination. Conservation activities aim in protecting the nests from human poachers and, more recently, from the erosion of the beach. Before the project began, the poaching rate was over 95%, but with the presence of volunteers at night patrolling the beach and guarding the hatcheries, the survival rate increased to over 90% last season. There will be two nightly patrols, from 8 p.m. to 12 midnight and 12 midnight to 4 a.m. wherein 'patrol shifts' of volunteers (PSU participants and other volunteers from around the world) are led by an experienced patrol leader. Together, volunteers and designated patrol leaders walk a given sector of the 11km beach searching for nesting females. Once a nesting turtle is encountered, the volunteers work directly with the turtle, taking carapace and nest dimension measurements, collecting eggs, and tagging the rear flipper of the turtle. The collected eggs are then relocated on the beach or taken to a hatchery, where the volunteers on 'hatchery shift' ((PSU participants and other volunteers from around the world)) construct a surrogate nest and transplant the eggs. The number of eggs, nest location and turtle identification is then recorded by the hatchery attendants for further data analysis. The approximate incubation time for Leatherback turtle eggs is 60 days. Volunteers on assigned hatchery duty (6 hour shifts, day in and day out) must also check turtle nests every thirty minutes and if hatchlings are encountered, count and release them in the evening along the high tide line of the beach. Other activities that we will be directly involved in include hatchery construction itself and beach clean-up. The latter helps to remove debris that may hamper female turtles from coming ashore or hatchlings from making their way to the ocean. Debris includes plastic goods, aluminum cans, and logs brought ashore by sea currents. While walking the beach day or night, we will always be on the look out for hatchlings that are attempting to make a departure to sea. Such hatchlings will be brought back in a hatchery and guarded until evening wherein they will be released just before sunset to increase their chances of survival. Dinner and overnight at Gandoca.

Day 4 - July 8th
digging turtle nests

We will continue our daily and nightly research activities and conservation volunteer work with staff members from Asociacion ANAI.

Hawks Aloft Worldwide, of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania, is an international conservation initiative, which helps identify partners and establish important migration watchsites, particularly in Latin America. New watch sites in Cuba, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica are providing valuable information on the numbers of migrants that breed in North America and migrate to Latin America. The new sites provide public access to the grand spectacle of migration and replicate the successful combination of education, research and monitoring programs used at Hawk Mountain in support of conservation. A watchsite in Talamanca, Costa Rica, led by Association ANAI and established in 2000, also tallies more than one million raptors and engages the local community (indigenous Bri-Bri population) in raptor conservation. In 2001, the Talamanca watch site counted 2,963,130 raptors. Today, our group will have a special presentation on this program.

Dinner and overnight at Gandoca.


Day 5 - July 9th


We will continue our daily and nightly research activities and conservation volunteer work with staff members from Asociacion ANAI. An afternoon excursion to kayak or boat in a secluded lagoon will provide an opportunity to bird watch and search for sloths and monkeys.

Dinner and overnight at Gandoca.


Day 6 - July 10th

Transfer to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Today we will bid “adios” to the community of Gandoca and staff of Asociacion ANAI. We will then board our buses and drive to the Costa Rica/Panama border. (It is necessary to pay departure tax on the border 12 US$) Once in Panama, we will continue our journey to the port of Almirante, where we will then board a boat to the islands of Bocas del Toro. The Bocas del Toro archipelago is located off the northwestern coast of Panama and consists of six larger, mostly forested islands and numerous smaller ones. The village of Bocas del Toro is located on Colón Island and the capitol of the Province of the same name. This area remains unique and unspoiled. An early visitor, Christopher Columbus, visited the islands on October 6, 1502 where he took refuge in the calm waters and gathered food from the islands for their voyage home. Bocas del Toro hidden splendors consist of coral reefs, deep-sea fishing, boating, kayaking, snorkeling, surfing and white sandy deserted beaches and coves. The local people of the province are made up of mainly indigenous tribes and descendants of slaves from Jamaica, which contributes to Bocas' diverse and lively culture.

baby sea turtle

Locals and travelers alike travel leisurely between the islands in dugout canoes and kayaks. Each island offers something different in terms of wildlife and bio-diversity. Sloths, monkeys, toucans, parrots, iguanas and tiny brightly colored poison dart frogs are just some of the islands' many inhabitants. Following our arrival in the afternoon, we will meet the Panamanian staff of Asociacion ANAI. They will give a presentation on the ecology of this marine ecosystem as well as the conservations efforts that are presently being undertaken to protect the coral reefs, manatees and sea turtles.

Dinner and overnight at Bocas.


Day 7 - July 11th

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Today, our group will travel by boat into Bastimentos National Marine Reserve to the Zapatilla Keys. Established in 1988, Bastimentos plays an important role in the protection of mangroves, lowland forests and the nesting sites for four species of sea turtles. Coral reefs here support countless species of fish, lobster and other forms of marine life. Fresh-water lagoons in the Archipelago are home to caiman, turtles, and a variety of birds and other wildlife. En route we will travel through the Bay of Dolphins where it is possible to view dolphins in the wild. We will spend the remainder of the day on the Zapatilla Keys enjoying the white sandy beach and snorkeling its reefs in order to experience and collect data on its biodiversity. In the afternoon, participants will return to Bocas del Toro for dinner.

Overnight Bocas del Toro


Day 8 - July 12th

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Following breakfast, we will visit the Coral Keys, again to experience outstanding coral reef biodiversity. Later in the day, we will travel to, snorkel, and observe the biodiversity of a number of mangrove habitats. Here will we identify different species of fish and invertebrates, and investigate the marine life that inhabit mangrove roots. Mangroves are extremely important in that they form a rich and vital breeding habitat for lobsters, fish, birds, manatees and numerous other forms of marine life. In the afternoon, our group will hike the "Red Frog Trail," in search of local biodiversity, especially the strawberry poison dart frogs (Dendrobates pumilio). Late this afternoon, participants will return to Bocas del Toro for dinner.

Overnight Bocas del Toro.


Day 9 - July 13th
insect on flowers

Early this morning, we will leave Bocas del Toro, Panama to head back to Costa Rica, this time traveling inland toward La Selva Biological Station, Puerto Viejo. La Selva is a famous research facility managed by The Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS), and is located at the confluence of two major rivers in the Caribbean lowlands of northern Costa Rica. La Selva comprises 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and undisturbed lands. It averages 4 m (over 13 feet!) of rainfall that is spread rather evenly throughout the year. The station has about 73% of its area under primary tropical rain forest. As for its history, La Selva was originally established in 1954 by Dr. Leslie Holdridge as a farm dedicated to experimentation on mixed plantations for the improvement of natural resources management. It was purchased in 1968 by the OTS and declared a private biological reserve and station. Since then, it has become one of the most important sites in the world for research on tropical rain forest ecology. Over 240 scientific papers are published yearly from research conducted at this site.

After lunch at La Selva, we will settle into our dormatories then partake in a guided hike through the rainforest. Later on in the day, we will attend a presentation by La Selva staff on the research and conservation work that is being done throughout the station. Note: The facilities at La Selva are dorm style.

A summary of research at La Selva can be found in McDade, L. A., K. S. Bawa, H. A. Hespenheide, and G. S. Hartshorn, eds. 1994. La Selva: ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Dinner and overnight at La Selva.


Day 10 - July 14th

group in the field

After breakfast we will have the chance to perform field research as we work side by side scientific research teams from around the world. Projects will include topics like amphibian natural defenses; rainforest productivity and carbon cycling; global warming; bird, ant, or mammal population density and dynamics; and bat maternal behaviors –just to name a few. We will also take part in a long-term project known as "La Arboleda", in one of the most well studied patches of forest in the world.

Dinner and overnight at La Selva


Day 11 - July 15th

group on bridge

We will continue our research and conservation volunteer work with staff members and researchers associated with La Selva. We will also have the opportunity to spend leisure time hiking, exploring, and/or scouting for bird and mammal species in the rainforest.

Dinner and overnight at La Selva.


Day 12 - July 16th


After breakfast, we will bid “adios” to the staff and researchers of La Selva and venture back into our buses. We will again travel towards the Costa Rican Caribbean coast. In a town called Freeman or Caño Blanco, we will board a boat in order to travel up an inland waterway toward the John H. Phipps Biological Station of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Upon arrival to Tortuguero, we will be welcomed by research staff of the CCC and given an orientation session highlighting the history and work of this NGO. The CCC is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, CCC’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles, especially the Atlantic Green, Chelonia mydas. The overall mission of the CCC is the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. The black sand beach of Tortuguero draws the largest nesting population of green turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. The southern Tortuguero beach is also an important nesting habitat for Leatherback. In 1954, Dr. Archie Carr initiated pioneering conservation work and research on marine turtles at Tortuguero. During the past four decades, his ongoing study has become the longest continuing sea turtle research program in the world. As a participate volunteer in a CCC research program, we will assist CCC's sea turtle biologists by tagging and measuring turtles, counting eggs, marking nests, recording data, and conducting morning nest surveys, tracking surveys and nest inventories. As with the Asociacion Anai, shift work will be performed on a daily basis, day and night, and is extremely demanding work. It is imperative that each participant factor sleep to their daily routine.

Dinner and over night at the Jungle Lodge, Tortuguero.

Note: There is a limitation of 25 pounds per person for the trip to Tortuguero. Thus, before leaving La Selva, we must repack in order to take only what is essential during our stay in Tortuguero (so please bring an extra duffle bag or back pack with you.) Our bus drivers and guides are of the highest caliber, and will guard all items left behind.)


Day 13 - July 17th
local school children
TORTUGUERO and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC)

We will continue our research and conservation volunteer work with staff members from the CCC. After breakfast on this day, all participants will travel through the canals of Tortuguero National Park by way of boat to explore the lush surrounding lowland tropical rainforest. Some call this "Costa Rica's Amazon,” as eleven different life zones have been identified within the park. Wildlife found here includes three species of monkeys, river otters, three-toed sloths, caimans, iguanas, freshwater turtles and more than 320 species of birds, including all 6 species of kingfishers found in the New World, 3 species of toucans and 8 species of parrots. Aside from its diverse flora and fauna, Tortuguero National Park is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with palm-lined beaches stretching off as far as the eye can see in both directions. Others may choose to sleep, as ‘turtling’ is demanding work.

Dinner and overnight at Jungle Lodge,Tortuguero.


Day 14 - July 18th

TORTUGUERO and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC)

We will continue our research and conservation volunteer work with staff members from the CCC. Following our boat ride, participants may opt to take a guided hike by highly experienced naturist guides through selected parts of the park. Others may choose to sleep, as ‘turtling’ is demanding work.

Dinner and overnight at Jungle Lodge,Tortuguero.


Day 15 - July 19th
the canopy

After an early breakfast, our group will begin our trek back to San José by way of boat to Freeman or Caño Blanco. At this destination, we will re-board our buses in order to travel the Costa Rican countryside back to San Jose. On the way to the city we will stop to experience a “zip line.” This will be an enjoyable thrill for all -- zipping over the highest portion of a tropical rain forest, the canopy. The canopy is THE rainforest layer with the greatest amount of biodioversity and the activity. After all of our HARD work, this will be our time to release our own energy and to celebrate our accomplishments as conservationists. Once in San Jose, if time permits, our group will visit some of the main governmental buildings and cultural centers of the Costa Rica's capital. Nonetheless, we will continue celebrating our successes by dressing up for our semi-formal 'farewell dinner.'

Overnight at Rosa del Paseo Hotel, San José.


Day 16 - July 20th
San Jose aerial view

After an early breakfast and bidding farewell to our Rain Forest and Reef staff, we will be transferred to Juan Santamaría International Airport for our return flight home to the United States.


Overview | Description | Requirements | Outline | Itinerary | Cost | Application | Instructor

2006 Photo Album ~ 2005 Photo Album

©2007 Penn State Lehigh Valley

This site was last updated on March 30, 2007.
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