Costa Rica

The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies

Costa Rica

The rugged rainforests and sandy beaches of Costa Rica are brimming with life – from sloths and frogs to brightly colored toucans and hummingbirds. Costa Rica hosts an astounding 5 percent of Earth’s species despite covering only 0.03 percent of its area. Shaded coffee farms integrated into the rainforest constitute just one example of the sustainable conservation strategies for which the country is known.

These efforts to preserve the wild beauty of Costa Rica are recognized worldwide, but climate change and increased urban development bring new and unforeseen challenges. Conservation leaders, farmers, land managers, and policymakers must work together using regenerative strategies to build ecological resilience and minimize climate change impacts. Our research in Costa Rica contributes vital data to innovative efforts that balance conservation and development.



Sustainable Development Studies

Experience a semester of sustainability in Costa Rica, home to rainforests, volcanoes, rushing waterfalls, and a laid-back culture that reflects the national motto: “Pura Vida.” Immerse yourself in the country’s many national parks, farms, and tropical ecosystems full of incredible biodiversity. Design and conduct a rigorous field research project and learn how Costa Ricans are creatively addressing conservation and development issues.
Explore More
15 Weeks
18 Credits
Spring 2020

Jan 27 - May 6


Fall 2020

Aug 31 - Dec 11


summer session I

Biodiversity and Sustainable Food Systems

Using coffee and chocolate as case studies, explore the relationships between food systems, ecology, conservation, and sustainability. Learn how different agricultural techniques have the potential to restore biodiversity and combat climate change. Study the sociocultural history of coffee and cacao, from Indigenous histories to modern production and exports.
Explore More
04 Weeks
04 Credits
Summer 2020

Jun 1 - Jul 1


summer session II

Fundamentals of Sustainability Research

Spend your summer investigating issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainability in Costa Rica’s vast network of national parks and protected areas – the perfect natural laboratory. Hone your research skills in the field as you design and conduct a research project, collecting data and presenting your results to your peers and key community stakeholders.
Explore More
04 Weeks
04 Credits
Summer 2020

Jul 6 - Aug 5


Life In The Field

The Center is an active organic farm overlooking the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. Dorms and classrooms intermingle with orchards and gardens, while Center dog Hera keeps watch over it all. The friendly town of Atenas is a 10-minute cab ride away, offering restaurants, shops, parks, and cultural events.

  • Dorm living with 4-person bunkrooms
  • Classroom, library, computer lab, and laundry room
  • Open-air porch with hammocks and chairs
  • Dining hall with scenic valley views, and on-site cooking staff
  • Swimming pool, soccer field, outdoor classroom and pizza oven
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farm
Click here to read stories from students, staff and faculty in the field

I knew I needed a change of scenery to broaden my world-view and expand my understanding of what I had learned at school, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to find it!

Stefanie Farrington
Clark University


Research at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies focuses on the connections between conservation and development. Costa Rica’s lush ecosystems, conservation areas and national parks, communities, and farms provide a varied landscape for research on the impacts of climate change, globalization, tourism, and land use change. Our research provides valuable data for community members, NGOs, and government officials as they seek to further the sustainable development goals of Costa Rica.

Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Climate change & tropical ecosystems
  • Agroforestry & conservation
  • Permaculture
  • Bird communication
  • Urban ecology
  • Sustainable ecotourism
  • Carbon sequestration

Environmental Issues

Our Centers are strategically located in regions facing critical environmental issues. Students and faculty study these issues and collect data to help facilitate sustainable responses. In Costa Rica, we’re currently investigating the following issues:

Climate Change
Biodiversity Conservation
Land Use Change
Tourism Impacts
Pollution & Waste Management
Natural Resource & Water Management
Learn More About the Issues


The Local Community

SFS is an active part of the Atenas community. Students help maintain a local recycling program, teach environmental education, and interact with local students learning English as a second language. They get to know local families and host them for community dinners, attend festivals and cultural performances, and join soccer matches. SFS research data is shared with the community and used to establish local environmental policies.

Meet Our Team