Costa Rica

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.
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15 Weeks
18 Credits
Fall 2020

Sep 7 - Dec 5


Spring 2021

Jan 25 - May 7


Fall 2021

Aug 30 - Dec 10


winter session

Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems

Spend this winter break exploring Costa Rica – from mountains and tropical rainforests to farms and agricultural communities. You’ll step behind the scenes to learn about global versus local food production and the connection between ecosystems, climate change, and agricultural practices. Meet with an Indigenous group to hear about their connection to nature and the preservation of traditional agricultural knowledge, and explore the role that gender plays in food production.
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03 Weeks
03 Credits
Winter 2021

Dec 28 - Jan 15


summer session I

Biodiversity and Sustainable Food Systems

Using coffee and chocolate as case studies during this summer study abroad program, 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.
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04 Weeks
04 Credits
Summer 2021

May 31 - Jun 30


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 and tips from students, staff, and faculty on our blog

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.