Exploring Costa Rica's Rainforests

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Each year, Science students can enhance their studies by exploring new destinations. Daniel Dudziak (BSc '24) and Olivia Clay took advantage of this opportunity, embarking on a field course trip to Costa Rica for an exciting experience with the university. Led by Dean Chris Houser, Dudziak and Clay explored lush rainforests and sandy beaches, zipped through the treetops, and trekked the trails around a volcano while studying emerging issues in ecology, hydrology, and geology. Continue reading to learn more about their adventure! 

By Daniel Dudziak and Olivia Clay

Day 1: Wildlife and city sights

Our Costa Rican adventure began with a visit to the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, where we saw Central American wildlife and even snapped selfies with a friendly sloth! Following this, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a restaurant with breathtaking views. In the afternoon, our guide took us on a tour of San Jose and taught us about the history and culture of Costa Rica's capital city. 

Day 2: Volcano and rainforest exploration

Day two saw us ascending a mountain to witness the active Poas Volcano, offering prime photo opportunities. We then journeyed to the Soltis Center, where we embarked on our first rainforest hike. A 130-foot climb provided us with stunning canopy views! 

Day 3: Rainforest hikes and coursework

Our first full day at the Soltis Center was packed with activities. We hiked through the rainforest beneath a waterfall and spotted an eyelash pit viper along the way. In the afternoon, we began our coursework, planting rain gauges and measuring tree circumferences for transpiration calculations. A wild capuchin monkey also made a brief, camera-shy appearance. 

Day 4: Leaf experiments and natural waterslides

The day began with experiments on leaves and interception, followed by free exploration time. Some students hiked up a stream to discover a water source, while others enjoyed a natural waterslide at a waterfall. A highlight was finding freshwater crabs in the rainforest. 

Day 5: Hydroelectric insights and cliff jumping

We visited a hydroelectric dam to learn about sediment deposition and water level management during dry seasons. The dam's massive spinning turbines were fascinating to see. On our return, we stopped at a small waterfall and watering hole for some swimming and cliff jumping, with a few trying out the rope swing. 

Days 6 and 7: Coursework and night hikes

These days were focused on coursework, including flow measurements on a watershed and leaf area index collection. We also explored the nearby rainforest and went on an evening hike, encountering various frogs, snakes, and insects.

Day 8: Coastal town adventures

An early departure took us to Puerto Viejo, a charming town along the Caribbean coast. After settling into our cabins, we explored the town's souvenir shops, street food stalls, and vibrant nightlife. 

Days 9 and 10: Beach profiles and wetland tours

We finally hit the beach, travelling along the Caribbean coast and stopping at four beaches to take beach profiles with survey equipment. We continued south to Colibri Lodge in Gandoca, where a local family served us lunch and gave us a wetlands tour, including a boat ride through beautiful mangroves.

Day 11: Bribri Indigenous Reserve

Our field trip to the Bribri Indigenous Reserve was a true adventure. We crossed a river by boat and travelled in the back of a plantain truck to reach the visitor’s center. There, we learned about Bribri culture, their connection with animals, and the significance of cacao in their daily lives. 

Day 12: Final lectures and scenic stops

Leaving Calibri Lodge, we stopped at the beach for our final lecture. Although we didn’t spot any leatherback turtles, we captured amazing group photos on the shoreline. The day ended with a long trip back to Monte Verde and the Soltis Center. 

Day 13 & 14: Waterfalls & ziplining

Our final waterfall excursion was a memorable one. After a rugged hour-and-a-half hike, we arrived at a breathtaking waterfall. Some of us swam, while others enjoyed the refreshing shower at the base. 

Our last full day was packed with excitement. We headed to Sky Adventures near La Fortuna, where we experienced seven ziplines, including the longest and fastest in Central America. Lunch offered stunning views of the Arenal Volcano.  

Day 15: Farewell Costa Rica

An early departure ensured we reached the airport on time, with our trusty driver Oscar guiding us. Despite a delayed connecting flight, we all made it back to Ontario safely, eager to share photos and stories to inspire next year's group of Costa Rican adventurers!