a Tropical Forestry and Botanical Studies | IE3 Global
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Tropical Forestry and Botanical Studies | San Vito, Costa Rica

More photos from this internship can be found here.

This tropical research station is located off the beaten track in rural Costa Rica, and manages land for resource conservation, research and education.  The station protects a watershed, native species, and works to contain areas of livestock and agricultural development.  It is home to the most famous botanical garden in Central America, which features beautifully diverse tropical and subtropical plantings, as well as rare and endangered plants from Costa Rica and elsewhere.

Interns will be given the opportunity to participate in research, sustainability projects, or educational activities relevant to their fields of study.  Many of the research projects are conducted in the primary and secondary old-growth forests. Students interested in research and fieldwork experience in a unique and diverse, tropical environment.

Internship Start Dates:

  • Flexible start dates at the beginning of each academic term.

Duration of Internship:

  • 10-12 weeks, minimum

The host organization is a consortium of more than 60 universities and scientific research centers, and was founded to provide leadership in education, research and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics.  The consortium owns and operates three biological stations in Costa Rica, including this biological station and botanical garden.

This biological station owns one of the largest remaining forest fragments in the region.  With a little more than 200 hectares of primary forest and 150 hectares of adjacent secondary forest, the fragment is home to some 2000 native plant species. The area is protected for resource conservation, scientific research and education.

Additionally, the biological station manages a 10-hectare botanical garden with over 3000 plant species from all over the tropical world.  In addition to research, the station offers a “Garden as a School” educational program providing students at all levels a hands-on learning experience about the scientific method, ecosystems biodiversity, forest dynamics, and much more.  The station also has an environmental outreach program with local community groups.

Interns will have the opportunity to work on station research and sustainability projects at the host site, and may support educational outreach and activities as well, depending on their level of Spanish.  Interns will work four days per week on a primary project, with the fifth weekday focused on a community project.  Interns will be supervised by the Resident Biologist, Sustainability Coordinator or, in some cases, Principal Investigators on various projects. If an intern has significant experience in geographic information systems (GIS), there are options to work in this area.

Winter and spring terms are the busiest times at this site, due to seasonal weather conditions and an influx of researchers and scientific staff.  Interns are likely to have increased opportunities and come into contact with more professionals in relevant fields during the winter and/or spring terms.

Activities may consist of the following:

Research Projects

Some illustrative research topics and related internship tasks could include:

  • Native species research in primary, old growth forest lands
  • Participate in research related to plant ecology (diversity, distribution, phenology) and forest gap dynamics
  • Restoration and recovery of native species in degraded areas
  • Environmental monitoring of forest recovery in former pastures, e.g. monitoring plots and documenting natural regeneration of primary and secondary forests; micro-topography and biodiversity monitoring
  • Plot restoration: Working to establish new farms, mark plots, catalog plants, and take soil samples
  • Reestablishment of native tree species
  • Herbarium maintenance
  • Curation and management of living collections, accessioning, verifying plant nomenclature
  • Collect specimens to add the research station and garden herbarium
  • Build and maintain other collections (flowers and fruits, seeds, DNA samples)
  • Assist in producing digital maps of the collections
  • Management of the botanical garden
  • Participate in research related to plant ecology (phenology, pollination, herbivory)
  • Monitor species dispersion and impact from the botanical garden

Environmental Sustainability

Supporting the station’s Sustainability Coordinator with projects related to the Blue Flag Ecological Program (PBAE) and Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST).

  • School and community-level sustainability efforts, including recycling programs
  • Sustainability demonstration center to show local practical uses of recycled materials and design an accompanying set of written material and signage for the sustainability demonstration center
  • Implementation of sustainability practices working with the entire staff (including kitchen, housekeeping, research departments) for the Ecological Blue Flag and Certificate for Sustainable Tourism Programs

Educational Activities

In collaboration with the station’s Environmental Education and Sustainability efforts, interns may help:

  • Develop and deliver applied instruction in the forest and botanical garden to local elementary and high school students (requires intermediate level of Spanish)
  • Create dynamic and innovative educational programming for learners of all ages, especially elementary school students
  • Develop and support the botanical garden´s interpretive signage, public programs, and create outreach materials for the active research programs being carried out at the station

Academic Background

  • Undergraduate or graduate students majoring in biology, environmental sciences, botany, zoology, sustainable resource management, sustainable development, forestry, horticulture, agroecology, and related fields.
  • Students majoring in environmental education will also be considered, so long as they also have high-intermediate Spanish skills.


  • Previous fieldwork and preferably field research experience (although not necessarily in tropical areas). Experience collecting field samples preferred.
  • Interns who have knowledge of pertinent methodologies or other applicable skills are encouraged to apply since intern assignments are designed to be doable with a minimum of equipment and high-level knowledge.

Language Requirements

  • Spanish skills are helpful, though not required for most opportunities.  Those with strong Spanish skills may be able to participate more fully in educational activities.

Other Requirements

  • Willingness to work outdoors and the physical capacity to undertake outdoor work in a tropical setting.
  • Openness to differences in physical, institutional, and cultural environments.
  • Self-motivated, detail-oriented, and organized
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills.

High level of: Maturity, personal responsibility, cultural sensitivity, professionalism, independence, demonstrated initiative, independent problem-solving skills, adaptability, and patience.

Estimated One-Time Expenses

  • IE3 Program Fee: $3,450
  • Host Site Fees:  $3,253
  • International Travel & Exit Tax: $800-900
  • Visa Fees: $0*
  • Recommended Immunizations: $400**

Estimated Monthly Expenses

  • Housing: Included in host site fees
  • Food: Included in host site fees
  • Local Transportation:  $48 ($8/wk)***
  • Recreation: $50 ($12.50/wk)
  • Personal Expenses: $48 ($12/wk)

Budgeting Note:  Estimated costs are based on typical internship-related costs and a modest standard of living.  Each intern’s costs will vary based on lifestyle choices (eating out vs. cooking or eating provided meals, taking taxis vs. walking or taking the bus) and recreational spending (travelling on days off, expensive hobbies, etc.).

Additional Expense Information

The Host Site Fees include:

  • Room & board (three meals/day)
  • Unlimited access to shared lab and office space, the field, botanical garden paths and observation platforms
  • Access and use of libraries, collections
  • Wifi connection & high speed internet access
  • Satellite television
  • On-site support

* No visa required for U.S. citizens.  Non-U.S. citizens should check with the embassy.

** Fees vary based on medical history and insurance coverage

*** Airport pick-up can be arranged with site in advance for an additional fee of $260 from San Jose airport

On-site accomodations are provided, and include three meals a day.  Interns should expect to share a room. There are various lodging accommodations available at the station, and the host site will make arrangements for the intern based on availability.  Wifi and laundry service are available.

Check out pictures from this internship.


Fall | Winter | Spring | Summer

Application Deadline

Summer: January 25
Fall: April 15
Winter: September 1
Spring: November 15

Basic Requirements

- See Qualifications & Requirements section