Tropical Rainforests, Ecology and Culture in Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. The Andes and Amazon Field School, our partner organization is located on a 1300-acre preserve along the Napo River in the Amazon Rainforest. You will have open-air, screened-in dorms and classrooms with modern day conveniences right along the Napo River. Three meals a day will be prepared for you by local community members. The program has a summer-camp atmosphere with several local excursions, hikes through the forest and time spent around the fire at night.
This 1-credit program over spring break is designed for students interested in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, Sustainability and culture. The program will provide an introduction to tropical rainforests, ecology and Ecuadorian culture. The course utilizes the environment and community surrounding the site to enhance the your learning experience.  The course will be field based with supporting discussions. You don't need to have studied Spanish to participate in Pitt in Ecuador- all courses are taught in English. It is the perfect location and program to explore new ways of preserving biodiversity in the Amazonian forest and sustainability of Amazonian communities.

What You'll Accomplish

As an engaged and active participant in this program, you will have the opportunity to develop:

  • An understanding of current conservation efforts and contemporary issues facing the indigenous population and pristine local forests
  • Deep relationships with people and places in Ecuador
  • Analyzation skills to determine current threats to the forests of the region and how to address immediate conservation concerns

The Andes and Amazon Field School is located at the Iyarina lodge in the Napo region of Ecuador. Students will fly into Quito, Ecuador where they will meet as a group and explore the city before heading east to Iyarina. The Field School is located on the South bank of the Napo River, 100 miles east of Quito, and 10 miles from the town of Tena, Ecuador (population: 28,800), the provincial capital. You will travel by bus from Quito to the Field School. It is approximately a 4-hour ride with many turns and changes in elevation. There are several cultural stops along the way to break-up the trip. The Field School is approximately 1965 feet above sea level the area is characterized by small Quichua communities clustered along the river bank. The forest surrounding these communities is among the most bio-diverse in the world with a high number of endemic species of flora and fauna. Iyarina is located directly on the waterfront surrounded by a 1380 acre rainforest reserve.
Temperatures and precipitation vary based on the season. Temperatures are typically temperate. In March, the temperatures are pretty mild can average 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Temperatures cool off at night and there’s also always potential for rain. It is a good idea to pack a light, waterproof/resistant jacket.

Where You'll Live

Students will live and take classes on site at the Andes and Amazon Field School. The program has a summer camp feel with open-air dorm room style cabins. The cabins are screened in and bug nets are also available for additional protection. The bedrooms in the cabin are spacious with modern-day amenities with an incredible view that overlooks the river and forest.. You can expect the following at the Andes and Amazon Field School:

  • Two to three students per room
  • En-suite bathrooms with hot running water
  • High-quality mattresses
  • Three meals per day are included.
    • Single menu du jour is served family style
    • Meals consist of traditional Ecuadorian food and American dishes
    • Vegetarian options are available upon request
    • Good idea to bring/buy snack food to sustain you through meals
  • Open air classrooms overlooking the Rio Napo with projection and outlets
  • Fire pit for relaxing at night and small discussion space


What You'll Study

You will earn 1-credit on this spring break program in Ecuador. Everyone who participates on the program will take the same courses, which are taught at the Andes & Amazon Field School.  This Tropical Forest Ecology course is taught by Pitt professor Walter Carson with supporting guest lectures by local faculty. You will have the opportunity to explore rainforests on hikes while learning about one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The course will be taught in English. The course will be field based with supporting discussions. In these courses you will study:

  • Tropical rainforests, ecology and culture in Ecuador
  • Current threats to the forests of the region
  • Issues of immediate conservation concern

Full course description and syllabus is available below. If you are seeking to count this course towards a major, minor or certificate, please meet with your advisor to discuss this program and what the course will fulfill for you. Information about how the courses on this program count towards general education requirements for different schools and campuses can be found here.

Ecology of the Napo Valley (BIOSC0825)

Special topics, 1-credit,  This spring break program is designed to provide an introduction to tropical rainforests, ecology and Ecuadorian culture.  You will spend a week in the heart of the Ecuadorian rainforest at the Andes and Amazon Field School.  The course utilizes the environment and community surrounding the site to enhance the your  learning experience.  The course will be field based with supporting discussions.  There will be two common readers from which discussions will be based.




The University of Pittsburgh partners with the Andes and Amazon Field School for this program. In 1999 Tod Swanson founded the Andes and Amazon Field School in his wife's home community on the Napo River. Swanson's administrative experience includes having directed Arizona State University's Center for Latin American Studies as a Title VI National Resource Center from 1997-2007.  He has also held elected office as a councilman for environmental affairs for the Santu Urku Amazonian Kichwa Community. Contact Tod Swanson.
The mission of the Andes and Amazon Field School is to provide quality in-country education on the Ecuadorian Amazon in a safe and comfortable setting.  Each summer we bring together a top group of academic and indigenous experts for 8 weeks of learning and research.  Together with students we seek to interpret and preserve the culture and environment of the region and to find practical solutions for a sustainable future. 
The name of the station that hosts the Field School in Ecuador is in Ecuador is  "Iyarina," (ee-yah-ree-nah), a Quichua word that means to think about the future by remembering the past. According to Quichua tradition memory is recorded in the land.  Iyarina, therefore, means to remember by contemplating the land.  This act of remembering lies at the heart of our efforts to record and preserve Amazonian tradition. 

The courses that are not taught by Pitt Faculty or Pitt-Affiliated Faculty will be taught by local adjunct faculty members.

Your Pitt Study Abroad Contacts

Tim Crawford

Hi Everyone! I’m Tim, and I am the Assistant Director for Domestic Study Away Programming. I have experience running international study abroad programs and programs here at home in the United States. I was fortunate to have many experiential learning opportunities, both international and domestic, during my college career. Being from a small town in Central Pennsylvania, my experiences opened my eyes to the rest of the world and helped open my eyes to different cultures and career opportunities I’d love to help you take advantage of the numerous experiential learning opportunities here at Pitt. Outside of the office, I’m always looking for the next adventure. I love traveling, hate sitting still and love doing anything outdoors, in all seasons. Personally, I’m on a quest to visit as many national parks as possible. I’d love to talk to you more about any of our study away programs, answer any of your questions and help you find the right opportunity. Please reach me via email at

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Your In-Country Contacts

Tod Swanson

Tod Swanson, Associate Professor, Arizona State University, PhD University of Chicago, is the on-site director for the Pitt in Ecuador program.  He is a specialist in Amazonian culture and environment.   His areas of research includes indigenous relations to plant and animal species and Kichwa linguistics. Swanson manages the 1300 acre Iyarina Forest Preserve as an ongoing experiment in sustaining of fragmented Amazonian forest. 
In 1999 Swanson founded the Andes and Amazon Field School in his wife's home community on the Napo River. Swanson's administrative experience includes having directed Arizona State University's Center for Latin American Studies as a Title VI National Resource Center from 1997-2007.  He has also held elected office as a councilman for environmental affairs for the Santu Urku Amazonian Kichwa Community. Contact Tod Swanson.


Walter Carson

Walter Carson will serve as on-site faculty for this program. Dr. Carson is an Associate Professor of Plant Community Ecology in the Biological Sciences Department. He received his Ph. D. in 1993 with Richard Root at Cornell University, performed his postdoctoral studies with David Tilman at the University of Minnesota and Steve Hubbell at Princeton University, and joined the Department in 1994.



  In- State Out-of-State
Estimated Expenses Billed by Pitt  $3,299 $3,499
Estimated Additional Expenses $500 $500
Total Estimated Cost $3,799 $3,999

Final program costs and will be available by October 15

Remember that your lifestyle and spending choices can greatly affect the amount of money you'll need while abroad.  Visit our Budgeting page for more information.

The amounts above are for the 2019-2020 academic year and should be used as estimates only. Pricing for 2020-2021 will be posted and announced in the fall term.

What's Included

As a part of your Ecuador Spring Break program fee, the following are included in the program:

  • Tuition for 1 credit
  • Accommodation
  • Roundtrip airfare from Pittsburgh to Quito and Quito to Pittsburgh
  • Roundtrip transportation from Quito to the Andes and Amazon Field School
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner while at the field school
  • Cultural activities that coordinate with the course
  • International health insurance
When You'll Go

Dates for the 2020-2021 academic year will be posted in the fall! 

What Else You Need to Know
  • The field school is tucked in the rainforest along the Napo River and located about 3 kilometers from the town of Tena. It is about a three hour bus ride from Quito to the Field School. If you get motion sickness, you may want to bring motion sickness medication.
  • You will have many opportunities to go into Tena via bus or local taxi
  • Classrooms are held in open air rooms.
  • Some classes will involve hiking in the forest for a few hours. Rubber boots are provided, but it's probably a good idea to bring a pair of hiking shoes.
  • While are you staying and living in a tropical rainforest, temperatures can still become cool at night or at elevation. Make sure to pack a light jacket, sweatshirt and pants.
  • Three meals a day are included. Accommodations for dietary restrictions and preferences can be made, but there may be limited alternative options based on the kitchen size and staffing. Important to purchase snacks as sometimes excursions in the field may delay a meal.
  • Flexibility is extremely important. Schedules may change.
  • Remember that this is an academic program and that you should expect to invest the same amount of time and effort on your courses abroad as you would on a course at Pitt. 
  • You will need to bring a laptop or tablet with you
  • There is internet and wifi, but it may be slower than you're used to in the U.S. There may be restrictions on using it at certain times throughout the day. You will still be able to communicate with your families, stay in touch with friends and use it for academic coursework.
  • There will be bugs. 
  • The juice at breakfast is phenomenal