Pitt in Ecuador: July

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 6-credit program is just shy of 4-weeks. It is designed for students interested in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies and Culture. Students are required to have completed two semesters of General Biology at the college level. You will build a solid foundation in tropical forest ecology.  You will learn how to carry out research on the interaction of plant and animal communities and to engage the serious challenges facing neotropical forests. The highlight of this program is an excursion to Yasuni National Park, an untouched area of the Amazon with the highest bio-diversity on earth. 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:

  • a solid foundation in tropical forest ecology
  • research skills related to the interaction of plant and animal communities
  • an understanding of basic elevational habitats and how climate changes affect the environment

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 July, the temperatures are pretty mild can average 80-90 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

We do our best to provide the most accurate information about housing and amenities but due to the nature of the locations in which we offer programs and limited availability, these items are subject to change.  Contact your program manager with any questions. 

What You'll Study: 

You'll earn a total of 6 credits on the Pitt in Ecuador-July program. Everyone who participates on the program will take the same courses, which are taught at the Andes & Amazon Field School. The Tropical Forest Ecology course will be taught by Pitt professor Walter Carson. The Amazonian Religion and Nature course will be taught by local faculty. Both courses will be taught in English. In these courses you will study:

  • Diverse plant an animal communities
  • Challenges facing Neotropical forests
  • Key factors in forest decline and regeneration
  • Diverse elevational zones that comprise the Amazonian watershed

Full course descriptions and syllabi are available below. If you are seeking to count these courses towards a major, minor or certificate, please meet with your advisor to discuss this program and what the courses 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.

Amazonian Religion and Nature (ANTH1711)

The course examines Amazonian religious life as cultural way of engaging nature as human-like and alive. It thus explores cultural knowledge of water, weather, plant and animal life seeking to uncover underlying assumptions that constitute a systematic, if implicit, religious philosophy of nature. It also teaches students how to ask key questions and to carry out qualitative ethnographic research in the Cultural Anthropology and the Humanities. How do Amazonian people understand their relatedness to a natural world believed to be alive and human-like? How do they understand the hidden social lives of plants and animals. What is believed to cause new species to emerge or to become extinct? How are human emotions related to the seasonal cycle of rains? How is plant and animal ecology believed to serve as a model for understanding human society and vice versa. What aesthetic, emotional or religious practices were developed to create bonds of empathy or communication between human beings and the natural world.

Tropical Forest Ecology (BIOSC1220)

This course provides a solid foundation in tropical forest ecology. It is designed to prepare students to carry out research on the interaction of plant and animal communities and to engage the serious challenges facing Neotropical forests. Students will learn to compare pristine to altered forests identifying key factors in forest decline and regeneration. Students will examine each of the diverse elevational zones that comprise the Amazonian watershed. The highlight will be a visit to Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, an untouched area of the Amazon with the highest bio-diversity on Earth.

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. 

Dr. Carson will teach the Tropical Ecology course. The course will be taught by local adjunct faculty members.

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.



Items Billed by Pitt

  In-State Out-of-State
Tuition $4,656 $4,856
Program Fee $544 $544
Study Abroad Fee $300 $300
Total Billed by Pitt $5500 $5700

Estimated Additional Out-of-Pocket Costs

Airfare $1000-$1200
Personal Expenses $500-$1000
Local Cell Phone $100
Vaccinations $100-$200

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 program fee, the follow are included in the program:

  • Tuition for six credits
  • Airport transfers upon arrival and departure (group transfer only)
  • Transportation from Quito to the Andes and Amazon Field School
  • Three family style meals a day while at AAFS
  • Multi-Day trip to the Yasuni National Park (accommodations included), one of the wildest remaining areas of the Amazon, with the biodiversity in the world.
  • International travel health insurance
  • Cultural activities


When You'll Go: 

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

What Else You Need to Know: 
  • You will fly into Quito, Ecuador and fly home from Quito, Ecuador at the end of the program. You are required to book your flights within the arrival/departure window set by your program manager.
  • 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