Explore tropical ecosystems, conduct biological fieldwork, and study conservation in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.
Study biological and ecological sciences in one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet.
Ecuador is an ideal setting to learn about tropical biology and ecology. Within this small country’s borders, the Amazon Basin, the Andes, the Pacific Ocean, and the Galápagos Islands provide unique climatic niches that harbor ecological treasures and a plethora of flora and fauna.
Visit the high sierra of the Andes, the cloud forests of the Chocó, the Amazon basin, and the Galápagos Islands.
Travel to two biological hotspots—the tropical Andes and the cloud forests of the Chocó—known for their mega-diversity and rapid loss of habitat. Explore human impacts on the Amazon and spend five days at Tiputini Biological Station in Yasuní National Park. Spend a week exploring the Galápagos Islands. Given the overwhelming ecological importance of Ecuador’s biota and the severe threats they face, this program makes it possible for you to learn about tropical ecosystems while you are immersed in the global, national, and local impacts of resource use in the tropics.
Live like a biologist: study plants and insects, take soil samples, conduct species counts, use mist nets, and observe birds.
In addition to class lectures and coursework, you will engage in scientific fieldwork in a variety of locations, including the Amazon Tropical Rain Forest, the Cloud Forest, the high altitude páramo, and the Galápagos Islands. You will use key biological and ecological indicators such as plants, insects, birds, mammals, and others to look at the botany, entomology, ornithology, mammalogy, geology, and natural history of Ecuador’s unique ecological zones. Prepare to be in the field for long periods of time, where you will be wet, hot or cold, up to your knees in mud, and in close contact with insects and animals.
Live and study in beautiful Quito, surrounded by mountains called locally “la cara de Dios”—the face of God.
UNESCO has named Quito’s elegant colonial center a world cultural heritage site. Field exercises in the city typically include relevant historical sites and the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), i.e., the equatorial line. Living with a host family, you will attend classes, conduct fieldwork, and learn from local professionals in the fields of botany, forestry, entomology, ornithology, ecology, and natural history.
Improve your Spanish in class, in homestays, and on excursions.
Practice and enhance your skills in Spanish—particularly Spanish related to natural history and the environment—in the classroom and during educational excursions. Experienced teaching staff and immersive homestays maximize your language learning opportunities.
Critical Global Issue of Study
Climate | Environment
Previous college-level coursework and/or significant preparation in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. Four recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT, are also required.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Ecology/biology of Ecuador’s four distinct ecological regions: the Andes, the coast, the Amazon, and the Galápagos Islands
- Major plant and animal biological indicators, ecological adaptations, and population studies
- Forestry and field techniques such as quadrants and transects, water and soil analysis, research analysis, and bio-statistics
- Local natural resource use
- Ecuador’s current environmental challenges
The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
Through this ecology program, students learn about the diverse ecological zones of Ecuador, major plant and animal adaptations to life in each zone, local use of natural resources, and current environmental and conservation issues. Students are also introduced to a panorama of Ecuadorian life and culture.
- Conservation and Sustainability Practices in Ecuador – syllabus
- (ENVI3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- This course focuses on the analysis of major science-related environmental issues that currently threaten Ecuadorian ecosystems. It provides a multifaceted and interdisciplinary exploration of Ecuadorian conservation and sustainability issues. The course examines contemporary conservation science strategies that have been implemented in order to protect the country's natural resources and discusses their effectiveness and viability. Through the exploration of Ecuadorian conservation and sustainability issues, the course enables students to build an individual framework that facilitates their conceptualization of contemporary environmental issues related to conservation and, as a result, the impact on local resources. The course is conducted mainly in Spanish and encompasses fieldwork activities applying robust science research methods.
- Comparative Tropical Ecology – syllabus
- (ENVI3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Through a comparative approach, students explore the ecology of each of Ecuador's four distinct ecological regions: the Andes, the coast, the Amazon, and the Galápagos Islands. In each area, students analyze major plant and animal adaptations, the uses of natural resources, and current environmental issues. During field trips, students apply biological and ecological techniques such as quadrants and transects, engage in biological monitoring for plants and animals, and learn to conduct population studies, water and soils analysis, and other techniques. As part of the course, students visit several sites, including Galápagos National Park, Yasuní National Park, Limoncocha Biological Reserve, Chimborazo or Antisana Andean Reserves, Jerusalem Protected Andean Dry Forest, Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve, Yunguilla Ccommunity reserve, and La Hesperia Reserve. Coursework is conducted in Spanish with occasional lectures in English.
- Spanish for the Natural Sciences I – syllabus
- (SPAN2003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Spanish for the Natural Sciences II – syllabus
- (SPAN2503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Spanish for the Natural Sciences III – syllabus
- (SPAN3003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Spanish for the Natural Sciences IV – syllabus
- (SPAN3503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- In this course, students hone their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. They practice reading professional scientific literature as they learn the formal terms and local expressions needed to discuss environmental and conservation issues, to conduct field research, and to interact in institutional and community settings related to the program themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency.
- Environmental Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
- (ENVI3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project, students learn how to organize and conduct a research project. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students analyze and practice a range of methods appropriate for ecological research including quadrants and transects; biotic sampling; fauna and flora identification; animal behavior; and soil, water, and climate investigation. Students also examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to ecology and are guided through the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course, students will have chosen a research topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project related to the program's focus on ecology. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.
- Independent Study Project – syllabus
- (ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
- Conducted in approved locations around Ecuador, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program's thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. While the ISP can include social science concepts, the main focus should be biological, ecological, and/or environmental, based upon requests from local NGOs, nature reserves, and local communities. Sample topic areas: flora or fauna monitoring for conservation purposes; biodiversity studies and population assessments; environmentally friendly agriculture; soil or water studies; geology related to ecology and conservation; community conservation projects; protected area management; impact of development on local communities.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Three weeklong field excursions throughout the semester introduce you to the varied and unique ecosystems of Ecuador. You will study life forms and their adaptations in a comparative context on multi-day trips to farms, highland forests, and Andean dry forest sites near Quito; the Andean highland; cloud forests; the Amazonian rain forest; and Galápagos Island ecosystems. You will conduct taxon-specific investigations, observe the human impacts on ecosystems, and study strategies for conservation.
Make a three-day visit to the Andean páramo highlands at Antisana or Chimborazo Reserve and/or other high altitude reserves. The páramo is a tundra-like ecosystem unique to the neotropics. You will learn about its rare ecology and conservation strategies for coping with human impacts and climate change and protecting endangered species such as the spectacular Andean condor, the largest flying bird on Earth.
Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve (Lower Cloud Forest): Spend five days in a cloud forest reserve in one of the world’s top-10 biodiversity hotspots, the diverse and highly threatened Chocó region of northwestern Ecuador. You will study the cloud forest ecosystem, principally through ecology field methods and guided hikes. You will be introduced to botanical identification, practice setting up quadrants and transects to survey vegetation, gain hands-on experience mist-netting birds under the guidance of an experienced ornithologist, and learn other field techniques. You will also learn about local environmental movements and grassroots conservation efforts.
Yunguilla Community Reserve (Upper Cloud Forest): Visit a rural community and participate in activities such as organic farming, harvesting, processing local products, or cattle ranching, and live with an Ecuadorian campesino family for three days.
Limoncocha Lake and Petroleum Areas: Your first three days in the region will be devoted to the study of major human impacts—including petroleum exploitation and African palm oil plantations—on the natural resource base. You will visit Limoncocha, one of the most spectacular Amazon lakes, and Amazonian wetlands home to rare fauna such as the black caiman, the largest crocodilian in the Amazon basin.
Tiputini Biological Station: You will spend five days studying at the Tiputini Biological Station (TBS) in Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse sites on Earth. This site provides a unique opportunity to reach deep into the Amazon beyond the encroachment of tourism and petroleum development. At TBS, in the remote Ecuadorian Amazon, teaching is focused on rain forest ecology and ecological characteristics of Amazonia. You will learn botanical and bird identification techniques, monitor primate density, practice measuring forest density and tree height, and learn field applications of pollination biology and soil testing. You will also hear lectures from guest faculty and researchers working at the station and go on hikes with indigenous guides.
See Darwin’s wonderland during a weeklong excursion to the Galápagos Islands. Half of the week will be spent aboard a boat with a Spanish-speaking naturalist who will teach you about endemic plants, birds, reptiles, and mammals. You will observe geological formations and learn about evolutionary processes. You will study the marine habitat through snorkeling, instruction, and observation. The second half of the week will be spent in a homestay on one of the islands for a better understanding of local residents’ relationship with the Galápagos National Park and its ecosystems.
Program in a minute-ish
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Xavier Silva, PhD, Academic Director
Xavier, who is Ecuadorian, received his PhD in entomology applied to ecology from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. There, he also earned his master’s degree and BS, focusing on ecology and biology, including population ecology, biogeography, and other environmental sciences applied to tropical ecosystems. He has worked extensively in the conservation of natural resources in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in several countries in Africa and Asia. For several years, Xavier was director of biodiversity conservation for The Nature Conservancy’s Latin America and the Caribbean program based in Washington, DC. He was also director of NatureServe’s Latin America and Caribbean program. Xavier has also taught at the University of San Francisco Quito and has written several books, including Butterflies of Ecuador and Ecuador’s Butterfly Ecology, which was awarded Best Biological Publication of Ecuador in 2012. Xavier is president of the Entomological Society of Ecuador and a member of the Entomological Society of France and the Ornithological Society of Ecuador.
Javier Robayo, Academic Assistant
Javier is a leading Ecuadorian biologist. He holds a BS in biology from the University of San Francisco Quito, and he is finishing an MS in psychology from the Humanist Institute of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Monterrey, Mexico. He has been working to establish 15 of the most important private reserves in the country and has participated in conservation projects in the Galápagos Islands. He has also worked extensively with local communities on the management of reserves. He has several years of experience teaching conservation biology and botany of Ecuador in the field for international groups.
Diana Serrano, MS, Program Assistant
Diana studied biology at the Catholic University of Ecuador. She also holds an MS in environmental studies from the University of Melbourne, Australia. She has monitored bird species in the Amazon basin and worked on grassroots projects to conserve bird species and their habitats in different regions of Ecuador. She is also interested in research related to ethology, which has led her to study foraging behavior in nectar bats and to collaborate in the study of territoriality and behavior of Galápagos sea lions. Diana enjoys showing international students the amazing landscapes and biodiversity that Ecuador has to offer.
Lecturers for this program typically include:
Diego Quiroga, PhD
Diego holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is vice president of external and student affairs at the University of San Francisco Quito, where he has also served as dean of the graduate school, dean of academic affairs, dean of social sciences, and full-time professor. He also co-directs the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and the Sciences. His area of expertise is sociocultural anthropology, and his interests include medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, and indigenous and Afro-American cultures of Latin America. He has conducted extensive research in Ecuador, and his work has been published in prestigious academic journals.
Tatiana Santander, MSc
Tatiana is an Ecuadorian biologist who holds an MS in natural protected areas from the Autonomous University, Madrid, Spain, and a BS in biology from the Catholic University of Ecuador. She works for one of the leading conservation nongovernmental organizations in Ecuador, Aves y Conservación (Birds and Conservation). One of her main research activities was an in-depth study on the biology and conservation of the Nazca booby in the Galápagos Islands. Tatiana has led expeditions to discover and monitor endangered bird species, and she works with local communities to develop participatory, educational, and technical training programs.
You hear all about the Galápagos and Darwin in bio class, but the pure magnificence of these isolated islands transcends their history
You hear all about the Galápagos and Darwin in bio class, but the pure magnificence of these isolated islands transcends their history. The islands and surrounding waters are full of amazing creatures and breathtaking scenery.
Student Video: Las Galapagos: Natures Greatest Experiment
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
You will live for approximately eight weeks with a homestay family in Quito. There is also a shorter homestay in a Yunguilla community during the rural cloud forest educational excursion.
Other accommodations during the program may include hostels, field camps, reserve lodges, and boats.
Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project
You will spend the last four weeks of the program focused on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of interest to you. The ISP can be conducted throughout Ecuador based upon requests from local activists, NGOs, and communities. You should plan on completing an ISP that is rooted in the biological, ecological, and/or environmental sciences.
Sample ISP topic areas:
- Biodiversity studies and population assessments
- Use of biological/ecological indicators for environmental studies
- Flora or fauna monitoring for conservation purposes
- Geology related to ecology and conservation
- Endangered species
- Protected area management
- Mining or petroleum industry environmental implications and alternatives
- Traditional and organic agriculture
Students on this program represent a wide array of colleges, universities, and majors. Many of them have gone on to do academic and professional work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:
- Researcher on ornithological projects at the Jocotoco Foundation, Ecuador
- Forestry / carbon sequestration manager / advisor at La Hesperia Reserve, Ecuador’s Western Cloud Forest
- Researcher on poison dart frogs with National Geographic Society, Peru
I knew that I wanted a country in Latin America in order to practice my Spanish skills, as well as let me explore my interests regarding the environment and science,
When looking for a study abroad program, I knew that I wanted a country in Latin America in order to practice my Spanish skills, as well as something that would continue to let me explore my interests regarding the environment and science, so SIT’s program in Ecuador seemed like the perfect fit. It had courses in Spanish focused on ecology and conservation, gave me the opportunity to stay with a host family, and had a number of amazing excursions around the country including the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands.
Once Upon Another Lifetime: A Semester Abroad
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
- Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
- Ecuadorian life and culture
- Comparative ecology
- Conservation and policy
- Environmental Research Methods and Ethics seminar on research methods and Human Subjects Review
- Intensive language instruction in Spanish
- All educational excursions to locations such as the Ecuadorian Amazon, a cloud forest reserve, the páramo and highland Andes, and the Galápagos Islands, including all related travel costs
- Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: $2,999
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Quito), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
- All homestays (eight weeks in Quito and three to four days in a rural cloud forest community)
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Visa Expenses: $270
Books & Supplies: $ 70
International Phone: Each student must bring a phone with them to their program.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.