The bus that takes volunteers from San José to La Selva travels on a wet, winding, paved mountain road that is subject to minor landslides. Participants must wear seat belts whenever they are available and may not drive project vehicles.
The terrain at La Selva and Tirimbina is very hilly, and some trails are quite steep. The cement and wood trails can get very slippery, and the mud trails are sometimes difficult to navigate due to water and deep mud. Walking slowly and carefully can prevent injury. Bring appropriate footwear and remember that the hiking can be as strenuous or easy as you feel is appropriate.
There are poisonous snakes, some irritating plants, and plenty of biting and stinging insects. Snakebites are not common at La Selva, but the use of tall rubber boots in the field and flashlights at night are necessary precautions. Insect repellent can be used to ward off mosquitoes, chiggers, biting flies, and other insects. Most of the plants are harmless to people, but there are some plants that are poisonous and can cause rashes, and these will be pointed out to the volunteers.
Chikungunya Virus (CHIKV), Dengue or Zika virus
These viruses are present in Costa Rica and carried by the Aedes mosquito, which is active during the daytime. Long sleeves and insect repellant should be worn to protect against bites. Participants who are pregnant should consult their doctors before traveling due to the adverse effects the Zika virus could have on the fetus.
There will be a lot of rain, so please bring appropriate rain gear. When it is not raining, the sun will be very intense; therefore, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and staying well hydrated are critical.
Because of the high humidity, those persons using a hearing aid device may find it doesn’t work properly. You should consider purchasing a hearing aid dehumidifier.
Volunteers will use pruning clippers, which can cause injuries. You will be instructed in their proper use to minimize the risk of injury.
Some volunteers have had items stolen that they stored at the hotel or left unsecured in their rooms at the station. Please leave valuables at home where possible, or properly secured while at the hotel or research site.
Swimming may be possible during recreational time and typical water-related risks will be present. A certified lifeguard will not be available. Volunteers should not swim alone—always inform staff when swimming.
Distance from Medical Care
This project site is remote with limited emergency response in case of medical concerns. If you are pregnant or have other conditions that could require emergency medical care, you should discuss with your physician before joining this project.
The Ecuadorian road system can be risky by Western standards due to fast and reckless drivers, rain, poor or no lighting, and poor road conditions. The bus ride from Quito to Yanayacu takes a wet, winding mountain road that is very steep in sections, has long unpaved sections, and is subject to landslides. Driving at night will be avoided. Seat belt use is required whenever possible. Volunteers are not permitted to drive.
The trails where volunteers will collect caterpillars are steep, muddy and slippery. Wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots with ankle support or Wellington boots with good tread; see the packing checklist). Always walk slowly and carefully, be aware of your surroundings, and heed staff instructions. Hiking can be as strenuous or easy as you feel is appropriate, since caterpillars can be found everywhere.
Different people react in different ways to working at high altitude. Even people who are very fit at sea level can find themselves struggling as they walk at higher altitudes. Take the first few days slowly (project staff will provide activities that require less exertion at the beginning of the expedition), and report any illness (headache, lethargy, appetite loss, nausea, etc.) to staff immediately. Also remain well hydrated. The sun is strong at these altitudes, so a high-factor sunscreen and protective clothing (wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long sleeves) are essential. If you have any condition that might be affected by increased sun exposure or if you are sensitive to heat, please consult a physician. Many common prescription medications can increase your sensitivity to sun and heat. Illnesses that may be aggravated by altitude include sickle cell anemia and chronic heart and lung diseases. Those with asthma or other breathing problems may experience altitude-related discomfort and may wish to consult with their doctors in advance.
There are no large, dangerous animals or poisonous snakes in the area. There are few biting and stinging insects, but some visitors choose to bring insect repellent to ward off the occasional mosquito. Anyone allergic to wasp, bee, or ant stings should bring medications as appropriate with them (e.g., at least two Epi-Pens).
Chikungunya Virus (CHIKV), Dengue or Zika virus
These viruses are present in Ecuador and carried by the Aedes mosquito, which is active during the daytime. The mosquitos that carry the Chikungunya and malaria viruses do not reside in the cloud forest where Yanayacu is. They are found in the lowlands, like on the beach. Nonetheless, long sleeves and insect repellant should be worn to protect against bites. Volunteers should ask their doctors about preventative medicine for Malaria based on their travel plans. Participants who are pregnant should consult their doctors before traveling due to the adverse effects the Zika virus could have on the fetus.
Due to the altitude, the climate, and the demanding nature of the research activities, take care to avoid dehydration. Always carry and drink plenty of water throughout the day, and get enough to eat. Do not overexert yourself. Inform a staff member right away if you feel tired or ill. There will be a lot of rain, so bring appropriate gear. The risk of sunburn is also high; bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen (30 SPF or higher), and appropriate clothing. Because of the high humidity, people who use hearing aids may find that they don’t work properly. You should consider purchasing a hearing aid dehumidifier.
Volunteers will use pruning clippers. You will be instructed in their proper use to minimize the risk of injury.
Roads are sometimes closed due to protests in the area. These protests do not generally pose a risk, but should be avoided wherever possible.
Take personal safety precautions while traveling both before and after the expedition. Use common sense in urban centers (Quito, Tena, Guayaquil) due to the risk of petty or violent crime. Avoid traveling alone and displaying money or other valuables, use caution when withdrawing money from ATMs, take taxis, and avoid traveling at night. When walking in Quito, do not walk with a big backpack; use small bags, and consider putting your money inside your shoe. A money belt or waist pouch is also highly recommended (neck pouches are not as they can be easily spotted). It is always best practice to leave unnecessary valuables at home. Take caution in tourist areas and crowded marketplaces. In Quito, in particular, the old city center, city parks, Virgin of the Panecillo (El Panecillo) shrine, Calle Morales (often referred to as Calle La Ronda), El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastiçn (old city), Gonzalez Suarez (old city), Avenida Cristùbal Colùn (new city), and the districts of La Mariscal, La Carolina, La Floresta, and La Marin should be avoided at night due to the high risk of petty crime. Also avoid hiking in the areas surrounding the antennas of Volcan Pichincha and the Teleferico (cable car). At the project site, do not wander off by yourself. It is possible to get lost, and the temperature, rainfall, and dampness can make this uncomfortable and dangerous.
All volunteers should see a travel doctor before leaving to discuss immunizations and other precautions to take against tropical diseases.