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Students travel to the Amazon Rainforest, Pacific Coast, Andes Mountains, and the world-renowned Galapagos Islands
The city of Quito is at 9,350 feet (2850 m) of elevation, and some field sites we visit are as high as 14,500 feet. Altitude sickness, your body’s response to lower oxygen concentration at high altitudes, can affect anyone and is characterized by headache, fatigue, dizziness, trouble sleeping and occasionally stomach upset. If you know you are prone to altitude sickness, consult your physician. Prescription drugs now are available that mitigate the negative effects of altitude when taken before traveling to high elevation. In any case, you can minimize the symptoms of altitude sickness by drinking plenty of water before and after your arrival, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, taking aspirin and iron supplements, and avoiding overexertion.
The best way to prevent the most serious illnesses is by getting vaccinated prior to traveling to Ecuador. It is mandatory that you obtain a yellow fever vaccine prior to arriving in Ecuador (you will be required to show proof of this vaccine in order to travel to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon). Yellow fever vaccinations last for 10 years. You should check that your vaccinations against tetanus, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A and B are up to date.
It is recommended that you take anti-malaria pills for your visit to the Amazonian region of Ecuador. Tablets are taken once a week and must be started 2 weeks prior to your departure and continued for 4 weeks after your return. Anti-malaria pills (Lariam-mefloquine only) may be available at pharmacies in Ecuador, and if so are much less expensive than in the U.S., however we can’t guarantee such availability so to be on the safe side bring your anti-malarial medication with you. Malaria, dengue, and leishmaniasis — all insect-borne illnesses — have been known to occur in Ecuador. The simplest way to avoid contracting these illnesses is to avoid contact with the insects that transmit them: wear long pants and sleeves, apply insect repellent, and sleep in a screened room or under a good mosquito net (our field sites provide these).
For any and all medical advice, please consult your doctor or public health service for the most recent information regarding vaccinations for travel to Ecuador. We also recommend you follow CDC guidelines for avoiding both vaccine-preventable and non-vaccine preventable diseases when traveling to Ecuador.
During the cruise of the Galapagos, we sleep and eat aboard a ship for a week. Because of the lengthy travel between islands, you will spend a considerable amount of time on the ship. If you know, or even suspect, that you are prone to seasickness, please bring a supply of anti-motion-sickness tablets (or other remedy). This is extremely important: you do not want your Galapagos experience spoiled by preventable motion sickness, so be sure to come prepared.
Although Ecuador is part of the developing world, you will find Quito to be surprisingly modern. While Quito has a lower crime rate than most comparable cities in the US, like any large urban area (now over 2 million people) street crime is prevalent. Be alert to your surroundings and exercise common sense.
Avoid travel after dark, or if you must move after dark do so only in groups. Avoid poorly-lit or isolated areas, don’t display large amounts of cash or jewelry, take care with cameras and backpacks, and do not accept invitations of any kind from strangers. If you feel endangered, enter the nearest business and ask them to call a taxi, or the police (1-800-DELITO). Familiarize yourself with the city, ask course staff or your host family about the safety of unknown neighborhoods, and let a friend know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Pick pocketing is the most common form of crime, so when traveling on buses and other public transportation, do not let your possessions out of your sight, or better yet, keep them on your person.
These are all precautions that any seasoned traveler, or resident of any large US city, will already have adopted. This advice is not intended to scare you; Quito is a wonderful city full of warm, generous and honest people; the Ecuadorian countryside also is a terrific place to travel, and you will find the locals you meet everywhere are friendly and polite. However, as in your own city or town, knowing the risks and how to manage them is the first step to staying safe.
View the most recent U.S. Department of State crime report for Ecuador here.
Students live and learn amid the corals and fishes of the Meso-American Barrier Reef
Like many tropical countries, preventable, insect-borne diseases like malaria and dengue are present in Belize. The best way to prevent these is to avoid contact with mosquitoes by wearing long pants and sleeves at times when mosquitoes are active and using insect repellant. Anti-malarial pills are an option against malaria. Food-borne illness or gastrointestinal distress may occur, although we minimize this risk by providing meals only at vetted establishments accustomed to preparing safe food for sensitive foreign stomachs. We also provide bottled water at all program locations. Avoid obtaining additional food and water from unknown sources while on the program, unless it is thoroughly cooked or commercially packaged. Pack anti-diarrheal and anti-indigestion aids in your personal first aid kit.
For any and all medical advice, please consult your doctor or public health service for the most recent information regarding vaccinations for travel to Belize. We also recommend you follow CDC guidelines for avoiding both vaccine-preventable and non-vaccine preventable diseases when traveling to Belize.
The study of marine biology requires that a lot of time be spent in boats. If you know, or even suspect, that you are prone to seasickness, please bring a supply of anti-motion-sickness tablets (and/or other remedy). This is extremely important: you do not want your experience of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef spoiled by preventable motion sickness, so be sure to come prepared.
Belize is a country of only ~350,000 people, and most of the country is quite safe. Most of the country’s violent crime occurs in Belize City, and is related to gang activity. That said, when traveling in any foreign country it is important to keep your wits about you, avoid flashing expensive electronics and large amounts of cash, be cautious with strangers, and don’t venture out at night. Theft is the most common crime, but you can greatly reduce its chances by keeping your valuables hidden and the door to your room locked.
Fortunately, other than passing through the Belize City airport, our programs spend no time in Belize City and we travel in private chartered vehicles. Our group stays at ecolodges and research stations situated in forest and marine reserves, far from population centers. On Glover’s Reef atoll, we are usually the only people there other than the staff, and the research station is also a coast guard outpost. The places where we spend time in Belize are about the safest you can find.
View the most recent U.S. Department of State crime report for Belize here.
Travel beyond your borders, and outside your comfort zone, but with safety as everyone's top priority
Study abroad programs are designed to take you out of your comfort zone, and often to far-flung locales that may lack the high standards of health and safety that we enjoy in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, there are certain ailments which are more common in developing tropical countries, against which one must be prepared. Part of staying safe is behaving in a responsible manner that avoids putting yourself and others at risk. Despite your best efforts, illness and accidents can happen, and for this you need insurance.
All participants in Ceiba study abroad programs are required by the University of Wisconsin to have active medical insurance that covers them during their travel and stay overseas. Fortunately, enrollment through UW guarantees you access to CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International) insurance that provides coverage for international medical care and emergency evacuation. CISI also partners with Assist America to provide worldwide 24/7 assistance through their Team Assist Plan (TAP). Enrollment in the CISI program is provided for all study abroad participants, and the cost is included in your program fees.
Both Ecuador and Belize currently require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR Covid test taken within 3 days prior to entering the county Ceiba and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (our partner institution in Ecuador) require all participants in our study abroad programs to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to the start of the program. We cannot in good conscience enable our students to carry coronavirus to host countries, where it would pose an additional burden on limited medical resources and risk exposure of isolated indigenous groups.
Vaccination campaigns are proceeding rapidly in our host countries (Ecuador and Belize; see this World Bank article), we will take precautions during our 2022 programs to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19. Our programs are field-based, with the group traveling as a cohort on private chartered buses, with much of our time spent out-of-doors. The locations we visit are remote and pristine (with unmatched wildlife), which reduces the risk of Covid-19 exposure. We contract only with vaccinated host families, and hosted students must be vaccinated as well. Masking and social distancing will be required any time the group is in proximity to people not within our immediate group who may not be vaccinated (indoors or outdoors), and anywhere else as required by local health mandates.
If risk levels are elevated when the program begins, other modifications to programming will take place, such as: elimination of home-stays so that students can be housed as a “pod” in one location, extending the time spent in remote field stations, and employing testing and a 10-day quarantine protocol should anyone exhibit symptoms or test positive. If any student exhibits more pronounced symptoms, there are excellent hospital facilities available in Quito, not more than an 6-hour drive from even our most distant field site (2-hour flight from Galapagos). If you have specific questions regarding Covid-related or other safety measures, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help!
Please note that country-specific restrictions may change at any time, and it is the responsibility of each participant to check for the most updated information (see links below).
U.S. Embassy in Ecuador:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Ecuador Covid-19 Monitoring Center (in Spanish):
U.S. Embassy in Belize:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Belize Tourism Board: