Planetary Health: Perspectives from Costa Rica


Planetary Health is an emerging field that seeks to understand the linkages between human health and the natural environment. Specifically, this field describes how humans have disrupted the earth's natural systems, and how these changes are impacting the global disease burden. Planetary Health also seeks to use these emerging understandings to find solutions that integrate the wellbeing of our biosphere. Topics explored during the course will include climate change, emerging infectious diseases, natural and manmade disasters, air quality, and food security. 

Costa Rica is an ideal location to explore Planetary Health and how to be better stewards of human health and natural resources. The country hosts 5% of global biodiversity and a wide range of ecosystems. Approximately 25% of the territory is protected areas, including three parks declared as World Heritage sites by UNESCO: the Isla del Coco National Park, the reserves of the Talamanca Range/Amistad International Park, and the Guanacaste conservation area. Costa Rica also has a well-developed health system and boasts high human development indices, although achieving health equity throughout the entire country remains a challenge.

This program takes place in an isolated and economically lagging region in Costa Rica, where structural inequality and poor social determinants have led to poor health outcomes. At the same time, this region has assets such as its people, ecosystems, and its body of traditional knowledge, and program participants will come to appreciate the creativity and resilience of Costa Ricans working to promote the health of communities and the health of our planet.

CFHI offers options for students and faculty to fit your interests and schedule. Choose your program duration, or for a comparative experience, choose to participate in multiple programs. CFHI can also often accommodate alternate program dates upon request. For more information see our How to Apply page.


3 Weeks $2,650
Arrival Dates: 
Sep 04, 2021 Oct 02, 2021 Nov 06, 2021 Dec 04, 2021 Jan 01, 2022 Feb 05, 2022 Mar 05, 2022 Apr 02, 2022 May 07, 2022 Jun 04, 2022 Jul 02, 2022 Aug 06, 2022 Sep 03, 2022 Oct 01, 2022 Nov 05, 2022 Dec 03, 2022 

Key Themes & Site Information

Major themes & sites include: 

  • Development & urbanization in the capital city of San Jose

  • Indigenous people and traditional knowledge in Boruca indigenous territory

  • Migration, trade, and health in the bordering region of Panama and Costa Rica

  • Water governance, water security in rural Pittier

  • Biodiversity loss & infectious diseases in the Osa Peninsula

  • Food systems in monoculture affected areas of the Brunca Region

  • Climate change and health in coastal Costa Rica 

CFHI is considered a global health ethics leader therefore CFHI programs uphold strict standards and comply with all local laws regarding student involvement in health settings. Your experience on the program depends on your previous clinical training (if applicable), Spanish level, and the relationship you build with your supervising preceptor. Above all, YOU are the most important factor in making the CFHI experience as fulfilling as possible by being respectful, culturally humble, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning experiences which you will encounter.


Most of the program will take place in the Brunca Region. From indigenous territories, to lush rainforest we will explore communities innovating to establish true sustainable development, as well as communities struggling with the impacts of biodiversity loss and monoculture expansion. 

 The program will start in San José, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Then will move south to the province of Puntarenas to explore Boruca indigenous community and ASOMOBI organization in Biolley. The next stop, San Vito, is just a few minutes from Panama´s border. Participants will stay in the Organization for Tropical Studies- Las Cruces Field Station. This location comes with all the educational facilities required for a world-class experience, including Wi-Fi, lecturing rooms, libraries, dorms, among other services and amenities. The program will end in the highly biodiverse region of the Osa Peninsula and then travel back to San José for departure.   

Academic Life

Activities start early in the morning (around 7:30 am) and finish near 6:00 pm. You will be traveling to field sites almost every day. Travel time can take from 20 minutes to up to 7 hours (only in transfer days), depending on the places you are visiting. Each visit is designed to provide you with new professional and personal experiences where you will be encouraged to broaden your cultural and environmental awareness by interacting fist-hand with the communities. During the weekends you will have one or two days off per week to enjoy personal activities. Costa Rica has a lot to offer from cultural activities to one-day adventure tours.

Accommodations & Homestays

Participants will be lodged in a variety of locations throughout the program. These include small hotels in San Jose, rustic dorm houses in indigenous territories, and dorm rooms in different biological research stations throughout the country. Shared accommodations are the norm throughout the program. 

Eligibility: Who Can Apply?

This CFHI program is ideal for students who have a foundation in Spanish and have an interest in the intersection between environmental health and global health. 

Minimum Language Required: Beginner 1 Spanish or Above

Beginner 1 Spanish: “I can speak a little and understand at times if people speak slowly and clearly.”

  • I can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and simple phrases to get across basic needs.

  • I can introduce others and myself. I can ask and answer questions for example where I live, people I know and things I have. 

All CFHI participants applying to programs in Latin America will evaluate their Spanish language skills as part of their application. This information will then be shared with the on-site partners. A placement test will also be given at the start of the program to ensure you're learning at the correct level. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you and to be proactive in speaking Spanish, versus accuracy with grammatical tenses. All CFHI Latin America programs include Spanish language instruction on-site. 

Not sure about your Spanish level? View a full list of CFHI’s language levels for all Latin America programs on our Spanish Level Guidelines page. 

CFHI partners with Canopy to offer high-quality online Medical Spanish courses. Apply using this link for a 20% discount and start improving your medical Spanish today!

Arrival Information

Participants should arrive in SJO – San Jose International Airport, Costa Rica on the program start date and will be picked up from the airport by a CFHI representative and taken to their homestay. A welcome orientation will take place the Sunday or Monday after arrival. 

Visas are not required for U.S. citizens staying less than 3 months in Costa Rica. More information on travel and logistics will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.

What's Included

CFHI Program fees include the majority of your on the ground costs. As a nonprofit, CFHI strives to keep fees low and offers fundraising opportunities, scholarships and discounts.

Pre-Departure Support

  • Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco Bay Area before departure

  • Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.

On-Site Service

  • Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to hotel in San José with local CFHI representative

  • Welcome orientation and welcome dinner with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics

  • CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response

  • Daily lectures

  • Accommodation and three meals a day on most day

  • International emergency medical and evacuation insurance 

Post-Return Resources

  • Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health

  • CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved

Uniquely CFHI, 60% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more here.

Carlos A. Faerron Guzman M.D., M.Sc. 

Dr. Faerron is the co-founder and current director of the InterAmerican Center for Global Health (CISG). CISG is the first global health hub in Central America and seeks to redefine the meaning of leadership and global health through innovative educational approaches.

Dr. Faerron Guzmán began his career as a primary care doctor in a rural area of Costa Rica where he worked closely with migrant and indigenous populations. His work follows a health equity and human rights framework as a guiding principle and firmly believes in progress in health through community empowerment, research, and education. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Costa Rica, and his MSc. in International Health at Queen Mary University in Edinburgh and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Additional studies include Social Justice at the International Institute for Health and Development in Scotland and Social Innovation for Health from INCAE Business School. Dr. Faerron is a Fellow of the Planetary Health Alliance and the Central American Healthcare Initiative.  He holds an adjunct faculty appointment at the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard University, and the University of Maryland Graduate School.

Carolina Bolaños Palmieri Lic, M.Sc

Carolina Bolaños Palmieri is a registered dietitian who focuses on using food as a bridge between development, sustainability, health, and equity. Carolina has experience in the management of projects in rural low-resource settings and collaborated in Rukara Health Center in Rwanda on strategies to tackle malnutrition. She has been a visiting scholar at the Education & Training Department at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. Being a strong advocate for food waste prevention, Carolina is the Education and Research Coordinator for the NGO Alimentalistas an initiative part of the Costa Rican Network for the Reduction of Food Losses and Waste. She also sits on the board of directors of the organization. She has a bachelor's and licentiate degree in Nutrition from the University of Costa Rica and holds a master’s degree in Global Health from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the University of Barcelona. Currently, Carolina is the associate director of the Inter-American Center for Global Health.

Brett Bayles, M.P.H., Ph.D.

Dr. Bayles is an assistant professor and co-founder of the Global Public Health program at Dominican University of California. Dr. Bayles received his M.P.H. and Ph.D. in public health with an emphasis on emerging infectious disease epidemiology from Saint Louis University. He completed postdoctoral research fellowships at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the University of California at Riverside. His research interests are broadly aimed at using the planetary health framework to better understand the human health impacts of global environmental change.

What Alumni Say

“If you want to learn about planetary health, this course is a great opportunity and a unique experience.” - Dominican University Student

“It was intellectually challenging, culturally sustainable and relevant, supportive and a prime example of meaningful learning and application” - Participant of the Planetary Health Program

“[The course] was life-changing, it opened my eyes to understanding the way other people live and how the choices we make in our daily lives can impact them.” - Participant of the Planetary Health Program

“I loved hearing from the wide variety of speakers and all of the site visits combined with lectures.” - Dominican University Student