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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Program Description

This summer course is designed to introduce students to caves, and their influence in Puerto Rican culture over millennia. Students will learn the fundamentals of cave development, the influence that caves have in Puerto Rican culture (and other Caribbean countries), and explore theoretical models to study the interaction human-geology. This course is open to every major at JMU. Course learning objectives:

  1. Student will gain experience in interacting with and analyzing societies from a different scope than their own.
  2. Student will apply established theoretical models to study the interaction between local culture and regional natural resources located in the northern karst belt (where all the caves are).
  3. Students will study the significance the role of culture plays in the preservation of natural resources (e.g., karst).

We will be conducting daily expeditions to different caves in the northern region of Puerto Rico. During these daily expeditions, we are going to be reviewing the cultural and natural history of each location (ex. archaeological data, ecological scenario, and geological uniqueness). This course has the goal that each one of the students can construct a cave field guide that contains important features of the northern karst belt and Mona island for others to use.

Class will start meeting at the beginning of the summer semester (~May 15th) twice a week for 2 hours in order to review regional and local geology, Pre-Columbian history, natural resources, cultural continuity in the Caribbean, archeology evidence, and the introduction of QGIS (software that will be used in the construction of the field guide).

Location Description

The course is based in the archipelago of Puerto Rico. During this course we will be conducting daily expeditions during the week into caves located within the Municipalities of Loíza, Arecibo, Utuado, and Juana Diaz, followed by a 3-day expedition/camping to several caves located in the island of Mona (the island is part of the Municipality of Mayagüez), located to the West of Puerto Rico.

At each site, we will learn from local experts the archaeological importance, contemporary cultural relevance, geological/geographical uniqueness, and future expected changes related to climatic change of the area.


Angel Garcia Jr. | | Geology and Environmental Science

Shelley Whitmeyer | | Geology and Environmental Science


Accommodations will be provided for students through furnished apartment-like (locally known as Paradores) housing in the town of Arecibo (beach area) with internet access, A/C, full kitchen, and laundry facilities. A total of four students will be sharing each apartment. The apartments typically have 4 bedrooms. We are going to be using these Paradores as a base for all the trips with exception to the Mona Island expedition. Mona Island expedition which requires a 2-night stay camping on the beach. Camping gear will be provided during this trip.

Housing accommodations are strategically located in middle points between locations of interest.

During the week, breakfast and dinner will be catered to the Paradores in the morning and in the afternoon. For lunch, food will be provided for students to pack a lunch (ex. sandwiches, fruits, protein bars, juice, water). On resting days, students will be in charge of their own meals using program allowances. All meals are included as part of the Mona Island expedition.

Additional Items to Consider

Students are expected to feel comfortable with getting wet, muddy, and in close spaces. The majority of the locations that we are going to be visiting do not required students to implement “serious caving” skills, however easy to moderate exercise activity to get into the caves is expected. 

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory since 1898, this means that traveling visas for US citizens are not required for this trip, neither is a passport.  We suggest that students have a valid REAL ID at the moment of traveling (more info here).  

As a US territory, the national currency is the USD. No money exchange is required for this trip.

Official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish (primarily) and English. Familiarity with basic Spanish is suggested. 

The program director is native Boricua (Puerto Rican).

COVID-19 Location Information:

Each country has different requirements upon entry with regard to COVID-19. Please check this website for the most up-to-date information on what is required for the country (or countries) that are part of this program. Please note that this changes often, so we encourage you to check back frequently.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 3.0

Travel is in Puerto Rico, basic Spanish is recommended, but not required.  

Sophomore standing or above

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($40 fee)
  • Short Essay 
  • Interview with Program Director may be required
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


ENVT 198E / GEOL 198E / ISCI 198E: Puerto Rico's Cave and Culture (3 credits)

GEOL 298E: Puerto Rico's Karst Geology and Culture (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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