Project Description

All IFR field school applicants should familiarize themselves with IFR COVID-19 Practices before beginning the enrollment process. Program logistics are subject to change as health and risk management experts provide new recommendations and best practices. Each field school syllabus includes specific information about COVID-19 as related to travel regulations and recommendations, accommodations, local protocols, face mask policy and managing COVID-19 cases or outbreaks.

You may want to refer to the following websites to stay informed of COVID-19 case numbers and regulations/policies for Nicaragua:
CDC COVID-19 in Nicaragua
US Embassy in Nicaragua

Due to widely available vaccines in the United States and, in response to the strong recommendation of national medical experts, IFR policy requires that all field school participants be vaccinated prior to their field school. Students enrolled in a IFR program are encouraged to schedule their vaccine appointment as soon as possible if they still intend to participate in their field school. Please contact IFR Staff if you have any questions or concerns.


Ethnohistorical accounts from the sixteenth century CE describe the indigenous cultures of Pacific Nicaragua, including strong evidence for shared Mesoamerican cultural and linguistic traits.  For the past 20 years, archaeologists affiliated with the University of Calgary have excavated sites along the shore of Lake Cocibolca in search of archaeological evidence for Mexican colonization.  This field school will continue this quest through investigations at the site of El Rayo, the most significant site yet known for studying the potential impact of Mexican migrants on native cultural traditions.  Previous excavations at the site have encountered mortuary and civic-ceremonial contexts spanning the arrival of Mesoamericans in about 800 CE and their integration with native Chibchan communities. Mortuary remains have been recovered from several areas of the site, including two separate cemetery zones, a large building that was possibly used for preparation of the deceased, and a feasting area for celebrations for the ancestors. This combination of ceremonial structures and cemeteries has led to the tentative conclusion that El Rayo was a necropolis, literally a ‘city of the dead’ where rituals and interments combined to celebrate and memorialize the ancestors.

The 2021 field school project will investigate new site loci in search of residential areas and additional cemetery deposits. El Rayo is located in a tropical zone on the Asese peninsula into Lake Cocibolca. Students will live in the city of Granada, one of the oldest Colonial cities in the Americas, with modern facilities including a great variety of restaurants and two museums of Nicaraguan culture. Students will take numerous excursions to learn about the local environment.

This research project will continue a longstanding program working in close collaboration with regional institutions including the Mi Museo in Granada.  The core theoretical perspective focuses on the interpretation of culture change, especially ethnicity, in the centuries leading up to the Spanish Conquest in 1522 CE.  As such, the results are of fundamental importance to developing claims of cultural identity by existing indigenous groups in the region.

Download Syllabus

Course Details

  • Course Dates: June 13-July 17, 2021

  • Enrollment Status: Closed

  • Total Cost: $4,995

  • Course Type: Precolumbian Field Archaeology

  • Payment Deadline: April 30, 2021

  • Instructors: Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty

  • Orientation:  May 8 at 2pm PDT / 3pm MDT and CST / 5 pm EDT
  • Academic Credit: 8 semester credit units (equivalent to 12 quarter credit units)


The directors welcome emails and inquiries about the research elements of this project. More general information (tuition, health insurance, and payment schedule) can be found under the ‘Students’ tab above. Any further questions may be addressed to IFR staff. Additional details about research, course schedule, travel, accommodation, and safety can be found on the syllabus. Contacting the directors or the IFR office is encouraged and appreciated. It may help you determine if this field school is a good fit for you.

Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty
Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty
Dr. McCafferty is in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary.


This is a new IFR field school. No student testimonials are available at this time.

Tuition Includes:

  • Costs of Instruction
  • Room & Board
  • All Local Transportation
  • Cost of Academic Credit Units
  • Health & Evacuation Insurance

Student Fees

This program requires an online application — there is a $25 fee to submit an application. Once admitted, a payment of the nonrefundable deposit fee is required to secure a place in the program(s). The Tuition balance (total program cost minus the deposit fee) must be paid prior to the Tuition deadline as listed above under “Course Details.” A $100 late fee will be added to all accounts not paid in full by the Tuition deadline.

Deposit: A nonrefundable $500 deposit fee is required to secure a seat in the program. This deposit is part of the total Tuition and NOT in addition to it.

Withdrawal & Cancellation Policy: If you paid the deposit fee but did not cancel your participation by the Tuition payment deadline, you are legally responsible for the full Tuition regardless of attendance at any IFR program. Please carefully read our Withdrawal & Cancellation Policy for further information. In the event that IFR must cancel a field school, all accepted students will be notified as soon as possible and will receive a refund of all tuition paid including the deposit fee. IFR offers students the opportunity to transfer to another field school, permitting that there are spots available and the program director approves the student to participate in their field school. Upon approval of the program director, IFR staff will make the arrangements to transfer the student’s application and payments.

Credit Card Processing Fee: A 3.5% processing fee is automatically incurred for all credit/debit card/online payments.

Academic Credit Opt Out: Students who wish to participate in an IFR field school without earning academic credit units may do so and receive the following discounts: $300 off a full program (4 or more weeks in length) or $200 off a short program (2-3 weeks in length).

Trip Cancellation Insurance: Please consider purchasing a travel interruption insurance policy that will cover your travel cost and the cost of the IFR program once you make a commitment to attend a field school.

The added risk of COVID-19  should be a “covered event” in your policy.
Please note that the cost of coverage varies, based on your age, the program duration and geographical location.
You may get help and advice from your insurance broker and we offer the links below to help you educate yourself on these insurance products.
Travel Insured International offers coverage for Trip Cancellation or Interruption for Any Reason (review coverage based on your state).
– Compare quotes from different companies offering Trip Cancelation insurance plans.


Students will be housed in a small hotel in Granada, a medium-size city on the shore of Lake Cocibolca.  The hotel will feature double-occupancy rooms with private bathrooms, air conditioning, and WiFi, and also a kitchen that will provide morning meals and allow access in the evenings. Students will be picked up from the hotel and transported to the field site in the morning. After lunch students will be transported to the field laboratory for afternoon artifact processing and discussion of daily results before being returned to the hotel.

While rooms will be double occupancy, they will offer separate beds and sufficient area to maintain distance. Cleaning staff at the hotel will regularly clean and disinfect high traffic areas and materials, and will dispose of potentially contaminated materials. Laundry facilities will be available through the hotel.

All participants in a field school, students and staff, will wear masks while indoors (i.e. during lectures, during labs, in shared residential spaces, etc.). Roommates will form “pods”, or two-person groupings that limit their non-distanced social contact to one another for the duration of the field program.

Regular hand washing will be a part of the project’s daily schedule.

A light breakfast will be provided at the hotel. Lunch is typically the big meal of the day in the tropics, and will be provided in the field. No formal dinner is provided but the hotel kitchen will be stocked with food for evening snacking (there are also many restaurants in Granada for evening meals at students’ expense).  Note that specialized diets are difficult to accommodate. Meals in the field will be prepared members of the Salablanca family, with lunch usually consisting of traditional rice, beans, vegetables, and occasional meat. Drinks are made from tropical fruit juices mixed with purified water. During sit-down meals where people are unmasked, care will be taken to maintain 6-ft of distance from those outside our two-person ‘pods’.

Travel Info

UPDATE: Due to ongoing uncertainties regarding the travel regulations related to COVID-19, IFR will assess the local conditions closer to the travel date (5-6 weeks prior to the program beginning) and will make Go/No Go decisions then. We urge you to participate in the mandatory orientation meeting when we will discuss the latest travel information and regulations. We also suggest you consider postponing the purchase of your airline ticket until after the program orientation.

The most convenient means of travel to Nicaragua is by air, arriving at the international airport in Managua (MGA), where the field school director will meet students. Currently, Nicaragua requires a negative COVID (PCR) test within 72 hours of arrival, but there is no subsequent quarantine required. Upon arrival, students will be shuttled across the street from the airport to the Best Western Las Mercedes where they will spend the first night, as the full group arrives. The following morning the student group will be transported to Granada (about 45 minutes away) by passenger van, to arrive at the arranged housing. Daily trips to the field site will also be by passenger van. All program participants will be required to use their face masks throughout the duration of shuttle and van rides. The field lab will be within walking distance of the project housing.

If you missed your connection or your flight is delayed, please call, text or email the field school director immediately. A local emergency mobile phone number will be provided to all enrolled students.


US and Canadian citizens (with passports) entering Nicaragua receive their visa upon entering the country at the Managua airport. As of 2020 there was a $10 (USD) fee for a tourist visa. The visa form is given to in-bound passengers while in the air.

Citizens of other countries are asked to check the embassy website page at their home country for specific visa requirements.

Student Safety

The IFR primary concern is with education. Traveling and conducting field research involve risk. Students interested in participating in IFR programs must weigh whether the potential risk is worth the value of education provided. While risk is inherent in everything we do, we do not take risk lightly. The IFR engages in intensive review of each field school location prior to approval. Once a program is accepted, the IFR reviews each program annually to make sure it complies with all our standards and policies, including student safety.

Students attending IFR international programs are covered by a comprehensive Health Insurance policy that includes physical illness or injury, mental or chronic conditions. No deductible and 100% of costs are covered up to $250,000. In addition, we provide Political and Natural Disaster Evacuation policy, which allow us to remove students from field school location if local conditions change. Our field school directors are scholars that know field school locations and cultures well and are plugged in into local communities and state institution structures.

Students attending IFR domestic programs (within the US) must have their own health insurance and provide proof upon enrollment. IFR field school directors are familiar with local authorities and if in need of evacuation, local emergency services and/or law enforcement will be notified and activated.

The IFR has strong, explicit and robust policy towards discrimination and harassment in the field. If students feel they cannot discuss personal safety issues with field school staff, the IFR operates an emergency hotline where students may contact IFR personnel directly.

Call us at 877-839-4374 or email us at if you have questions about the safety of any particular program.