The ‘know-it-all’ of the eco class, Costa Rica is consistently listed as one of the ‘greenest’ and ‘happiest’ places on the planet. And this eco-minded attitude is summed up by their ubiquitous slogan ‘Pura Vida’, which translates to ‘pure life’ or ‘simple life’. In order to protect its resplendent landscapes and dizzying biodiversity, the country has long championed sustainable travel, through Community Based Tourism initiatives, renewable energy and environmental education. Other countries (including Canada, Argentina and Brazil) have begun to follow suit in recent years, as the urge to travel more responsibly has become an irresistible force post-pandemic. As a visitor, how can you get in on the eco-action and make the most of Costa Rica’s sustainability expertise? In line with our concept of Kintsugi Travel (where we aim to build back travel with a more positive impact than before the pandemic), here are several ways to practise sustainable tourism in Costa Rica that benefit both the visitor and the destination.
- Undertourism in Costa Rica
- Philantourism in Costa Rica
- Community Based Tourism in Costa Rica
- Indigenous Tourism in Costa Rica
Overtourism is the unfortunate consequence of lots of travellers flocking to same, sought-after destinations. And while we’re all for seeing the world’s bucket list toppers, we’re also keen to encourage travel to quieter destinations, in order to counteract congestion and overcrowding. Undertourism is all about taking the less-trodden path and embracing destinations that don’t always make the headlines. While Costa Rica doesn’t completely fit this bill (international tourist arrivals to Costa Rica more than doubled between 2000 and 2019), there are plenty of hidden corners of the country that our Travel Specialists can help you discover. By choosing to travel against the established tourist tide, you’re already helping to champion the concept of undertourism. Some lesser-known gems include the dinky fishing village of Montezuma, Chirripó National Park (home to Costa Rica’s highest peak) and the region around the Rio Pacuare.
Philantourism is the act of choosing a holiday in order to support a destination, and the idea plays into our desire to make travel a force for good. By simply spending money within local communities, you’ll be doing your bit to support the local economy and contributing to sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. Annual earnings from tourism amount to more than $1.7 billion US dollars for the Central American nation and it has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Our Travel Specialists can point you in the direction of our favourite experiences and eco-lodges, where spending your pennies will make the most difference.
Local communities play a pivotal role when it comes to sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. Environmental education begins early on, with the government investing in free public education at all levels and students taking sustainability courses throughout school. Costa Ricans are acutely aware of the importance of protecting their country’s magnificent eco-systems and a grassroots approach to conservation has flourished as a result. For example, Asociación ANAI is a non-profit organisation that has established several community-based conservation projects in the southern Caribbean region. Working with residents, they have created a marine conservation initiative to protect sea turtles along the Talamanca coast, which visitors can support by adopting a sea turtle. Meanwhile, the income from sea turtle tourism also provides income for local families.
Ensuring that traditional ways of living are maintained is an important part of sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. Indigenous communities act as custodians of culture, and the best way of really getting to know a country is by immersing yourself in its culture and local way of life. With 12 Indigenous groups and some 60,000 Indigenous people living in rural regions across the country, indigenous tourism is a concept that’s close to Costa Rica’s heart. When the Bribri community began to struggle with harvesting their cocoa crops in the 1980s, they turned to tourism as an alternative means of income; the women of the community formed a group called Stibrawpa (women who make handicrafts), and began to invite tourists to experience their culture. Today, they welcome around 40 visitors a month in peak season, with guides from the community sharing their sacred traditions, taking them on forest hikes to learn about the uses of different plants and trees, and teaching them how to make chocolate from cacao seeds. Similar cultural experiences include touring coffee plantations, visiting local villages and spending money within local communities.
Written by Luisa Watts