Costa Rica is somewhat of an expert when it comes to sustainability – so much so, that it is often referred to as both the ‘greenest’ and ‘happiest’ place on Earth, and its much-loved mantra ‘Pura Vida’ (meaning ‘pure life’) does a good job of summing up this eco-minded attitude. Despite the country’s diminutive dimensions (accounting for 0.03% of the planet’s landmass), its habitats are home to around 5% of the world’s total biodiversity (that’s half a million species). Hence there’s plenty to protect and a wealth of wildlife worth saving. So how has the Central American nation achieved the accolade of ‘ecological Eden’? A number of well-thought-out policies and a commitment to creating an eco-friendly future mean that sustainability in Costa Rica is taken seriously by locals and travellers alike.


Environmental Protection

Between the 1940s and ‘80s, Costa Rica sadly lost around 40% of its forest land to deforestation, due to economic policies which favoured the transformation of ‘unproductive’ land (rainforests) into ‘productive’ land (agricultural). Thankfully, sustainability practices introduced in the 1990s have since allowed Costa Rica to become 98% deforestation-free, and this in turn has reduced the country’s carbon footprint (and undoubtedly aided its burgeoning biodiversity). Following scrupulous work to reverse prior decades of deforestation, around three-quarters of its land is once again covered in forest. More than 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks and reserves, allowing locals and visitors to enjoy its abundant natural beauty while simultaneously protecting these regions for future generations.


Renewable Energy & Recycling

Sustainability in Costa Rica extends heavily into the renewable energy sphere, with the country now generating a whopping 98% of its electricity from renewable sources. Hydroelectric power is king here, accounting for an estimated 70% of energy generation, while wind and solar power contribute as well. Recycling is also part of the eco equation, with around 60% of waste given a new lease of life. The country’s ‘pay to throw’ programme charges residents based on the weight of rubbish they produce, which encourages recycling as much as possible.


Looking to the Future

Costa Rica continues to look to the future, in order to maintain its status as the gold standard for sustainability. While it has long been the authority on all things eco, the country is aiming to cross one of the final environmental frontiers by decarbonising its economy. The National Decarbonisation Plan involves reforming transport, energy, waste and land use, with the goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Upon abolishing their army in the 1940s, military resources were instead channelled into the development of education and culture. Costa Rica’s government invests in free public education at all levels, with students required to take sustainability courses throughout school and university.


Tips for Travellers

Sustainability in Costa Rica is not only for its inhabitants, as nurturing its ‘green’ reputation requires co-operation from visitors. In order to continue enjoying the dense emerald rainforests and blonde sand beaches for years to come, some key tips for travellers include:

  • Reducing waste – wherever possible, recycle and reuse products. Pack a reusable water bottle and rechargeable batteries to avoid plastic waste. Try to cut down on packaged materials (single-use plastic has been banned in many areas) and conserve electricity at your hotel by reusing towels, and switching off lights and air conditioning when leaving your room.
  • Practice environmentalism – don’t leave litter, hike off established paths, disturb wildlife or purchase products made from endangered species. Opt for activities that don’t require fossil fuels, such as biking, kayaking and horse riding. In other words, leave the country in the same condition that you found it.
  • Shop local – support local vendors, restaurants and bars, rather than frequenting international chains.
  • Respect culture – be mindful of and show consideration for local customs and traditions. Learn about acceptable behaviour, appropriate dress and memorise some Spanish phrases before travelling.
  • Give back – find out about ways that you can positively contribute to local areas and sustainability in Costa Rica overall. Here at Original Travel, we champion both Community Based and Indigenous Tourism to help make travel even more of a force for good.
Contact one of our Costa Rica specialists