Tourism in Costa Rica

The Boom of the Nineties…                                                                                     Costa Rica is a showpiece destination for ecotourism. The year 1987, in which the then president Oscar Arias Sanchez received the Nobel Peace Prize, also marks the start of an ecotourism boom in the small Central American country.

In the 1990s, Costa Rica surpassed the established and more familiar destinations for ecotourism, such as the Galapagos Islands, Kenya, and Nepal. In 1999, the foreign exchange proceeds from tourism were USD 950 million. In the same year, the Costa Rican tourist office (ICT, Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) achieved its long aspired goal of greeting one million tourists in one year. An investigation by the Costa Rican government confirmed that most of the tourists visited the country for its natural heritage.

… and its Implications:                                                                                             The aim of the intense promotion of tourism since the middle of the 1980s was to make the country more independent from exports of agricultural products. This goal was achieved. However, the strong influx of visitors showed negative effects in some regions. The results of excessive exploitation in the protected zones are often a loss of diversity and, in the immediate surroundings, also deforestation and an impairment of the landscape due to unregulated construction activities of the tourism industry. The legally defined coastal protection width of 50 meters for publicly owned and not-to-be-developed property is not excluded therefrom. The massive influx of visitors has resulted in a loss of appeal due to noise, environmental contamination, and excessive costs.

Certified Ecotourism – An Alternative                                                                     Costa Rica is trying to counter the negative effects of the boom in tourism through the establishment of an independent certification system, such as that of the ICT, for enterprises in the tourism sector. The program CST (Certification for Sustainable Tourism), headquartered in the capital of San José, represents an initiative to categorize and certify Costa Rican companies in the tourism sector. A national accreditation board supervises the awarding of the certificates to the companies, which are classified in 5 categories based on a sustainability concept. In principal, four aspects are being judged: effects on nature and environment, infrastructure and services of the enterprises, awareness training, and socio-economic interaction with the affected municipality and the employees.

How To Select?
Nowadays, Costa Rica offers a variety of tourist attractions in the ecotourism sector. The tourist guide „The New Key to Costa Rica“, which is released each year and is being promoted under the Development Program of the United Nations (UNDP), offers a summary of the locally existing tourism offerings in the sectors of nature-tourism and so-called eco-lodges. Nevertheless, it is advisable to study this guide critically: not everywhere, where it says “eco” you will encounter “eco”. Also, although Costa Rica is being marketed worldwide as a target destination for ecotourism, the investment strategy of the country has, however, benefited large foreign projects in the area of mass tourism. Despite its good reputation, ecotourism in Costa Rica has only been partially successful in generating adequate (financial) resources for the benefit of the national nature conservation policy as well as to allow municipalities to make a fair profit from tourism.

TROPICA VERDE’s Commitment:
Sustainable Project Tourism in Costa Rica – Supported by TROPICA VERDE

WIDECAST: Ecotourism and Protection of Marine Turtles

The Costa Rican marine turtle conservation association WIDECAST – Costa Rica (former ANAI) advocates the preservation of marine turtles in Costa Rica. In 1986, ANAI started a project for the protection of the marine turtles on the beaches of the wildlife sanctuary Gandoca-Manzanillo in the region of Talamanca, where the turtles come to deposit their eggs each year. Since 1996, this project has been receiving financial support and advice by TROPICA VERDE.
The involvement of the local population in the project is an essential element of this program for the protection of marine turtles and contributes to the sustainable development of the region. The population of Gandoca offers shelter and board to more than 500 volunteers from around the world annually. In the future, the ecotouristic master plan is to be developed further. In the meantime, the services offered in the small town of Gandoca play a large role and are a real economic alternative to the sale of poached turtle eggs. The project is a big success, since previous poachers have become active conservationists.

ASACODE: Forest Protection and Ecotourism

The organization ASACODE was founded in 1987 by farmers from the small village of San Miguel in Talamanca. The objective of this cooperative of small-scale farmers was to protect the rain forests and to establish an alternative way of living by utilizing them in a sustainable ecotouristic manner.

Through ecotourism, ASACODE tries to make use of the forests, which have been purchased and protected by the organization, in a sustainable manner. On a collective property, the organization operates the hostel CASACODE. The primary forest surrounding the hostel constitutes a private sanctuary and is one of the main attractions of CASACODE. Up to 18 people - mostly groups, student courses, school classes - can spend the night in the simple house, constructed of wood. The meals consist of typical regional fare which is prepared by members of the cooperative with fresh ingredients directly in CASACODE.

The members of ASACODE earn about 30% of their proceeds from ecotourism (a further 30% through cattle breeding and about 40 % from agricultural products). The intention is to increase the percentage of income from ecotourism in the future. ASACODE is already working on the expansion of tourism services, such as devising specific staged tours through the forest and putting major emphasis on the training of additional tourist guides through further education in English to allow for better communication with tourists.

Monte Alto: Reforestation and Ecotourism

The Fundación Monte Alto has built an attractive eco-hostel in the middle of the forest reserve Monte Alto. Here, several kilometers away from the next village Hojancha, one can spend the night in the middle of nature. The hostel offers lodging for groups in the upper open sleeping area and features four additional double rooms and, to date, one bungalow. One-third of all proceeds of the nature conservation foundation come from the hostel. This form of ecotourism contributes decisively to the financing of the nature conservation activities – the forest protection and its regeneration. Guests come from Costa Rica as well as from Germany and other countries.
Apart from several hiking trails, for example, an orchid trail, an environmental information pavilion informs visitors about the biological diversity and nature conservation activities. The trails and pavilion form a main attraction of the forest reserve. 

What you can do?

A couple of suggestions for your personal travel preparation:

While planning your travels:
• Consider your travel time: Do distance and length of time of the routing compare favorably with the duration of the holiday?
• Inform yourself about the local situation: Who profits from your travel expenses? How clean is the environment?
• Choose environmentally friendly travel agencies and means of transport!

At the location:
• Adapt to the country-specific conditions regarding comfort and meals!
• Choose resident guides who are familiar with the land!
• Choose fresh food from regional agricultural production!
• Avoid all products from endangered species!

Before returning home:
• No endangered species in the luggage!
• No living souvenirs in the luggage!

Useful Links:
Web site of the German Department of Foreign Affairs with updated country information, travel warnings and medical advice
Yearly appearing tourist guide, offering a review of local tourist attractions
Asociación Costarricense de Turismo Rural Comunitario and
Marine Turtle Conservation Project of WIDECAST-Costa Rica