Ecotourism in Costa Rica
Costa Rica's tourism sector increased since the mid-1980s. The government started to promote tourism to become more independent of the export of agricultural products. Therefore, ecotourism was introduced as a special form of tourism, which is nature based and primarily aims at protected areas. (Anton, Schliep, Horn 109). Nowadays more than one million tourists travel to Costa Rica every year. Especially the country's diverse nature attracts many visitors. Therefore it is not surprising that ecotourism has become the country's leading concept in its development strategy (Koens, Dieperink, Miranda 1225-1226). The history of ecotourism in Costa Rica started when the Cabo Blanco National Reserve was established in 1963, followed by the creation of National Parks seven years later. Nowadays 70 entities are included which protect over 3,221,000 acres (1,303,492 ha). This means that almost one-third of the country is reserves and national parks which are supported by environmental and nonprofit organizations.
Today over 30 percent of the country is marked for conservation and with its plant and animal species it reaches the highest density of protected areas in the world ("Ecotourism in Costa Rica").
The practice of ecotourism has had a big influence on the development of Costa Rica. It is considered one of the country's mayor income sources (Lopez, Oña 21).
Its total contribution to GDP is forecasted to rise from 6,238.8 US$ mn (12.5%) up to 9,988.0 US$ mn (13.2%) in 2025 (Scowsill 11). The Costa Rican government has done a noteworthy amount of work in successfully fueling the ecotourism industry by creating a series of governmental agencies for ecotourism management: the Costa Rican Institute for Tourism (ICT), the environmental ministry (MINAE), the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), the Environmental Tribute and the National Environmental Technical Secretary (López, Oña 23).
A variety of different protected areas were created: reserves of the indigenous population, forestry reserves, national parks, and private reservations to protect the natural treasures of the country (Anton, Schliep, Horn 108).
Another important element of ecotourism are the ecolodges. Two characteristics are their sustainability and their isolation - far from towns with direct access to the nature. Costa Rica's ecolodges were on of the first and are dispersed across the country: along the Caribbean Coast, in the Osa Peninsula, at the Tenorio volcano, and the shores of Mal País ("Ecotourism in Costa Rica").
Furthermore, the Costa Rican government has created new opportunities for the training of professional personal in the tourism sector - for example via the career on Ecological Tourism Management at the Costa Rica University for Tourism in San José, which is a pioneer of its kind in Latin America - the capacitation of local residents and the forming of community associations - for example the Association of Talamanca for Ecotourism and Conservation (ATEC) (22) the strengthening of environmental education for personnel and tourists in its National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and the Certification of Sustainable Tourism (CST) (23).
Together with Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panamá and Belize, Costa Rica has launched the promotional campaign 'Descubre Centroamerica' in 2012 whose aim is to stimulate interregional tourism with an inversion of $200.000. Additionally, the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism has launched the campaign "Costa Rica sin ingredientes artificiales" internationally and the campaign 'Vamos a Turistear' to encourage Costa Ricans to travel their own country (Mok 7).
Three of the most important areas of ecotourism
This region is situated on the Pacific Coast and is one of the most visited areas in Costa Rica. In the 1960s tourism began after Quepos - a city in that region - had been connected with a road to the capital of Costa Rica, San José. In 1972, a recreational park was created and later reclassified as a National Park (Manuel Antonio National Park; MANP). In 1979.+, 30,000 tourists visited this area. Since then, the number has increased rapidly during the last years. (Koens, Dieperink, Miranda 1227-1228). To learn more about Manual Antonio click here.
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
In the northwestern part of Costa Rica one can find the Monteverde region. Commercial tourism began in the 1980s, partly because of a BBC documentary which had been broadcasted in 1978. Due to its location - on the Tilaran Mountain range - its altitude lies between 600 and 1,842m. A big part of the region is overgrown with the Tropical Montane Cloud Forest. In 1972 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established to preserve and research nature. Due to the creation of three protected areas, "the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve (MCFP, founded in 1972), Bosque Eterno de los Niños (BEN, founded in 1986) and the Santa Elena Reserve (SER, founded in 1992)“ (Koens, Dieperink, Miranda 1228), this region became a green tourist location. Today, Monteverde is owned by the Tropical Science Center (TSC) in San José which supports the “management of protected areas, education, and consulting services” (“Tropical Science Center”). Since then the National Park has been a main tourist attraction, “Tourist numbers grew from 450 in 1975 to 8,000 in 1985, to more than 50,000 in the late 1990’s” (Buchsbaum 19). To learn more about Monteverde Cloud Reserve click here.
This region is located on the Carribean Coast in the province of Limón. Tortuguero is only accessible by boat. Due to a rich variety of plants, the region's biodiversity is high. Hence, mostly nature lovers come to this area. In 1975 the Tortuguero National Park (TNP) was found in order to protect sea turtles. Tourism began in the 1980s and since 1996 the number of tourists has grown immensely, from 9,000 to 80,000 (Koens, Dieperink, Miranda 1228-1229). To learn more about Tortuguero National Park click here.
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid