¡ Pura Vida !
Costa Rica is well known for its ecotourism industry. That is not only because of its beautiful and diverse landscapes that reach from tropical rainforest to breathtaking volcanos but also because of its philosophy of being ecologically friendly which has helped Costa Rica’s environment as well as its local citizens – the Ticos.
Additionally, Costa Rica has received major support “both politically and financially . . . by the IMF [the International Monetary Fund], World Bank, and the United States” (Dasenbrock).
For its sustainable tourism Costa Rica has also received many awards such as the Future Policy award in Japan in 2010 for its “1998 biodiversity law, which was held up as a model for other nations to follow” (Watts), or the “ASTA/Smithsonian Magazine award for rainforest protection” (Buchsbaum 40).
Ecotourism benefited Costa Rica enormously as it became “one of the most important sources of revenue for Costa Rica. The country is considered an ideal introduction to the rainforests for its biodiversity, its excellent and accessible parks system, and its relative safety for tourists” (Butler). As about 46.8% of Costa Rica is covered in rainforest it is also home to 12,000 different types of plants, 1,239 kinds of butterflies, “838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles . . . and 232 species of mammals” (Butler).
The concept of ecotourism has brought various conservation initiatives to protect Costa Rica’s beautiful nature. Due to that “Costa Rica's conservation initiatives have expanded to include 70 protected areas or national parks covering 21% of the nation's territory, as well as the creation of Costa Rica's National Park Service in 1970” (Dasenbrock). The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as described on the page about Ecotourism in Costa Rica, is one example of Costa Rica’s protected National Parks.
Another specie that has suffered from commercial tourism is the Macaw parrot. The Macaw parrot’s main source of food, protection, and habitat are almond trees which were quite common in Costa Rica. However, due to “illegal logging [as well as commercial tourism] . . . the numbers [of almond trees has cut] down severely. This poses a formidable threat to the Green Macaw, which uses the tree for nesting and mating” (Higgins, Malcolm, Gripich 6). Besides different organization that want to protect endangered species in Costa Rica, such as The Ara Project, there are also alternative residences for tourist. Eco-lodges help to preserve the natural habitat not only for the Macaw parrot but also for other species.
Read more about eco-lodges by scrolling down to the next section or click here.
Eco-lodges are an environmental friendly alternative to all-inclusive hotels provided by commercial tourism. Tourists who seek to be more environmentally responsible especially when travelling can “explore the beauty of a destination without damaging its natural resources” (Sam). Eco-lodges or eco-resorts are Costa Rica’s “frontrunners for responsible sustainable practices such as local reforestation programs, recycling programs, energy conservation, water conservation, land conservation, toxic reduction and local community development efforts” (Sam). From the very beginning eco-lodges try to be as eco-friendly as possible even when building these accommodations, “Most resorts construct their lodges in the form of elevated wooden structures that are created out of naturally felled trees, so that that the local environment is not damaged for accommodating tourists” (Sam).
For local Costa Ricans – also called Ticos – it was not easy to live with commercial tourism. Big all-inclusive hotels would not employ them due to the lack of certain skills or educational flaws (Eriksson & Lidström 22). With the increase in commercial tourism Costa Rica and its “[p]rivate transportation, imported food, non-local guides, swimming pools, and entertainment”, the decrease of local culture followed ("Our History"). But also other social concerns such as “prostitution and drug abuse” appeared with commercial tourism.
Yet, ecotourism has not only benefited flora and fauna of Costa Rica but also the indigenous people. In 2014 the Costa Rica Institute of Technology – TEC – started an initiative “to provide indigenous people with new sources of income” (Arias, "Indigenous Tour").
Animals have suffered immensely from commercial tourism. To make room for all-inclusive hotels with swimming pools and tennis courts, trees had to be cut down and the natural habitat of all kinds of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals became a location for sunbathing and parties.
The Leatherback and Green turtle is one example of endangered species in Costa Rica. In the past, as well as present, these turtles had been hunted by “swarms of poachers [who] came to the beach to take the eggs of the Leatherback and Green turtles” during the turtle season ("Our Story"). The turtles have also been hunted for their meat “which was readily available in every restaurant around Limón” and their shell was sold as souvenirs ("Our Story"). The Pacuare Nature Reserve, just like the National Parks in Costa Rica, is an organization and a protected area where turtles can breed and live peacefully and protected. Thanks to ecotourism, guided tours are available to tourists and people can volunteer to preserve nature and not disturbing or hurting it.
As a result, Costa Rica currently ranks first in the Happy Planet Index (HPI) and 42nd - out of 180 - in the global Environmental Performance Index (Hsu 18). Furthermore, in the past year of 2016 Costa Rica was recognized for its biodiversity protection as one of the first three countries to run almost entirely on renewable energy (“3 Countries”), “[Costa Rica] surpassed 250 days using only renewable power sources. During 2016, 98.12 percent of Costa Rica’s energy was generated from renewable sources” (Arias, “Costa Rica”).
Ecotourism practiced in National Parks does not only help to preserve the plants and different animal species but it also educates the tourist. By experiencing Costa Rica’s magnificent and diverse landscapes and animals first hand “tourists may return home wanting to do more to help protect the environment” (Dasenbrock).
Selva Verde is one example of those eco-lodges whose mission is the “[c]onservation of rainforest and its inhabitants” (“Sustainability”). The website of Selva Verde lists various good practices that they have implemented to reduce the impact of tourism on nature. For instance, solar panels help to heat up water, they are only using recycled paper, and sunlight to dry laundry (“Sustainability”). This way tourists can enjoy their stay abroad and nature’s spirit without damaging it.
Source: Pacuare Lodge from Villatoro - travelexperta.com
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
This project helped the local people of Talamanca to be trained and become tour guides for tourists, and to “obtain their license as tour guides [that are] specialized in ecological and cultural tourism” (Arias, “Indigenous Tours”). Being tour guides allows them to share their knowledge about their country and their culture with tourists instead of selling it to them. In addition, Arias explains that the project should go even further by supporting local people in Talamanca to open other services such as “lodging and restaurants to improve travel experience” (ibid). The main focus of this project is to “promot[e] cultural experience in a natural environment” while helping indigenous people to have a source of income. Besides TEC there are other organizations that support and train indigenous people as well such as the Talamancan Ecotourism and Conservation Association – ATEC. ATEC is an “incorporated grassroots non-profit organization” that makes sure that “80% of what you [the tourist] pay[s] for a tour goes directly to the guides” ("About Us").
Essentially, “one of [the] main goals is to incentivate the creation of new tourism businesses to increase income options” for local residents (Arias, “Indigenous Tour”).
Felipe gives two examples on how good planning in the tourism industry can both generate financial profit AND preserve rare animal species. In 'Tortugero' in the Tortugero National Park, the Green sea turtle population was in a constant decline due to hunting and selling by residents. Once the village opened to academic tourism and housed more biologists, studying the turtles, tourism became more lucrative than the international selling of the turtles. Consequently, the sea turtle population recovered and is now protected by the community. In the Quetzal National Park, the Quetzal bird was endangered by the clearing of forests to make room for adjacent fincas. Due to an initiative by 'Amigos del Quetzal', finca owners get paid 100% of the generated income of tourist tours, if they decide to preserve the trees the Quetzal nests in. Hence, the clearing of the natural habitat of the Quetzal was stemmed.
Costa Rica has achieved the monumental feat of not only slowing tropical deforestation, but also reversing it. It is the first nation in Central America and a leader among tropical nations in doing so.
Costa Rica a country that had 75 % forest cover in 1940 experienced the tremendous rapid loss of forest cover that lasted until 1987, dwindling to a 21%. Since then the forest coverage has climbed to around 51% in 2005 (Boucher et al. 30).
These gains have largely been due to aggressive domestic policies such as the PSA - Payment for Ecological Services - and carbon neutral programs that have linked economic incentives to preservation activities. These trends convey the increased awareness and focused political efforts that have lead to cultural and social changes in Costa Rica in a only a few decades (Boucher et al. 39).
Bandera Azul and CST:
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
"La certificación como tal es muy efectiva
y definitivamente es un avance en el mejoramiento del desarrollo de estrategias de sostenibilidad en la industria turística. Sin embargo a ser un galardón electivo, no se puede generalizar para todo el sector turismo en CR."
(Lopez Garcia 6)
In her quotation, on the right, Ms. Lopez-Garcia states that the certification for sustainable tourism is very effective and an advancement in the development of sustainability strategies in the tourism industry, however the fact that it is an elective certification it does not represent the entire tourism sector in Costa Rica.
The Bandera Azul and CST programs are governmental programs aimed at regulating and assessing sustainable tourism and ecological practices within communities and tourist organizations. These programs award certifications for graduated levels of ecological compliance. The installment and continued adaptation of programs like these demonstrate Costa Rica’s awareness of the need to conserve and regulate the use of natural resources in order to continue utilizing this means of economic productivity in the present and onward. Furthermore, the idea to assign levels of compliance has ingenuously linked certification to marketing benefits. For example, a hotel that has a 4 leaf compliance theoretically gains a marketing edge over one with 3 leaves and can market itself as more eco friendly.
The same can be said for the Bandera Azul program that also grants graduated accreditation of up to fours stars. This has allowed market competition to enhance regulation, motivating businesses and communities not only comply with minimum regulations, but also go beyond them (“Sustainability CST”).
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Felipe gives us an insight into how indigenous populations in Costa Rica have been involved in the tourism sector. He says that their involvement as well as the benefits of tourism on them remain remote because of their seclusion from the rest of Costa Rican society. However, he points out the Costa Rican Technological Institute’s project, performed from 2012 to 2014 in which indigenous residents have been equipped to be tour guides to tourists visiting their areas; this is an effective way to let the indigenous community benefit from the financial profit generated from tourism, which allows them to improve their living-standard. APREFLOFAS has undertaken projects where the knowledge of indigenous people from the tribe of the Boruca was taught by them and led others profit from their culture.
The Ministerio de Educacíon Pública – MEP- which is the governmental department for education as well as the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje – INA – help the local people of Costa Rica by “providing technical training for students and turning them into skilled labor for the nation’s industries” (Stark). These institutions help the local people to receive the education they need because they cannot afford the costs required by universities. Courses that are offered by INA are “as diverse as tourism, boat building and navigation, indigenous languages, agriculture, industrial arts, food handling and bus driving, with English and computation among the most popular classes” (ibid). Where some classes last only a couple of days, others are a two- or three-year program (ibid). Plus, all classes are free and in 2010 more than 42,000 enrolled in courses at the INA (ibid). This initiative is a great way to provide local people with low income with an education.
“[E]l Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP), ha capacitado docentes en su idioma con el fin de preserva el legado patrimonial y gracias al Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA) se les han brindado capacitaciones en estrategias turisticas para mejorar la recepción de los
visitantes . . . ”