Costa Rica Ecotourism (detailed)

What is Costa Rica Ecotourism?

The massive efforts of environmental groups to make the average person aware of the importance of the world’s ecosystems, and to try to preserve these flourishing, natural areas for later generations as well as the general wellbeing of life on Earth, has paid off handsomely. Ecotourism is now the foremost type of tourism in the world today. There are now more ecotourists than any other kind of tourist, and the money of these people often helps to preserve natural wonders and valuable environments that would otherwise have long ago fallen to the scythe of industrial expansion.

Costa Rica’s ecotourism is something of a showcase for the whole concept. This is both because this tiny Central American nation features one of the world’s richest ecosystems and because of the highly skilled manner in which tourism money has been channeled both to develop the local economy and to conserve the amazingly diverse flora and fauna as well.

Ecotourism is centered around traveling to see natural areas and the plants and animals found there. There has always been some element of this in tourism – for example, white tropical beaches under palm fronds waving in the warm trade winds have been part of travel brochures for decades. However, the ecotourist doesn’t limit themselves to traditional entertainments like sunbathing, but also seeks out rare birds and animals, plant life, or just tries to get a view of the environment as a whole.

Conservation is a major theme of ecotourism, and this means that responsible behavior is part of the package, too. When you are playing the part of an ecotourist, you should avoid environmentally damaging actions – everything from littering to alarming animals to causing undue damage to plant life by floundering around off officially marked trails. Costa Rica ecotourism stands out by encouraging clean, sustainable methods of enjoying the environment, though of course you can find a few unfortunate exceptions as well.

In short, Costa Rica ecotourism is some of the best that you can find in the world today. The plant and animal life of the region is spectacular both in its abundance and the colorful, intriguing nature of the individual species. There are many different hotels, resorts, and lodges offering you a smorgasbord of natural delights, from climbing tree clad volcanoes to kayaking through the coastal mangrove forests along the Pacific. And the money that you spend on a memorable trip to this emerald neotropical paradise will help to sustain it for the foreseeable future, too.

How Has Ecotourism Transformed Costa Rica?

Costa Rica ecotourism has had a dramatically transformational effect on the country as a whole, not only improving living conditions for its people but also scaling back ecologically damaging activities far below the levels they once occupied. Costa Rica boasts what may be the first “green economy” on Earth – a economic system which is sustained mostly by environmentally sound activities and where expansion of ecological preservation actually helps to enrich the population rather than simply soaking up tax dollars (however necessary such expenditures might be).

Costa Rica was formerly an economic “colony” of American and European food companies, with coffee, beef, sugar, and bananas being the mainstays of its economic life. The forest was in steady retreat, cut down to make room for new cattle ranches, banana plantations, and stands of sugar cane. The dry tropical forest of the western slopes suffered especially as it was clear-cut to make room for beef cattle, which need extensive grazing that grows best in that region of Costa Rica.

Today, ecotourism is one of Costa Rica’s most important industries. The cattle ranches and banana plantations, though still present, are now in retreat before the march of regrowing trees, and 28% of the country’s land area is now part of one official nature reserve or another. There is even more land area in private reserves, since there is a strong economic incentive for companies to add to the system of parks by creating their own ecological refuges to profit from tourism.

Costa Rica’s population as a whole has benefited from the ecotourist movement, too, so you can view toucans, spider monkeys, and some of the 1,200 species of orchids whose delicate petals grace the Costa Rican jungle with a warm glow of satisfaction in knowing that both the birds and beasts, and the human inhabitants, are all being helped to a brighter future by your presence.

With over a billion dollars a year being spent in this Central American nation, the Costa Ricans enjoy a per capita gross domestic product more than twice that of their neighbors, as well as a lesser crime rate and a generally stable, optimistic society.

Why is Responsible Costa Rica Ecotourism Important?

While it’s great to go to Costa Rica and have fun – throwing in some gourmet meals and exotic entertainment to make your trip more memorable, or going out of your way to see a rare animal just for the sake of seeing it – you will enjoy yourself even more if you can leave the country with the glow of satisfaction that comes from having done your best to be a responsible tourist in this remote, exotic land, and leave it as pristine as before you came.

The most critical reason for being a responsible Costa Rican ecotourist is that it sends a message to the government and private tourist businesses there that they should be responsible and sustainable, too. If you throw caution to the winds and are careless or damaging to the environment, then the whole process of ecotourism will soon be commercialized, losing its original purpose.

Instead of trying to preserve the cloud forest where quetzals – a rare and beautiful bird – live, the tourism industry will bulldoze the trees and put in a garish quetzal theme park while the actual birds suffer. Rather than kayaking peacefully along the mangrove swamp channels, companies will vie in staging motorboat races that will destroy tree roots and frighten away wildlife that needs the area for breeding. Though these are just two speculative examples, something similar could happen easily if the proper type of ecotourism is not fostered.

Ecotourism is an activity that needs careful handling lest it become so commercialized that loses its original thrust and causes more harm than good. By being a responsible ecotourist, you not only do your part to ensure you don’t personally damage the delicate natural treasures of Costa Rica, but also help to keep the tourist industry there on the right track, too – cherishing and protecting nature rather than violating and exploiting it.

What is a Certificate for Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica Ecotourism?

A new program has been enacted in Costa Rica ecotourism that allows businesses to qualify for a Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (or, in Spanish, Certificacion Para la Sostenibilidad Turistica). This government program is a critical step towards preventing abuse of the ecotourist system by companies that actually do nothing for the environment, or harm it, but seek to hide under the umbrella of Costa Rican ecological probity.

The Certificate for Sustainable Tourism is given out to those firms that meet a number of criteria, including the use of recyclable or recycled items and equipment, hiring local labor at competitive rates, minimizing their pollution and environmental impact, and conserving both water and electricity. This Certificate helps to circumvent the problem of “greenwashing”, the situation where companies pose as environmentally friendly to get more business from ecotourists but actually pollute, waste, and fail to support the local economy, instead hiring foreign workers.

When you are basking in the lush environs of Costa Rica, you should always try to find those firms who have a Certificate for Sustainable Tourism to buy products and services from. These are the businesses who are helping to make the ecotourism model a success and will encourage in other countries around the world as well.

What are the Benefits of Costa Rica Ecotourism?

There are many benefits to Costa Rica ecotourism, not least of which are those that it offers to you directly. By engaging in ecotourism, you are helping to protect the environment that we all depend on to survive. You will assist in preserving a pristine, important set of natural treasures that would otherwise fall to the drab advance of coffee plantations and cattle ranching. And, just as important as any of the other reasons, you will get a lot of fun and enjoyment from the varied tropical landscapes, beautiful, exotic flowers, and remarkable fauna to be found in this tropical, volcano-dotted nation.

With half a million species of plants and animals in its teeming jungles, and over a dozen different habitats within its limited land area, Costa Rica is one of the world’s environment jewels. Making ecotourism a success here is a critical step towards encouraging governments and businesses around the world to follow the Costa Rican example – and to people everywhere to take pleasure in the endless beauty and bounty of Nature. Though Costa Rica itself cannot save the environment as a whole, responsible ecotourism is helping to make it the cornerstone on which an edifice of sound yet economically viable environmental protection can be built worldwide.