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Here's Why Costa Rica Ecotourism Is Such a Big Deal

Costa Rica presents many opportunities for ecotourism that could be beneficial to travelers and locals alike. There are pros and cons to every type of travel, so it’s important to have the information you need before deciding whether to pursue this type of travel in the country.

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Ecotourism Costa Rica – One of the Top Destinations in the World

Ecotourism unites communities, conservation efforts, and sustainable travel practices. The positive impact of ecotourism can be vast. Ecotourists tend to have a more enriching travel experience and locals and private industries can both benefit as the beliefs and traditions of the area remain preserved.

There is a huge push for ecotourism in Costa Rica. Costa Rica ecotourism packages are plentiful, creating opportunities for travelers to experience Costa Rica in its untouched, native state. These packages are usually designed by locals that may partner with bigger companies to provide these adventures.


What Is Ecotourism?

So, what is ecotourism? The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” While ecotourism can look different for every traveler, the one constant is that it benefits the environment and the people who live there.

There are quite a few advantages of ecotourism, like:

  • Job creation
  • Sustainable development in rural areas that protects the environment
  • A better quality of life for local residents
  • Becoming better acquainted with other cultures
  • More understanding of endangered species
  • Better awareness of climate change
  • Minimized impact of environmental tourism

Costa Rica is one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world. A good example of ecotourism in Costa Rica is taking a hike through one of the coffee plantations to learn more about the production of coffee, one of the biggest exports of the country. Additional examples include hiking to see one of the active volcanoes, staying at an eco-friendly hotel, or going to the hot springs to soak.

There are many things to do in Costa Rica that are interesting and part of a journey in ecotourism. By being more aware of how this benefits the country and minimizes your carbon footprint, you can make a deeper connection as you explore the country.


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celeste river waterfall in volcan tenorio guanacaste province costa rica

History of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Ecotourism in Costa Rica has been around for a very long time. In fact, the Global Ecotourism Network’s report on the history of ecotourism in Costa Rica reveals that it started as a basis for three different types of travelers who frequented the country. These were adventure seekers, bird watchers, and individuals who wanted a different experience than sitting in a ritzy hotel.

The National Park System in Costa Rica was created in 1974, converting 25% of the terrain. This created a new reason for people to come to visit. In the 1980’s, Costa Rica became very popular internationally when the country’s president, Oscar Arias Sánchez, brokered a peace deal that later won him the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, travelers became very interested in the country that had so much popularity and, as a result, the Costa Rica ecotourism industry was born.

This is when biologists, hotel owners, the tourism board, and a group of environmentalists created a certification for sustainability in tourism that brought Costa Rica into the limelight. In 1998, the first inspections of this certificate started.

Today, the United Nations World Tourism Organization uses this certification and Costa Rica’s model for sustainable tourism around the world. The answer to “What is ecotourism in Costa Rica?” is the beginning of an era that continuously evolves while providing enriched experiences of living off the land and preserving natural habitats.


11 Costa Rica Ecotourism Facts

The Costa Rica ecotourism economy is alive and well, with many people coming to see the beautiful landscape and find opportunities to travel sustainably. Here are a few quick Costa Rica ecotourism facts:

  • 25% of the land in Costa Rica is devoted to wildlife reserves, protected lands, and national parks.
  • Costa Rica was the first country to ban hunting in 2012.
  • Costa Rica was one of the earliest adopters of responsible travel that connected nature and wildlife conservation.
  • Costa Rica is ranked as one of the world’s best ecotourism destinations.
  • Costa Rica has 8 biological reserves, 11 forest reserves, 58 wildlife refuges, 15 wetland areas, 26 national parks, and 32 protected zones.
  • Visitors can hike through more than one ecosystem in Costa Rica’s national parks in a single day.
  • Costa Rica has 52 different hummingbird species.
  • There are microclimates within the tropical climate.
  • Costa Rica’s original ecolodges were the blueprint for many other ecolodges across the country and in other areas.
  • Costa Rica’s 500,000 animal and plant species make up 4% of the world’s biodiversity in total.


Ecotourism in Costa Rica Benefits

When considering the benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica, you must think about the foundation the country laid in terms of sustainable travel as a whole. There are many direct and indirect ecotourism in Costa Rica benefits to consider:

  • Sustainability – Costa Rica’s sustainability initiatives have paid off both environmentally and economically while allowing the country to maintain a high level of biodiversity.  

  • Finance – Costa Rica brings in billions every year from ecotourism alone. This contributes to about 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the country. As more people visit Costa Rica, the number goes up.

  • Protection of Biodiversity – The nation has over 500,000 species of wild animals, and ecotourism promotes the conservation of plants and animals in the country.

  • Conceptual Proof – Interested in learning about an ecotourism in Costa Rica case study? One such case study is the successful development of eco-lodges. These lodges are often built from discarded wood and utilize solar energy to heat the water. They use biodegradable soaps, recycle all plastic, and purify drinking and cooking water. Costa Rica paved the way for the development of eco-lodges in other parts of the world.

  • Educational Experiences – This is a great place to learn about living in different cultures and how they operate. You’ll also be able to learn about traditions and ecosystems that are unique to the country.

Some examples of ecotourism in Costa Ricainclude sleeping at one of the nation’s eco-lodges. These are beautiful places to stay that aren’t a standard hotel. In some of them (like the rainforest destinations), there is no electricity or Wi-Fi. There are also some with luxury amenities.

Another example would be exploring local support systems like the local farms. This is a good way to see where the food comes from when eating at local restaurants completely supported by local grocers. Whale watching is another great example, as well as going to visit the volcanoes.


toucan sitting on branch in Costa Rica

Top Ecotourism Organizations in Costa Rica

There are quite a few ecotourism organizations in Costa Rica, including:

  • Canaeco – This is a private nonprofit organization. It is the first national chamber in Costa Rica and Central America aimed at stimulating the country’s tourist activities.

  • Green Global Travel – This organization was started as a quest to capture the healing power of nature. It turned into helping others learn how to travel sustainably and take care of the Earth for the future.

  • Costa Rica Expeditions – This company has been around since 1978 curating tailor-made itineraries for sustainable travelers.

  • Greenway Nature Tours – This organization sponsors over 40 different experiences in the country and has been around for over 20 years. It even offers a 14-day immersive safari and private volcano tours.

  • Intrepid Travel – This organization has been around for many years and has options for solo and group travel. Its packages include wildlife and premium packages as well as explorer packages that offer family holidays or “best of Costa Rica” trips. There is also a package that includes rafting, surfing, and kayaking for adventurers looking to live on the active side of life.

Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance or travel medical insurance for your ecotourism trip to Costa Rica!

What Are the Pros and Cons of Ecotourism in Costa Rica?

While tourism is good for the economy, an abundance of visitors means there are bound to be some negative impacts of ecotourism in Costa Rica. Some problems of ecotourism in Costa Rica include littering, noise pollution, the disturbance of plant and animal life, and other effects like companies who want to come in and challenge or upset natural resources to cash in.

The negative effects of ecotourism in Costa Rica also include increased inflation and issues with the social structures in the community. As more people visit and other businesses want to develop in the country, it upsets the balance of things. Increases in tourism also mean higher costs of living for the locals, which has adverse effects.

There are many ecotourism in Costa Rica case study materials that support these adverse effects on the ecology, species, and natural resources of the country. While things have been preserved for many years, a shift of power could be detrimental to the country and the locals who depend on tourism as a way to sustain.


Read our blog titled “Pros and Cons of Ecotourism” for a big picture take on the impacts of ecotourism in different communities.

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