What is Ecotourism?
Simply put, ecotourism is any tourism activity that helps preserve and protect the environment. This tourism industry emphasizes conservation and appreciation for diverse ecological systems, wildlife, and natural environments. Tourists interested in ecotourism can choose from a wide variety of sustainable accommodations, tours, activities, and transportation options in Costa Rica.
History & Economy
Between 1970 and 2000, Costa Rica became a leader in the world’s ecotourism industry. Starting in the mid 20th century, the Costa Rican government made a decision to protect vulnerable natural environments, as well as the country’s rare flora and fauna. Today, over 25% of Costa Rica is composed of protected land. This includes 28 National Parks, 70 additional entities, and over 3,000,000 acres. Thanks to one of the highest ratios of conserved land in the world, Costa Rica has been able to develop a strong ecotourism industry. There are an average of 3.1 million tourists to Costa Rica per year, generating 3 billion in tourism revenue. According to national research, the majority of the visitors come to Costa Rica to participate in ecotourism.
Where To Go
The national park system in Costa Rica is truly remarkable. Encompassing 25% of Costa Rica’s total land mass, the country’s national park system is one of the best in the world. Tourists have the option of visiting 28 different parks, which span from the Pacific to Caribbean Coasts. Each park offers a different experience for guests- from hiking active volcanos to swimming among coral reefs, and everything in between.
Costa Rica’s diverse wildlife is one of the country’s biggest attractions. Unfortunately, growing deforestation, habitat loss, and population growth has contributed to the displacement of various animals. However, thanks to the immense conservation efforts by the Costa Rican government and residents, rare and endangered animals can find a home in many of the country’s wildlife sanctuaries. For tourists interested in visiting a wildlife sanctuary, The Sloth Institute in Manuel Antonio National Park, The Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Centre in Limon, and The Jaguar Rescue Centre in Punta Uva are some of the country’s best options. A great way to help Costa Rica’s continue its conservation efforts is to support local wildlife sanctuaries in the country and donate to non-profit organizations that support environmental protection.
Located between North America and South America, Costa Rica’s unique geographic location and varied terrain creates a wide range of natural environments that are perfect for ecotourism. From alpine tundra to tropical rainforests, tourists have the opportunity to observe diverse ecosystems and incredible wildlife throughout the country. Biologists estimate that Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 species of animals (including birds and insects), which accounts for nearly 4% of the earth’s biodiversity. Hike, swim, and zipline throughout Costa Rica’s natural environments to experience the best of ecotourism.
Where To Stay
For many travelers, eco-lodges are the most well-known form of sustainable accommodation. Generally located in remote or rural areas, eco-lodges are environmentally friendly hotels that utilize the natural surroundings and landscapes as a central attraction. Due to their remote location, eco-lodges often include their own restaurant, transportation, and activities (such as birdwatching or ziplining). Eco-lodges also vary significantly in quality and price, from rustic cabins to luxury palapas. Recently, there has even been a growing trend of treehouses and self-contained observation pods that double as accommodation. Eco-lodges are widely available throughout Costa Rica and are some of the country’s best hotels.
For the budget traveller, eco-friendly hostels are a great option for those interested in sustainability. A hostel is considered eco-friendly if it is designed using renewable and locally sourced materials, prioritizes sustainable energy, and reduces waste and plastics. Eco-hostels have recently started to pop up throughout Costa Rica, as more business owners choose to adopt environmentally friendly policies. Staying at an eco-hostel is also a great way to meet like-minded and passionate travelers that share an interest in environmental stewardship.
Camping & Glamping
Thanks to Costa Rica’s extensive national park systems, visitors are able to stay in well maintained and protected natural environments. Sleep in one of the country’s many national parks and get a closer look at Costa Rica’s exotic flora and fauna. For those travelers that prefer a more comfortable environment, glamping (glamorous camping) often includes tents with electricity, en-suite washroom facilities, and plush bedding. Whether you decide to camp or glamp, make sure to follow the principal rule “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Travelers should aim to leave the environment as they found it, with no trace of garbage or environmental degradation.
There are a wide variety of ecotourism activities available in Costa Rica. In order to help protect the natural environment, tourists should choose tourism companies and guides that adhere to the standards and practices of ecotourism. If engaging in an ecotourism activity independently, tourists should try to be conscientious of their impact on local ecosystems. This can be accomplished by staying on marked trails, not touching or engaging with wildlife, and reducing waste in ecologically sensitive areas.
Animal Observation & Bird Watching
Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world; home to over 850 species of birds, 250 species of animals, and 400 species of reptiles and amphibians. Head to one of Costa Rica’s national parks to get a chance of viewing some of the country’s most famous wildlife. On Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, whale watching is a popular activity in Marino Ballena National Park. For birders, head to Monteverde Cloud Forest, Carara National Park, or Manuel Antonio National Park for some of the best birdwatching in the world. Turtle viewing is another common ecotourism that can be done in the Province of Guanacaste or Tortuguero National Park.
Scuba diving and snorkeling
Thanks to Costa Rica’s remarkable national parks system, 28% of the country consists of protected land and water. Costa Rica’s marine parks are fantastic places to visit for tourists interested in snorkeling and scuba diving. The Cano Islands and Marino Ballena National Park are some of the best scuba diving locations in the country.
One of Costa Rica’s most famous activities, Ziplining is a popular choice for tourists visiting the country’s national parks. Ziplines allow visitors to view tree top canopies, along with unique flora and fauna that can not be seen from the ground. In many instances, ziplines are also accompanied by aerial bridges, cable cars, and even swings. The three most popular ziplining destinations in Costa Rica include Arenal Volcano National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Manuel Antonio National Park.
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