Costa Rica is often referred to as the green jewel of Central America, not only for its misty cloud forests and jungle-fringed coastline, but for its exceptional eco credentials too. As we become increasingly aware of our environmental responsibility and the need to reduce our carbon footprint, Costa Rica has emerged as a leading light in the move towards more sustainable tourism.
One of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, Costa Rica is simply teeming with awe-inspiring scenery and natural wonders, not to mention an abundance of exotic species. This tiny coffee-growing republic is the ultimate adventure playground and offers a dizzying array of things to see and do. Zip-line through Monteverde Cloud Forest, raft the white water rapids of Pacuare River, see sloths swinging between branches in Manuel Antonio National Park, and relax on the stunning beaches of both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Famed for its relaxed and happy approach to life (encompassed by the pura vida national motto), as well as its unfaltering commitment to sustainability and ecotourism, Costa Rica rarely puts a foot wrong.
With its unique biodiversity being a major draw for visitors to Costa Rica, the country recognises that protecting this rare natural paradise is paramount to the future of its tourism industry, so the focus is on promoting tourism which is sustainable in the long run. While people are encouraged to come and experience this unique land where nature abounds, they must do so not at the expense of the weird and wonderful species that call Costa Rica home. Strict government guidelines are in place so that hotels do not impose on the surrounding landscape, and the result is a number of beautiful boutique hotels that fit in seamlessly with the natural environment. Guests can stay in luxury lodges deep within the jungle, where individual suites are nestled between trees and connected by wooden walkways suspended in the forest. In Costa Rica, you cannot help but immerse yourself in nature – more often than not you will wake up to the sound of birdsong and be able to watch monkeys leaping between trees from the comfort of your deck.
Costa Rica is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world when it comes to sustainability, and one of the greatest things about its approach to ecotourism is that it’s such a collective effort that everyone has got behind. In 2000, the Costa Rican Tourism Board introduced a sustainability ranking system for hotels known as the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), whereby instead of a star rating, hotels are given a ‘leaf rating’ based on how environmentally friendly they are. This is seen as the ultimate accreditation in Costa Rica, with hotels striving to gain the five-leaf seal of approval. This encourages hotels to take a competitive approach to sustainability and allows guests to choose hotels that they know are taking responsibility for the environment.
It’s utterly refreshing to visit a place where you know you will leave behind only your footprints in the sand and not a large environmental burden. So go on, indulge in all of Costa Rica’s natural delights and discover its incredibly varied flora and fauna for yourself.
5 ways in which Costa Rica is a beacon of sustainable tourism:
1. Renewable energy
Costa Rica is at the forefront of renewable energy production worldwide. In 2017, 99.62% of all the country’s energy was produced from renewable energy sources, and Costa Rica operated for 300 consecutive days without having to tap into any non-renewable sources. Many of Costa Rica’s hotels operate entirely on renewable energy sources, generating their own energy through solar panels and micro-hydroelectric plants, as well as reducing their energy consumption and using energy-efficient appliances.
2. Protected land
Despite accounting for just 0.03% of the earth’s surface, Costa Rica is believed to be home to 5% of all the species on the planet. With such a rich biodiversity, Costa Rica’s extensive forests are the country’s most valuable asset, and conserving this natural bounty is a priority. An impressive 25% of the country’s land is protected by national parks and reserves, and this figure continues to grow. A number of the country’s eco lodges have contributed to this effort by purchasing areas of their surrounding land for the sole purpose of conservation and to offset their carbon footprint.
3. Reducing plastic use
In 2017, Costa Rica announced its intention to become the first country in the world to completely ban all single-use plastic, with an aim to have eradicated its use entirely by 2021. What’s more, the government have made it clear that they intend to have measures in place that will protect the people affected by this ban socially and economically as well. Costa Rica is already a leading force in the plastic revolution, with many of our favourite properties having implemented a no-plastic policy, providing guests with reusable aluminium bottles and operating their own water-filtration systems.
4. Organic food
In Costa Rica there is a big focus on organic produce and farm-to-table cuisine. Most of the properties we work with grow some or all of their own fruits, vegetables and herbs, and some rear their own animals too on small organic farms. When buying ingredients, most buy exclusively from local suppliers (such as farmers and fishermen) in order to support the local economy and offer guests an authentic culinary experience. Many also have on-site composts so that they can responsibly dispose of food waste while also enriching the soil for the growth of future produce.
5. Community support
In order to operate an environmentally sustainable property, it is also incredibly important to support the local community. Costa Rica’s tourism industry provides a huge number of jobs for local people, with many properties employing their staff solely from the immediate neighbouring community. Many also operate community focussed projects, such as supporting local schools in order to improve education levels in future generations and help create a brighter future. Often guests have the opportunity to get involved in local initiatives, by visiting projects or donating funds and supplies.