Has Costa Rica lost it’s edge in Eco Tourism?

It is not unusual to come across an article when a travel writer points out that Costa Rica has seen its best days and has become a mass tourism destination and lost its edge as an eco-tourism or sustainable tourism destination. We don’t quite agree. Costa Rica continues to be a world leader in sustainable and eco-tourism.  Today more than ever.

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Guided Rainforest Hike with Edwin Villareal at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula

There is no point in denying that there has been a strong influx of all-inclusive and branded resorts in Guanacaste and an increased arrival of tourists looking for a sun and beach vacation through the Liberia Airport.  We have voiced our concerns about this topic in a previous blog and continue to monitor this development carefully.  We are not happy to see developments such as 900 room Spanish-owned all inclusive resorts here in Costa Rica as we feel that it is not the essence of what Costa Rica is about.

Costa Rica, like any other developing country, is battling its brown environmental issues of water treatment, solid waste management and air pollution.  Not an easy task, but progress is being made and the efforts to clean the streets, rivers and air in the more densely populated areas of the country show steady progress.

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Waste water treatment plant at the Harmony Hotel in Nosara

Tourist arrivals to the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose (gateway to central and southern Costa Rica) have actually decreased in the past years, while arrivals to Liberia have been on a sharp rise. Mostly due to charters full of tourists looking for sun and fun. It appears that Costa Rica is developing parallel models of tourism; one of sun and beach tourism and one of eco-tourism. And all of this within the same small country. This is not unusual in tourism destinations and can be observed all over the world in places like Thailand, Spain, Italy and Mexico.

We don’t blame the travel writer that comes to Costa Rica for a repeat visit after having been here in the 1990’s and sees that things have changed.   We have seen those changes as well.  More hotels, vacation homes, restaurants and more visitors.  The same would be true – and maybe even more so than here in Costa Rica – on a return visit 20 years later to Machu Pichu in Peru, Chiang Mai in Thailand or Bali in Indonesia. Several visitors have commented to us that what bothers them most are so many International Franchises in the San Jose area (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Applebee’s, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Century 21, etc.)

But despite this, fact is that you can still have incredible nature experiences in remote and pristine areas of the country.  The Ticos are as friendly and open to visitors as ever, wildlife is abundant ““ maybe even more abundant than 20 years ago due to increased conservation efforts and awareness.  There are few places in the world where you can experience the variety of rain forest, beach and aquatic tours, adventures and activities than in the Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Uvita area of the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

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Adventures and Tours on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast

The Osa Peninsula and the Golfo Dulce in Southern Costa Rica is one of the most special and unique eco systems of the world and one of the best eco-tourism destinations on the planet.  The tiny peninsula is home to 2.5 percent of the world”™s biodiversity.  According to National Geographic, the Corcovado National Park  is one of the world’s most biologically intense places in the world.   The Golfo Dulce is one of the world’s few tropical fjords.

At Cayuga we are optimistic about the future.  Costa Rica just elected a new president and we hope that the focus of economic development (including tourism) will be on quality and not quantity.  During the last two decades, Costa Rica has transformed itself from one of the world’s most rapidly deforesting countries to one of the foremost pioneers in land and forest protection. Today, 52% of the country is forested; 26% of its land and 3% of oceans are in a system of protected areas.

Lapa Rios Eco Resort from the air
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica

In 1997, Costa Rica became the first country to initiate a payment plan for environmental services (PES program) and to adopt the terminology of environmental services. Natural resource accounting was undertaken as early as 1991 in Costa Rica.  In 2007 Costa Rica made the pledge to be carbon neutral by 2021. In 2014, according to the Ministry of the Environment 81 percent of this carbon neutrality goal has been achieved.

All Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges strive to help Costa Rica maintain its leadership role in sustainable and eco-tourism by continuously innovating and improving our sustainable practices and focusing on the things that make us so unique.  Just a few examples below. For more information visit www.cayugacollection.com.

  • Interpretation:   We have the best nature guides that can decipher the different eco systems in the country and add incredible value to a hike through a rain forest.
  • Focus on a local staff:  We hire locals. We train them and give them the opportunity to grow.
  • Local products:  We support the local and organic agriculture in Costa Rica. We buy local grass fed beef, hormone free chicken and responsibly caught seafood.
  • We support the schools in the communities that we operate and invest in the development of a countrywide environmental education system.

Things are far from perfect.  Not in Costa Rica, nor at the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges.  But we have been working towards sustainability for over 20 years now and we have made great progress on the one hand and at the same time realized how much still needs to be done.  We have seen the challenges and the success stories.  We have seen the victories and the setbacks. There is still a long way to go.

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Conde Nast World Saver Award Ceremony in New York City. Cayuga wins its second World Saver Award.

But we also know that we are still leading the pack and are an inspiration for others. And by the way, this is not a competition. We will all win in this. We would love all tourism destinations and hospitality groups in the world to be as sustainable as possible and have invited other hospitality professionals around the world to visit us. At Cayuga, we have been working for over 15 years to make sure that our neighbor to the North, Nicaragua is going down the right track and opened two highly successful ecolodges.

Comments?  Questions?  We would love to hear from you.  Send us a note to [email protected].

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