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Costa Rica is a true sanctuary where fauna and flora thrive. In fact, the country shelters 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Safeguarding this land for future generations is of utmost importance to its residents, which is why Costa Rica is an international leader in conservation, sustainable development and ecotourism.
Locals espouse this way of life and lead by example. Energy from renewable resources—like hydro, solar, geothermal and others—is already generating more than 90% of the country’s electricity. The government has set an ambitious goal of achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
As you might imagine, the country’s green tourism efforts extend well beyond the familiar encouragement to avoid plastics, reuse towels and sheets, and minimise energy use. Accommodations, tours and other activities operate with a focus on sustainability, sourcing local products and offering services that support the immediate community. Many of these companies have been credited with a Certification of Sustainable Tourism (CST), which is a recognition granted by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) for environmentally sustainable practices.
During your holiday in Costa Rica, you’ll experience the best of nature, delicious cuisine and unrivaled activities without the guilt. These are the best eco-friendly experiences to add to your itinerary.
Zip Line to Support Reforestation
Zip lining is an exhilarating, heart-pumping activity that will take you soaring above the forest canopy. So much wildlife and birds live high in the trees, so it’s a great opportunity to get up close without disturbing the flora and fauna. The infrastructure to support zip lines also doesn’t require deforestation or any other habitat destruction.
The World Bank praised Costa Rica as “the only tropical country in the world that has reversed deforestation.” This incredible accomplishment stands as a model to other countries whose ecosystems are suffering from deforestation.
Another positive aspect of activities like zip lining is that they create economic opportunities for remote areas. Locals who may have only had access to agricultural jobs also have the potential to earn a living in the tourism industry.
Tour Cacao and Coffee Plantations
Taking a plantation tour is a great way to learn about traditional crops and their indigenous ancestors, as well as appreciate the path that locally grown foods take from farm to table. Cacao and coffee beans are two of the country’s most important crops and considered among the best in the world. Guided plantation tours take visitors through these crops’ history and provide an up-close look at cacao and coffee cultivation, harvesting and processing. There’s no better way to end these tours than by tasting locally made chocolate and coffee!
Volunteer at an Organic Farm
Farms around the country welcome visitors who want to spend time volunteering during their stay in Costa Rica. In exchange for your hard work, you’ll learn about such things like organic farming practices, medicinal gardens and new ways to cook with local ingredients.
There are also many ecolodges that are self-sustainable and maintain their own small-production farms, which help shape the menus for onsite restaurants. Guests are oftentimes able to volunteer and help with daily activities, like harvesting and tending to farm animals. These optional opportunities are perfect for those who want to lend an occasional hand during their stay.
Luxuriate in Spa Treatments with Local Products
When you’re ready to unwind, soothing wellness treatments await you. Choose from facials, scrubs, massages, body wraps and soaking in geothermal hot springs. Select a spa that uses products derived from Costa Rica’s natural resources, like volcanic ash, coffee grounds and cacao paste.
One of the most popular options is a volcanic mud bath. The treatment begins in a steamy sauna to open your pores. Next, you’ll apply mineral-rich mud all over your body to draw out toxins. After it dries and hardens, a dip in a natural cool spring will wash the mud off your body and cleanse your skin.
Join a Whale-Watching Excursion
Humpback whales are seasonal residents in the warm waters off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The best times of the year to spot both whales and dolphins are from mid-December through mid-April and July through September.
When you search for a tour operator, choose one that holds a Certification of Sustainable Tourism (CST) and is a domestic company that employs Costa Ricans. This keeps the money you spend in the local economy. That’s not always the case with large, international companies that employ foreign staff.
Another distinction is whether the tour operator supports the protection and conservation of marine life. This may be done through donations, research, community service projects or collaboration with a local national park, among other methods.
Stay at an Ecolodge
Accommodations can also receive the CST. Self-sustaining ecolodges work hard to be one with nature. They embrace actions like recycling, using renewable energy sources, onsite organic farming, composting natural waste, hiring locally and using biodegradable products and recycled materials.
Don’t be fooled: Ecolodges aren’t bare-bones accommodations. They come in all varieties from bungalows to luxury villas and offer a range of amenities, like hammocks, infinity pools, yoga classes and outdoor garden showers. No matter where you want to stay—in the rainforest, cliffside or on the beach—you’ll be able to find a suitable ecolodge within your budget.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Costa Rica’s National Fund for Financing Forestry (FONAFIFO) launched a program that helps tourists calculate and offset their greenhouse gas emissions via donations. Contributions directly support domestic conservation and protection efforts led by FONAFIFO.
To participate, travelers visit the online calculator to estimate emissions generated through air travel, land transportation, air conditioning usage and power consumption. The tool calculates CO2-e, or carbon dioxide equivalents, and produces a payment amount that would offset your carbon footprint.
Take the Pura Vida Pledge
One of the best ways to ensure you make responsible choices as you explore Costa Rica is to take the Pura Vida Pledge. Through the pledge’s five pillars, visitors are encouraged to put sustainable and responsible actions at the forefront of their travels. Choose one of these pillars and commit yourself to it while you enjoy your holiday in Costa Rica:
- Select accommodations, restaurants and tour providers that hold a Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). There are more than 400 companies across Costa Rica that are CST certified.
- Offset your carbon footprint with a donation to FONAFIFO. Use the online calculator we mentioned earlier to estimate the potential greenhouse gas emissions you’ll contribute to during your holiday. Then make a contribution to FONAFIFO that will be invested in domestic environmental projects.
- Volunteer for a few hours during your holiday, whether it’s teaching English or supporting a conservation program. Donating your time in rural areas and through organized programs has been shown to have a positive impact on the local community.
- Respect the environment by not disturbing wildlife, abstaining from littering and taking other actions that have a positive impact on the natural world.
- Support organisations that adopted standardised health and hygiene protocols. The World Travel & Tourism Council recognised Costa Rica’s efforts in quality assurance with the Safe Travels stamp—the world’s first global safety and hygiene indicator. Dozens of businesses around the country have been given the Safe Travels stamp as well. Commit to supporting these companies during your travels.
Find out more about the Pura Vida Pledge and UK tour operators supporting the initiative.