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Costa Rica is a true sanctuary where flora and fauna thrive. Indeed, the country is home to 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Saving this land for future generations is of the utmost importance to its people, which is why Costa Rica is an international leader in conservation, sustainable development and ecotourism.
The inhabitants adopt this way of life and lead by example. Energy from renewable resources, like hydropower, solar, geothermal and others, already generates more than 90% of the country’s electricity. The government has set itself the ambitious goal of achieving zero net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
As you can imagine, the country’s green tourism efforts go far beyond the usual encouragement to avoid plastics, reuse towels and linens, and minimize energy use. Accommodation, tours and other activities focus on sustainability, sourcing local products and providing services that support the immediate community. Many of these companies have been credited with a Sustainable Tourism Certification (CST), which is recognition given by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) for environmentally friendly practices.
While on vacation in Costa Rica, you’ll experience the best of nature, delicious food, and unparalleled guilt-free activities. These are the best eco experiences to add to your itinerary.
Zip line to support reforestation
Zipper liner is an exhilarating and thrilling activity that will have you soaring above the forest canopy. So many wildlife and birds live high in the trees, so this is a great opportunity to get up close without disturbing the flora and fauna. The infrastructure to support the ziplines also does not require deforestation or other habitat destruction.
The World Bank hailed Costa Rica as “the only tropical country in the world to have reversed deforestation”. This incredible achievement serves as a model for other countries whose ecosystems are suffering from deforestation.
Another positive aspect of activities like ziplining is that they create economic opportunities for remote areas. Locals who may only have had access to agricultural jobs also have the potential to earn a living in the tourism industry.
Visit of the cocoa and coffee plantations
Taking a plantation tour is a great way to learn about traditional cultures and their indigenous ancestors, as well as appreciate the route that locally grown food takes from farm to fork. Cocoa and coffee beans are two of the country’s most important crops and are considered among the best in the world. Guided tours of the plantations take visitors through the history of these crops and offer insight into the cultivation, harvesting and processing of cocoa and coffee. There is no better way to end these tours than by tasting locally made chocolate and coffee!
Volunteer in an organic farm
Farms across the country welcome visitors who want to spend time volunteering while in Costa Rica. In return for your hard work, you’ll learn about things like organic farming practices, medicinal gardens, and new ways to cook with local ingredients.
There are also many eco-lodges that are self-contained and maintain their own small production farms, which helps shape the menus of the on-site restaurants. Guests are often able to volunteer and help with daily activities, such as harvesting and caring for farm animals. These optional opportunities are perfect for those who wish to lend an occasional helping hand during their stay.
Treat yourself to spa treatments with local products
When you’re ready to relax, soothing wellness treatments await. Choose from facials, scrubs, massages, body wraps, and geothermal hot spring baths. Select a spa that uses products derived from Costa Rica’s natural resources, such as volcanic ash, coffee grounds, and cocoa mass.
One of the most popular options is a volcanic mud bath. The treatment begins in a steamy sauna to open your pores. Then you will apply mineral rich mud all over your body to flush out toxins. After drying and hardening, a dip in a cool natural spring will wash the mud off your body and cleanse your skin.
Go on a whale watching excursion
Humpback whales are seasonal residents in the warm waters off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The best times of year to spot whales and dolphins are from mid-December to mid-April and from July to September.
When looking for a tour operator, choose one that has a Sustainable Tourism Certification (CST) and is a national company that employs Costa Ricans. This helps keep the money you spend in the local economy. This is not always the case with large international companies which employ foreign staff.
Another distinction is whether the tour operator supports the protection and conservation of marine life. This can be done through donations, research, community service projects, or working with a local national park, among other methods.
Stay in an ecolodge
Accommodation can also receive the CST. Autonomous ecolodges work hard to be one with nature. They adopt actions such as recycling, the use of renewable energy sources, organic farming on site, composting of natural waste, local hiring and the use of biodegradable products and recycled materials.
Make no mistake: ecolodges are not rudimentary accommodation. They come in all varieties, from bungalows to luxury villas, and offer an array of amenities, like hammocks, infinity pools, yoga classes, and outdoor garden showers. No matter where you want to stay, in the rainforest, on the cliff side or on the beach, you can find an ecolodge to suit your budget.
Costa Rica’s National Forestry Fund (FONAFIFO) has launched a program that helps tourists calculate and offset their greenhouse gas emissions through donations. The contributions directly support national conservation and protection efforts led by FONAFIFO.
To participate, travelers visit the online calculator to estimate emissions from air travel, ground transportation, air conditioning use and energy consumption. The tool calculates the CO2-e, or carbon dioxide equivalents, and produces a payout amount that would offset your carbon footprint.
Make the Pura Vida commitment
One of the best ways to make sure you’re making responsible choices when exploring Costa Rica is with the Pura Vida Pledge. Through the five pillars of engagement, visitors are encouraged to put sustainable and responsible actions at the forefront of their travels. Pick one of these pillars and get involved while you enjoy your Costa Rica vacation:
- Select accommodations, restaurants and tour operators with Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). There are over 400 companies across Costa Rica that are CST certified.
- Offset your carbon footprint by donating to FONAFIFO. Use the online calculator we mentioned it above to estimate the potential greenhouse gas emissions you will contribute during your vacation. Then make a contribution to FONAFIFO which will be invested in national environmental projects.
- Volunteer for a few hours during your vacation, whether it’s teaching English or supporting a conservation program. Volunteering 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, refraining from littering and taking other actions that positively impact the natural world.
- Support organizations that have adopted standardized health and hygiene protocols. The World Travel and Tourism Council has recognized Costa Rica’s efforts in quality assurance with the Safe Travels seal, the world’s leading indicator of safety and health. Dozens of companies across the country have also received the Safe Travels seal. Make a commitment to support these companies during your travels.
Find out more on the Pura Vida Pledge and UK tour operators supporting the initiative.