For travelers on a budget and those seeking luxury leisure alike, potential visitors to Costa Rica all wonder: is traveling to this tiny nation really worth the hype and the few extra dollars it costs in comparison to neighboring destinations?
As our planet gets warmer, we are finding that we need to create more ways to support our world’s delicate ecosystems. Rainforest ecosystems are home to 500,000 species and Costa Rica is working hard to protect every one of these, all the while still inviting tourism to share in the natural wonders left on our planet.
Essentially, a visit to Costa Rica should be on the bucket list of every eco-minded traveler.
Costa Ricans have a rich history of ties to the land and have a great connection with nature as a result. This is not just government propaganda: Costa Ricans really feel as though cultivating the land is important.
This month (May), Costa Rica has been featured on British peak time (prime time) television in a three-episode special on Channel 4’s Escape to Costa Rica. The program showcases Costa Rica as a nation that wants to eat it’s slice of cake, cultivating both big business and wildlife at the same time.
Banking on the protection of its most vulnerable residents
Costa Rica is banking on their wildlife being worth the extra money of traveler costs, which average to be slightly more than most comparable nations in the region. The philosophy behind the higher price tag on things like entrance fees to the national parks and reserves is to keep the number of visitors low by raising the prices to minimize the harsh traveler’s footprint on this environmentally flourishing nation and to pay for the repair of damages that come with repeat use.
Host of the program, Gaia Vince, says of her visit, “they really respect their natural environment. There isn’t a lot of pollution or rubbish strewn everywhere. Compared to almost every other developing country I’ve been around the world, it’s extraordinary.”
Historically one of the most deforested nations in the region, in the last 50 years Costa Rica’s government has replanted rainforests and brought wildlife back from extinction, all while growing its economy. The result of these actions has surprisingly been an increase in overall tourism, largely for reasons like Costa Rica being the only tropical country to reverse deforestation. The consensus appears to be that this is a place that is worth spending more to see since the caliber of experience will be ecologically top-notch.
But how did so many Costa Ricans become so connected with the natural world?
In an interview on Escape to Costa Rica with President Luis Guillermo Solís, he says that it was the 1948 decision to permanently abolish the army that changed the perspective of the nation. Mothers were suddenly assured that their children will never be soldiers and it was this shift in philosophy, coupled with increased funds going towards social justice, democracy, public education, healthcare and the environment, that created a wholesome notion of what kind of country Costa Rica can be for years to come.
A matter of national pride
Costa Ricans are serious about treasuring their natural wonders and showing the world something distinguishing in their nation. This type of collective ethic is not easy, not cheap and requires tremendous financial and political effort.
As one example, 26% of the country is protected in national parks and reserves. This is sustainability in action, but as President Solis states in the show, it requires a lot of wisdom and it’s not always easy to get the balance right. However, this is a nation that has made saving the planet a matter of national pride.
In 2016, 3 million tourists visited Costa Rica, a nation of only 4 million people. There are very few places in the world left like Costa Rica, and the locals just seem to get it that they don’t need to sell out their environment to keep growing in the number one sector of the economy. And it’s no surprise that in a tropical nation, tourism is the big money maker.
The need for something different
In a 2016 study by Expedia on vacation deprivation, Americans reportedly fail to use over 500 million vacation days each year. There is a fear of detachment from the business of life in developed nations and people are finding it hard to let go of work and social media while they are away. For these people, Costa Rica may not be the ideal destination because most people who visit here find themselves instinctively turning off their devices and tuning in to the beauty of nature and relaxation.
The whole tourism industry depends on people to have something to look for, both in the ocean and in forests. Some areas of Costa Rica, like in the northern province of Guanacaste, have been specifically dedicated to a mass tourism market. These areas are carefully controlled through government legislation and local conventions where the allowances of things like hotels on the beach for instance are relegated to certain regions. This leaves the rest of the nation’s beaches protected and unspoiled, natural corridors open for wildlife to travel, too.
And as Vince says in the show, “there is no place in the world like Osa.” With almost 6% of the world’s biodiversity located in this one region of Costa Rica, the animal, plant and bird life that you see here in your daily sojourns is spectacular. It is safe to say that there is no place like it, when any day you are likely to encounter electric blue morpho butterflies, a family of dangling howler monkeys, and a pair of scarlett macaws. These incredible beings are able to flourish because the people who live here and visit take the time to appreciate the natural beauty around them.
Whether it is the ethics that came first or the protectionist measures enacted by the government, it doesn’t really matter anymore because the culture of care is flourishing in Costa Rica along with the plant and animal life that is abundant in this great nation.
As Kris Jenner said of her family’s recent trip to Costa Rica, “the goal for our trip is to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul.” If you want to find yourself in a land where the living is easy, relatively affordable and ethically sound, Costa Rica is the place for you. This is the life.