When this tiny Latin American nation made a commitment to eco-tourism in the early 1990’s many saw Costa Rica as a poster child of eco-tourism. Costa Rica, a developing nation close to the giant economy of the United States and other rich north American nations has been able to cash on the benefits of a unique concept in tourism. Its location and great implementation of the concept of eco-tourism has become an example for many ecologically diverse nations, including Nepal. Costa Rica has given a good lesson to countries with thriving biodiversity, on how to maximize returns from the naturally available resources. This article revolves around the immense possibilities that Costa Rica has shown to developing nations like Nepal and will focus on similarities Nepal shares with Costa Rica.
The other good thing that Costa Rica has is its highly trained manpower to support its eco-tourism activities. It has more than 400 natural history guides who are more than competent and have a love for their profession. These guides are spot on at identifying those 850 species of birds, more than 200 species of mammals, 220 reptilians of various species, 163 species of amphibians, 13,000 plant species (including 1,500 trees and 1,400 orchids) and over 300,000 species of arthropods. It requires a lot of training hours and resources to prepare guides who are capable of processing and interpreting such vast diversity. One good thing Costa Rican natural guides do better than guides from any other country is they understand the relationship between the various ecosystems and they always interpret and explain things in a manner where the visitors get a feeling of being in a special place. Travelers and naturalists alike have been found saying that being in a Costa Rican rain forest with a local nature guide is like being in a library without books. The guides keep themselves updated and keep building on their knowledge through various conferences, workshops and other activities conducted by research organizations and government agencies. The updated information is one of the reasons visitors keep coming back and remain interested as new discoveries of various species of flora and fauna are being made every day.
There is no doubt as to why Costa Rica is a successful eco-tourism destination as it has more than 30% area covered by protected areas. Even its protected areas are diverse and provide six diverse types of habitats for a wide range of wildlife and biological organisms. The tropical cloud rain forest, cloud forest, dry tropical forest, montane oak forest, mountainous paramo, as well as mangrove and other wetland regions in Costa Rica have thriving wildlife and every different habitat is a tiny world in themselves as they are complete and rich. Costa Rica with its great conservation initiatives has proved that eco-tourism in its best form is a great conservation tool. With the government organization and locals being equally committed towards conservation and sustainability because of their understanding of value of preservation of flora and fauna, all stakeholders have an understanding that their diverse flora and fauna when well protected draws a lots of tourist or responsible tourist to be precise, from the rich neighboring countries like the United States and Canada. These travelers coming from neighboring areas and around the world inject good money in the economy, which flows into the hand of the locals and also creates a multiplier effect, helping to improve the lifestyle and living standards.
Since its inception of ecotourism, there have been numerous benefits to the locals and their economy. The primary benefits have been economic and mostly relate to the rise in the living standards of the locals. INCAE, a Latin American business school based in Costa Rica recently conducted a research program to document the benefits of ecotourism. They came across the fact that more than 50% of the total expenditure that was made by tourists remains in the country whereas research has shown that traditional forms of mass tourism may only retain 10% of the total expenditure within the economy. This fact has helped Costa Rica to remain the leader of continuous development and advancement in the field of ecotourism and they have carefully nurtured the role of leaders and keep innovating through different programs in private and public sectors.
Eco-tourist play a different role in the local economies like Costa Rica, when compared with conventional mass tourist coming in a large group and doing a pre-designed itinerary. Eco-tourists are a hybrid species of tourist who not only visit major sightseeing areas and experience the local environment, they also have a sense of sharing and contributing to the local environment and the economy. Most tourists in Costa Rica often go beyond normal sightseeing places and get involved with the local community, which gives them a better insight of the life there. Lapa Rios is Costa Rica’s most successful eco-resort and has created a brand name in doing conservation, community service as well as promoting eco-tourism. All visitors who come to the resort are encouraged through the tailored-programs at the resort to participate with the locals and contribute to funding and construction of schools, participating in farming and another day to day activities of the locals and many more. It is this ethos of sharing that really defines ecotourism. The Resort itself has created a land trust which protects a vast forest area in the Peninsula Osa primary forest, the funding from which often comes from tourist contributions and the profit generated by the tourist itself.
Another good thing about Costa Rica’s model of eco-tourism is you don’t need to be a fitness freak to enjoy the diversity and nature at its best. Itineraries are tailored in such a manner that people of different age groups and varying levels of fitness can participate. The only thing Costa Rica demands from its visitors is sensitivity and responsible acts towards the fragile local eco-system and local inhabitants. All travelers who are inbound to Costa Rica are made aware and educated about leaving the environment as they arrived and motivated to volunteer to restore the local environment if any damage has been caused. All this is achieved by doing organized tours and encouraging the visitors to buy local products, which has resulted in riches for this tiny nation.
Costa Rica presents itself as a multi-dimension destination with a flavor of eco-tourism. It’s most notable destinations include the Tourgoer National Park, Montverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Peninsula Osa. San Gerardo de Dota is a birding paradise and the rainforests of Sarapiqui and Talamanca, Rincón de la Viejas and Manuel Antonio National Parks, Playa Grande and Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge are all destination with varying attractions. All this added with Knowledgeable guides who add to the experience makes visitors come back again and again.