While the rest of the world looks for ways to undo the damage it has done to the environment, there’s one Central American destination that’s already ten steps ahead. Welcome to ever-sustainable Costa Rica, home to the world’s most enthusiastic tree planters and one of the first countries in the world to promote responsible travel. Costa Rica knew about eco-tourism even before it was cool, so take notes! This country is dead serious about its efforts for sustainability.
En route to becoming the first carbon-neutral country by 2021, this vibrant destination with a flourishing democracy utilizes eco-tourism to supercharge its economy. If you’re out to experience eco-tourism in Costa Rica, you’re in for a treat. There are so many ways to travel sustainably in this gorgeous slice of Central American paradise but here are ten of our favorites.
Before we get into the country’s physical beauty, let’s talk about its culinary delights. Family-owned small restaurants are easy to find and are great places to sample local food. Costa Rican food is fresh and delights the senses — think comfort food with a dash of Latin flair. Beans, rice, potatoes, pork, and beef are commonplace in Costa Rican cuisine. Try the traditional casado, a Costa Rican staple that consists of rice, meat, fried plantains, beans and much more. Or try gallo pinto, a dish of beans, rice, onions, cilantro, and red pepper, or order an ice cold pilsen with a cup of chifrijo, a bowl of rice and beans with pico de gallo, avocado, chimichurri, lime, and pork meat. Don’t forget to visit Mercado Central in San Jose for over 200 vendors selling local food!
Eco-tours in Costa Rica will never be complete without staying at any of their brilliant eco-lodges. Costa Rica awards accommodations that excel in sustainability and eco-friendliness, promoting a healthy competition between local businesses. For the ultimate in sustainable travel, a plethora of eco-lodges is available for anyone looking for a much needed digital detox, from roughing it up to living lux. Costa Rica’s Central Valley features a varied array of rainforest hotels that are cut off from the rest of the world (that’s right, no Wi-Fi or electricity).
If there’s one thing Costa Rica has proven, it’s that sustainability shouldn’t come in the way of providing an upscale experience. Pacuare Lodge, one of the World’s Best Ecolodges by NatGeo, lies nestled on the banks of Pacuare River and offers luxurious amenities, cultural encounters, a rich wildlife, and well-appointed accommodations.
Costa Rica has over 60 volcanoes but only six of them are active. With a unique environment created by changes in altitude, areas around volcanoes are a breeding ground for rich biodiversity that you won’t be able to see anywhere else in the world. Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most popular volcano, towers over a lush landscape that’s perfect for adventure touring. Paos Volcano in the Central Valley is one of the world’s biggest active volcanoes and also features one of the world’s most acidic lakes. Bubbling mud pools and hot springs surround the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, attracting scientists and tourists alike.
Around 30% of the total land area in Costa Rica is protected, making the country a prime destination for hikers who want to experience the best of Costa Rica's rainforest. A variety of wildlife refuges and national parks offer mountain treks for all skill levels. Both newbies and seasoned hikers will enjoy varied landscapes, from lush forest regions to challenging volcanic trails. If you’re new to hiking, signing up for a guided hike is the best way to learn about the environment while going at a comfortable pace.
Trek off-the-beaten paths in Costa Rica with the Trek Hidden Costa Rica tour.
Among all the eco-tourism activities in Costa Rica, a tour around Costa Rica’s organic farms is still the best way to not only enjoy local fare but learn about how the nation produces its fresh ingredients. Head to Corsa Lecheria, 50 minutes from San Jose, for a tour that will have you walking through cloud forests and vibrant strawberry fields. Via a tractor ride, you’ll be milking cows, tasting various cheeses at a cheese factory, and hauling organic ingredients. Perfect for adventurers who want to learn more about local farming while tasting their way through it!
Take the El Trapiche Sugar Mill Day Tour and explore the plantations in Monteverde.
Coffee lovers, listen up! Costa Rica isn't Costa Rica without its highly heralded Arabica beans. The country is serious about coffee and as one of its biggest exports, only the highest quality Arabica beans must be produced by law. An exciting variety of tours are available which will have you touring roasteries and plantations while sampling only the finest coffee. Visit the Doca Estate to explore the oldest roasting factory in Costa Rica and learn more about coffee production, or just stop by a roadside coffee shop to experience the difference in quality. If you’re a coffee aficionado, Costa Rica will not disappoint.
Costa Rica’s love for coffee is first, but their passion for Cacao comes second. Frequently grown alongside their coffee beans, the nation’s longstanding love for chocolate is evident in their flourishing plantations. Cacao tours will have you learning about Costa Rica’s ancient chocolate history while enjoying a sample of both raw cacao beans and the delicious final product.
Caribbeans coffee and chocolate is a family-owned business in Puerto Viejo that puts a premium on the environment and the community around it. Employing members of local indigenous tribes supports the local economy — a great way to promote eco-tourism in Costa Rica. Tours here will have you learning about the history, growth, and creation of chocolate in the country.
While the rest of Latin America is suffering from marked deforestation, Costa Rica has been working very hard during the recent years to sustain and increase their forest cover. The nation’s environmental services payment program established in 1997 has one basic essence: if you leave the forest on your property untouched, the country will pay you — an indication of how ecotourism in Costa Rica is of prime importance.
Zip lining is one of the best ways to experience the country’s lush and thriving forests. Fly from platform to platform while spying on birds, waterfalls, and an impressive array of flora. It isn’t hard to find a hotel or lodge with zip line activities available on-site!
Most of Costa Rica's spas are powered by their natural resources, offering you picturesque views while you're enjoying a warm dip. With such a prime focus on sustainability, you can expect natural spa ingredients to be the main focus of your pampering experience. The spa at Tabacon Resorts harnesses the power of the nearby Arenal Volcano, while the Onda Spa at the Andaz Papagayo Resort offers nine spa rooms all tucked away in a forest canopy.
Humpback whales are a popular sight in Costa Rican waters between mid-July to late October and mid-December through late February. Uvita, a small village in Costa Rica, holds a Whale Festival every year to commemorate these mammoth ocean wonders. Tour operators who host whale watching activities must employ 64 practices for responsible whale watching in order to get awarded stars by the Keto Foundation, a non-profit working for marine conservation in Costa Rica.
Whether you’re zipping across rainforests, wading through mangroves, prancing along white powder beaches, or charging down a raging river, one thing’s for sure — experiencing eco-tourism in Costa Rica means a guilt-free travel that gives back to the community and to Mother Earth.