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Ecotourism in Costa Rica: 10 Ways to Experience it

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When it comes to traveling sustainably, travelers often think about the obvious tropes of green travel, such as traveling in eco-friendly vehicles and avoiding the use of plastic water bottles. But there are more ways to reduce a carbon footprint and become a responsible traveler. Welcome to 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 serious about its efforts for sustainability.

Eco-tourism in Costa Rica doesn't just mean staying in eco-lodges and taking nature walks in its conservation areas, but also supporting local farmers growing indigenous plants or whale watching through tour operators that support marine conservation. While the rest of the world looks for ways to undo the damage it has done to the environment, this Central American destination is already ten steps ahead.

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 while on a trip to Costa Rica, you’re in for a treat — there are so many ways to travel sustainably in this gorgeous slice of Central American paradise! Listed here are ten of our favourites.

For more tips on how you can make your travel more eco-friendly, check out our travel guide on 10 Awesome Ways You Can Travel Eco-Friendly.

1. SLEEP AT AN ECO-LODGE

Eco lodges in Costa Rica Tree House Lodge
Tree House Lodge has been awarded the highest Certificate for Sustainable Tourism.

Eco-tours in Costa Rica are not complete without staying at any of the 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 are 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, declared one of the world’s best eco-lodges by NatGeo, lies nestled on the banks of Pacuare River and offers luxurious amenities, cultural encounters, rich wildlife, and well-appointed accommodations.

Check out our list of the Best Eco-Lodges in Costa Rica

2. EXPLORE LOCAL FARMS

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. Local farms provide a chance to learn about organic farming and make visitors think twice about where their food comes from. 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. Many eco-lodges also have their own organic farms where guests can volunteer. 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. 

3. ZIP THROUGH RAINFORESTS

Eco tourism in Costa Rica zipline
Zipline through the trees in the Costa Rican rainforests.

While the rest of Latin America is suffering from marked deforestation, Costa Rica has been working very hard during recent years to sustain and increase its 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!

Our article on Ziplining in Costa Rica recommends the best spots in Costa Rica for ziplining. 

4. GO WHALE WATCHING

Eco tourism in Costa Rica - go whale watching
Spot whales off the coast of Uvita

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.

5. RELAX IN A SPA

Eco tourism in Costa Rica hotsprings
Visit thermal springs in La Fortuna

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.

6. ENJOY LOCAL GRUB

Eco tourism in Costa Rica Food
Try the casado to enjoy the best of Costa Rica's local produce.
Eco tourism in Costa Rica fruits
Visit Mercado Central and try a range of local fruits.

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 pleases the senses — think comfort food with a dash of Latin flair. Eating local means using less carbon emissions to transport the goods, thus reducing its "food miles". Beans, rice, potatoes, pork and beef are commonplace in Costa Rican cuisine. Try a traditional casado, a Costa Rican meal of rice, meat, fried plantains, beans and often much more. Or try gallo pinto, a dish of beans, rice, onions, cilantro and red pepper. Or, order an ice cold beer 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!

7. GO VOLCANO HOPPING

Eco tourism in Costa Rica Arenal volcano
Arenal Volcano is the most popular volcano to visit
Eco tourism in Costa Rica Poas
Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has over 60 volcanos 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. Visit some of the most popular volcanos in Costa Rica like Arenal 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. 

Visit the Arenal Volcano with the Jungle and Islands Expedition tour or the Costa Rica Family Vacations tour. Or hike through Rincon de la Vieja national park with this tour

8. GO ON A HIKE

Eco tourism in Costa Rica hiking
Hike through the rainforests of Costa Rica

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. There are many good trails to go hiking in Costa Rica. 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

9. ENJOY A CUP OF LOCAL JOE

Ecotourism in Costa Rica coffee tour
Coffee lovers will enjoy a coffee tour in Costa Rica.
Eco tourism in Costa Rica coffee tour
Go on a coffee tour and see how Costa Rica's famous drink is produced

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! Many coffee farms utilize natural compost and solar energy and a variety of tours are available that support organic farming and fair trade. Such tours 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.

Alternately, visit Heredia near San Jose and go on a private coffee tour.

10. TAKE A CHOCOLATE TOUR

Ecotourism in Costa Rica chocolate tour
Get a chance to sample cacao beans and learn about Costa Rica's chocolate history.

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.

Go on a private cocolate tour or a group tour on a cocoa plantation in Sarapiqui. 

Whether you’re zipping across rainforests, wading through mangroves, prancing along white powder beaches, or charging down a raging river, one thing is for sure — experiencing eco-tourism in Costa Rica means greener travel that gives back to the community and to Mother Earth.  

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