I had the great pleasure of travelling to Costa Rica this past month with my family. The country has been on my travel list formany years as a great example of low density eco-tourism. Well, all the stories I have heard are true. Costa Rica has been on the road to eco-tourism long before “eco-tourism” was even a term. Back in the late 1940’s, then President José Figueres Ferrer made a major policy change that set his country on a road to a prime example of stability in an all to tumultuous Central America. He convinced the other members of his government to abolish the country’s army and concentrate funds on a strong police force, education, the environment and culture. Since then, Costa Rica has served as the poster child for eco-tourism.
The direct flight from Montréal with Air Canada took 5 hours. The San José airport, fairly new and modern was a pleasant surprise. Then a 20-minute flight on Sansa Airlines, Costa Rica’s internal airline, got us to Quepos on the Pacific coast. We had rented a private villa on Homeaway about 40 minutes down the road near Dominical.
One of the first observations we all made, was the lack of constant solicitation by both service people as well as local street merchants. Quite the contrary, everyone we interacted with were pleasant and helpful. The area where we spent the following week would be best described as jungle luxury meets hippie surf community. The house we rented had recently been built and was located about five kilometers up a very steep hill from the beach. It was the lap of luxury, modern with all the amenities you could imagine set into the natural landscape of the Costa Rician jungle. The best part of the location was a constant lite breeze which keep us comfortable in the 33-degree weather, the 180 degree view the ocean, including spectacular daily sun sets. Each morning we were awakened by howler monkey’s and toucan birds living in the trees around the property.
The neighboring town, Dominical, as well as a great deal of southern coast was until 2010, accessible by dirt road only, is a small beachfront community known for its surfing and pristine beach. Alone with this comes a laid-back feel and an abundance of 20 something’s looking for a simple life. No high-rise hotels or big chain restaurants. Only small local establishments using local products and trying to minimize their environmental impact. Within 10 kilometers of Dominical, one can find several eco-preservation areas open to the public, where one can horse back into the jungle to discover rivers and waterfalls right out of a movie, or explore an animal rescue shelter and learn more about the local flora and fauna. Most of these jungle retreats were until the 1990’s major coco and coffee plantations or beef farm. Then the local farmers were convinced that there was more money to be made in tourism and conservation. Many bought into the idea and let their farms grow back to their natural state. Speaking with one of these farmers, whose kids and grand kids now mange the family eco-excursion zip line station, felt that this use of his land insures a better future for his family as well as for the country. This was coming from a man whose family had managed the areas largest coffee farm until 1991. The more we explored the region the more of these stories we heard.
The country and its people have adopted sustainability as a way of life. Polluters are heavily fined when caught, sport hunting has been totally outlawed and the country produces most of its energy needs through renewable means and hopes to achieve 100% carbon naturality by 2021. Costa Rica is the only country in the world to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and continues to be identified as one of the greenest countries in the world. Sustainability can equal profits and as far as Costa Rica is concerned, tourism has become the country’s biggest export by doing so. Th US dollar is king here and most establishments prefer payment in green backs.
What I learned on this trip was that each little initiative builds on the next and before you know it, with a little will from the people and the government the dream becomes a reality. Costa Rica still has a way to go to improve its overall standards of living but based on my short time there, this county is an example worth keeping an eye on.