Costa Rica is located in Central America, nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, and bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea and the west by the Pacific Ocean. This small country—considered the happiest place on earth—represents only .01 % of the planet’s surface yet shelters almost 4% of the existing world’s biodiversity. The government has given priority to the conservation of its natural resources, protecting 25% of the national territory in National Parks or other natural areas. Those protected areas cover at least six different kinds of habitats, including tropical cloud rainforest, cloud forest, dry tropical forest, montane oak forest, mountainous paramo, as well as mangrove and other wetland regions. When you look at this diversity, it’s easy to see how ecotourism can be viewed as an important conservation tool. Both local and national governments are able to see the value of preservation, as tourists are drawn to the protected areas to experience both flora and fauna of the region. These travelers help support the local economy through their use of transportation, food and lodging, park fees, and guides.
The country offers world-class ecotourism and adventure travel. The options are unlimited for any discriminating traveler: horseback riding on a secluded beach; hiking through the lush whispering greenery of a rainforest; exhilarating white-water rafting; surfing the blue waves of either coast; experiencing a close encounter with different species of birds and wildlife; and enjoying the diverse culture and hospitality of the Ticos. Take a look at some of our Costa Rica itineraries and take inspiration for where to spend your Costa Rican holiday
To learn more about Costa Rican traditions, instruments and crafts, see below.
Costa Rica has over 400 well-trained natural history guides who can help visitors spot and identify the enormous amount of biodiversity within the small terrain. With more than 850 species of birds, 209 mammal species, 220 species of reptiles, 163 species of amphibians, 13,000 plant species (including 1,500 trees and 1,400 orchids) and over 300,000 species of arthropods—that’s an enormous amount of information to interpret! Guides can explain the relationship between different ecosystems and the species found within them, providing visitors with an even greater appreciation for what they’re having the special opportunity of seeing. Naturalist and ecotourism pioneer Amos Bien has explained the importance of guides quite succinctly—“Being in the rainforest without a guide is like being in a library without knowing how to read.” With constantly new research findings coming from the numerous conservation and research organizations in Costa Rica, guides are continually able to update their information about indigenous flora and fauna, making each visit an exciting one for ecotourists.
There are numerous areas in Costa Rica that people return to again and again to fulfill these goals. The largest areas include Tortuguero National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Peninsula Osa. Other popular ecotourism destinations include San Gerardo de Dota, where birders often go in search of the resplendent quetzal, the rainforests of Sarapiqui and Talamanca, Rincón de la Vieja and Manuel Antonio National Parks, Playa Grande and Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.
TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
This national park has become one of Costa Rica’s most popular ecotourism destinations, possibly because it contains some of the greatest biological diversity in the country. The park protects a unique series of natural inland waterways that can be reached only by boat or small aircraft. The silt carried by the meandering rivers has, over millions of years, developed into long, straight beaches that have become an ideal nesting site for sea turtles. Four varieties return there annually – the hawksbill, loggerhead, pacific green and giant leatherback – and for decades the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) has sponsored volunteer programs to protect the turtle populations. The CCC, in partnership with the National Parks Service, has also trained local people as turtle guides, involving them directly in the conservation efforts so vital to their community.
MONTEVERDE CLOUD FOREST RESERVE
Founded by Quaker residents in 1972, Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most famous cloud forests, attracting numerous birders and other nature lovers from the world over. Yet, the 400 species of birds within the area are actually a small portion of the biological wealth within this private reserve. These misty heights protect an enormous variety of wildlife as well as provide visitors with a beautiful and mostly accessible view of the cloud forest ecosystems. Among the 2,500 species of plants identified within this primordial landscape, there are nearly 300 species of orchids and 200 species of ferns. In order to protect the delicate habitats, admission into the reserve is restricted to 120 at a time, but within the 554 hectares, visitors can often hike without coming across another group for some time. A self-guided map is available at the entrance, but hiking with a guide is recommended in order to really appreciate all the reserve’s hidden beauties. (Most hotels can assist in making a reservation for a guided tour the night before.) The popularity of the reserve has provided inspiration for the preservation of several other areas nearby, creating 1000s of hectares of private conservation areas—including The Children’s Eternal Rainforest—in addition to the nearly 12,000 hectares of protected land that forms the Arenal Conservation Area that drapes both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of the Tilarán Mountain Range.
The National Geographic Society has called Costa Rica’s Peninsula Osa “the most biologically intense place on earth,” and those who’ve had the privilege to visit there know this to be true. Eighty percent of the peninsula itself is either nationally or privately protected land, including Corcovado National Park, the Golfo Dulce Reserve, and the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre de Osa, to name a few. All of these efforts go toward the protection of this very special area of the country, where the Pacific lowland rainforest extends into a biogeographical link to the Amazon basin. Nearly all of Costa Rica’s mammal species make the Peninsula Osa their home, as well as a disproportionate number of bird, reptile and insect species as well. The goal of many of the private reserves is to create biological corridors, linking the large tracts of land that would otherwise remain separate. Numerous foundations and research organizations have programs within this vast area, and in some cases visitors can get involved by volunteering their time toward conservation efforts. In almost every case, choosing to visit the region is a form of support, as proceeds from an amazingly large percentage of the local businesses is directed back into the community, whether by purchasing land in important watershed areas or helping with education programs in the community. The National Parks system also sponsors programs through ASVO (Association of Volunteers for Service in Protected Areas), where volunteers are trained to help park rangers in maintenance and wildlife protection.