Eco-Tourism and Lapa Rios:
Goals and Actions
Learn About Sustainability at Lapa Rios
Learn About Costa Rican Culture
“Sustainability, as a model for development, establishes the need to satisfy the requirements of today’s society without making it impossible for future generations to satisfy it’s own.” Basically, the development of a country cannot be achieved by the unrestrained exploitation of its resources--natural, cultural, social--to the point of eradicating or destroying them and at the same seeking to fulfill the needs of the present population with food, housing, health and work. These existing resources are the potential assets that future generations depend on to meet their needs.
For tourism, sustainability is not only a response to the demand factors of the industry; it is now an indispensable condition to be able to compete successfully in order to survive into the future. The ever-deteriorating world ecological and social crises have had a significant impact on human consciousness and impacted the growth rate environmental tourism has experienced in the last decade; there are greater demands for changes and expectations by tourists.
Today ’s tourists are seeking a more interactive tourism, with greater respect for the social-cultural and ecological interests of the local communities, higher standards of service, along with the ability to protect and regenerate the natural environment and local customs. Lapa Rios was created to meet the demands of these “conservation tourists” and demonstrates its commitment to sustainability throughout its organization.
The setting of Lapa Rios is what most people in industrialized countries refer to as paradise on earth. However, Lapa Rios has much more to offer than stunning ocean views, lush tropical rainforest and cool drinks by the pool. While staying in Lapa Rios, the guests are able to enjoy a vacation in paradise, and at the same time feel that they are doing something good for the planet, while having a learning experience.
By staying at Lapa Rios, guests support the conservation of the rainforest and provide direct employment and income to more than 45 families in the area. In this sense there are two equally salient identities to Lapa Rios: the project and the business. The project is about sustainable development and the business is about funding the project. Neither would exist without the other. The project reflects the “ends” goals while the business reflects the “means” goals.
Ecotourism, defined from a traveler point of view:
“Responsible travel to natural places which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people.”
Lapa Rios´s Challenges
- The continuous ongoing deforestation by locals of numerous dispersed areas of varying acreage is the greatest environmental threat to the Osa Peninsula. Lumber industry interests are the force behind the movement. Inadequate controls, policing and funding guarantee it's continuation.
- Poaching of wild birds and animals, illegal hunting, pollution, disregard for ocean and river setbacks by developers and subdivision of real estate into smaller and smaller lots are all significant problems as well. Apathy, corruption, lack of education and awareness contribute to the problems.
- With the enormity of the problem and its root causes change is going to be gradual at best. While immediate action can delay or prevent some immediate consequences of specific situations education, conscience raising and role modeling is the primary path chosen by Lapa Rios.
Lapa Rios´s Vision
- To demonstrate that a standing rain forest is more valuable than one cut down.
Lapa Rios´s Mission
- To protect and preserve 1000 acres of primary and secondary rain forest in the Lapa Rios private reserve, in perpetuity.
- Integrating and assisting the local community through basic education and job training.
Maintaining a commitment to sustainable hospitality design and practice.
- Educating guests about conservation and preservation and about the rain forest and the local culture.
- To foster primary education among local children through The Carbonera School Foundation.
- To create an intimate experience that emphasizes environmental and intercultural education for guests, employees, and the surrounding community.
- Utilizing tourism to acquire and protect endangered rain forest.
- Doing what you say you are going to do.
- Doing the “right thing”.
- Finishing what you start.
- Making a contribution to other people.
- Creating a model to motivate and encourage others.
- Being indifferent to criticism, independent of society pressure, having energy and vision and modeling those traits for their children and others.
- Doing something that makes a lasting difference.
Lapa Rios´s Purpose
- Lapa Rios is a Private Nature Preserve, Reforestation Project and Model Demonstration of Ecotourism and Sustainable Development.
- Lapa Rios contains some of the last remaining tropical lowland rain forest existing in Central America. It has birds, trees and plants found nowhere else in the world.
- The 1000-acre Lapa Rios is a wildlife corridor and protective barrier for the 100,000-acre Corcovado National Park.
- Lapa Rios is symbolic to the Osa Peninsula for the protection of biodiversity and is so regarded by the Lapa Rios employees, its guests, the tourism industry, the local community and the Costa Rican government.
Lapa Rios´s Strengths
- Showcase wildlife and the tropical rainforest in a completely natural setting while providing upscale accommodations, food and service to guests.
- Informs and educates guests, staff and locals on natural and cultural issues of the area.
- Demonstrating that ecotourism can be a profitable and successful vehicle for ensuring wilderness preservation.
- Demonstrating that a rain forest left standing is more profitable than one cut down.
Making a Difference?
- At Lapa Rios, we feel that the most important work to be done at the moment is education, awareness and consciousness-raising. Acres of land are not needed nearly as much right now as acres of attitude.
Lapa Rios Success Stories
- Nature Conservation: Lapa Rios has successfully protected 1,000 acres of mostly primary rainforest from logging and uncontrolled development making it a sanctuary for a variety of plants and animals. From monkeys to jaguars, from poison dart frogs to toucans, the private reserve is full of wildlife. Biologists indicated that a massive rainforest tree called Sangrillo Colorado (Paramuchaerium Gruberi) can only be found in the Lapa Rios reserve and is not even present at the nearby Corcovado National Park.
- Community Development: One of many examples of community development is the case of an employee who began as a night guard in the nature reserve, one of the entry-level positions in the business that might typically be thought of as a “dead-end” job due to language and educational limitations. One such guard used his time at night, while guarding, to teach himself English well enough to apply for a job on the wait-staff in the dining room, one of the most coveted positions on the property. Another one is the case of a neighbor’s son that used to be a cattle rancher, but now leads tours into the Lapa Rios reserve, helping to demonstrate to tourists that a forest left standing is more valuable than one cut down.
How is Lapa Rios Sustainable?
- Lapa Rios was built to be small as a 14+2 bungalow project providing protection to over 1,000 acres of rainforest.
- Lapa Rios places great emphasis on educating guests, staff and locals on natural and cultural issues.
- Lapa Rios employs only local staff in its operations currently employing about 50 people.
- Lapa Rios maintains architectural integrity with surrounding area and local styles and utilizes sustainable construction methods and materials.
- Lapa Rios is vigilant in energy conservation through passive design and renewable sources.
- Lapa Rios uses a sustainable approach to chemical use, waste, sewage, recycling and water management.
- Lapa Rios pays attention to and respects the wildlife and the natural setting.
Specific Actions for Sustainability
- Reports illegal logging and cutting activities to the local authorities and the press. Refuses to cut the rain forest canopy above roads adjacent to the reserve (contrary to local law) in order to preserve "monkey bridges." The government has backed down recognizing its value to the preserve.
- No caged animals or clipped birds.
- No live trees were cut for the construction.
- Access to the interior of the 1,000-acre private reserve is by professional guide only. Volunteer reforestation program utilizing guests to plant native trees as a tour they can select.
- Hiring only local people from the immediate community with an emphasis on education and training. Building a school for the local community that offered no education previously to its children.
- Utilizing local time-tested natural materials for the construction of the rooms and main lodge.
- All buildings and paths incorporate erosion control. Local guides to inform guests of local customs and cross-cultural issues.
- On-site managed waste disposal and separation system.
- Helping initiate the area's first glass and plastic recycling system.
- Solar heated water.
- Minimized use of plastic and non-returnable containers.
- No carryout purchases to eliminate litter.
- Invitation of research groups and scientists for rain forest study.
- Neither pesticides nor herbicides are used except in the maintenance of the thatched roofs.
- Cleaning and maintenance of beach area and public road around Lapa Rios.
- Implementation of rigorous recycling program at all levels of the operation.
- Over 25,000 native "suita" palms have been planted for future thatch roof replacement.
- We buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
- Use of biodegradable products for guests (shampoo, etc.) and employees (detergents, etc.).
- We organize environmental education excursions for the children of the local schools.
- We use manual gardening methods - no motors.
- 70% of materials used to build the bungalows are renewable materials.
- We have a forest guard on duty to make sure there is no illegal hunting in the reserve.
- Sustainability projects for the near future:
- Signing of the Ecological Land Easement created by Cederena and The Nature Conservancy in 2002.
- Expand the nature reserve by acquiring more land.
- Develop a habitat-monitoring plan, which entails sustaining the biodiversity commodity.
- Create an on-going monitoring program, which measures the impact of visitor and infrastructure operation on the resources. The monitoring program should include quantitative and qualitative data collected by naturalist staff.
- Increase the reach of the Carbonera School Foundation to other schools on the Osa improving infrastructure and learning conditions.
- Create a small science research center, self sufficient from the business of Lapa Rios and funded by a higher education facility, in exchange for the exclusive use of the Lapa Rios Reserve.
The Lapa Rios Environmental Strategy
1. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Architecture and Landscaping that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Deterioration of natural beauty through concrete buildings like in Cancun, Mexico; Pattaya, Thailand and Costa del Sol, Spain.
- Informs and educates guests, staff and locals on natural and cultural issues of the area.
- Non-consideration of passive design in cooling systems and therefore dependence on air-conditioning systems.
- Use of imported plants rather than native species and extensive use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
2. Improving Architecture and Landscaping
- The Lapa Rios infrastructure “blends” into the local environment.
- No air-conditioning needed because of use of local architectural styles and passive design.
- All landscaped land used to be cow pasture. Mostly native plants used in landscapin.
3. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Construction Materials that Lapa Rios has avoided
- High transportation costs to bring in materials from other areas or countries.
- Use of natural resources such as sand from beaches or rocks from riverbeds to make cement damages ecosystems.
4. Choosing appropriate Construction Materials
- 70 percent of materials used to build Lapa Rios are renewable materials.
- Use of as little cement and solid materials as possible (i.e. windows are all open, no paved walkways, etc.)
- Lapa Rios has planted over 25,000 suita palms to replace the palm roofs in the future.
5. Guest Education and Involvement
- Often negative impacts on the local culture and ecology caused by guests arise from the fact that they know little or nothing of the local culture or ecology.
- Lapa Rios revolves around local culture and ecology and from the moment the guest takes a look at the lodge’s website to the moment he walks into his bungalow for the first time, he or she is already well informed about possible negative impacts (webpage info, orientation, written materials, etc.).
- Guests are encouraged to get to know life in the local community through organized visits to the Carbonara School and the town of Puerto Jimenez.
6. Potential Adverse Social Impacts of Local Resource Use that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Large-scale developments in relatively underdeveloped areas put a great deal of pressure on local resources such as water, energy and sewage treatment.
- Tourism development might bring inflation in real estate prices and availability of basic food staples.
- Lapa Rios, on purposed, was designed to be small and low impact. It takes its water from it’s own rainforest spring, generates its own electricity and has its own solid waste and sewage treatment systems.
- Hotel employees are offered food and lodging at subsidized prices and get assistance in financial transaction such as real estate purchases or loan acquisitions.
7. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Energy Use that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Fossil fuels, as used for the diesel generators, can cause environmental damage during transport and use.
- Large amounts of fossil fuels burned to power air-conditioning and other “luxuries” pollute the local environment and potentially add to the global warming effect.
8. Improving Energy Use Practices
- Lapa Rios was designed small and in a way that does not require air-conditioning units in the rooms and public spaces, therefore using minimum amounts of electricity.
- Lapa Rios keeps use of electricity at a minimum and maintains two small, efficient diesel generators. In order not to exceed energy levels needed, some of the refrigeration equipment is turned off during “peak” hours of the day and guests and employees are constantly reminded to save energy.
- Water for the guest rooms is heated by solar power during the sunny months and gas heaters as back up in rainy seaso.
9. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Water Use that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Excessive water use can destroy and degrade water resources, threatening environmental and human health and diminishing availability for meeting local needs.
10. Improving Water Use Practices
- Lapa Rios is using a small portion of the water that is “produced” by several springs in its nature reserve. No negative impact to rivers or the neighboring community has been observed during the monitoring period of the last four years.
- Guests and employees are constantly reminded to save water, especially during the dry season month of December through April. The watersheds and pipes are strictly monitored on a regular basis for leakage and water saving devices are installed at the hotel.
11. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Solid Waste that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Solid waste produced by hotels can cause serious contamination and visual degradation of surrounding areas, threaten human health and represent significant disposal costs.
- Traditional tourists produce far more solid waste than private households.
- In costal areas, solid waste problems arise around rivers flowing into the ocean and polluting the water and beaches.
12. Improving Solid Waste Disposal and Product Purchasing Practices
- Lapa Rios’ waste management system is one of the most sophisticated in the country leaving only minimal amounts of solid waste to be deposited in the municipal dump in Puerto Jimenez.
- The program evolves around the three “R’s” of reducing, reusing and recycling solid waste.
- Lapa Rios minimizes packaging, buys in bulk, recycles, uses reusable products and composts organic waste.
13. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Wastewater and Sewage that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Inadequate or non-existent sewage and wastewater treatment can lead to severe environmental damage, human health impacts and economic costs.
14. Improving Wastewater and Sewage Treatment
- Lapa Rios makes a strong effort to avoid products that negatively influence wastewater. For example, all detergents used are biodegradable.
- All wastewater is directed into underground septic tanks that are located throughout the hotel’s grounds and then filtered into the grounds through drain fields. No wastewater enters rivers or oceans surrounding Lapa Rios.
- Due to the abundance of rainfall on the Osa Penninsula and the elevated costs of installing water treatment plants, no treated wastewaters are used for the irrigation of the gardens at Lapa Rios
15. Potential Social Impacts of Tourist Presence that Lapa Rios has avoided
- When tourism is not developed in a culturally sensitive manner, the presence of tourists can result in a unwanted changes, anger and conflicts in local communities.
16. Improving Tourist Interaction with Local People
- Staff at Lapa Rios Ecolodge is made up almost exclusively of residents from the Osa Peninsula. Lapa Rios is the driving force behind elementary school education in the southern part tip of the Osa Peninsula.
- Only locals are employed at Lapa Rios. Lapa Rios is the driving force behind elementary school education in the southern part tip of the Osa Penninsual.
- Guests are constantly educated about the different culture and acceptable behaviors.
17. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Tourist Transportation that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Poorly maintained and operated transportation can cause noise, pollution and habitat degradation.
18. Improving Tourist Transportation Practices
- Vehicle access is restricted to very limited areas at Lapa Rios.
- Vehicles used for transportation are in perfect mechanical conditions and exchanged for new cars every two to three years.
- Car pooling is done, even for guests, whenever possible.
19. Potential Negative Environmental Impacts of Recreational Activities that Lapa Rios has avoided
- Even low impact recreational activities can have significant cumulative environmental impacts if not carefully controlled.
20. Improving Recreational Activities
- Guests at Lapa Rios understand their role in conserving the rainforest through orientations, written materials and guide explanations.
- Tours in the nature reserve are only allowed with a trained Lapa Rios guide. Maximum of 8 persons per hike, per day. No touching or feeding of wildlife allowed.
- No motor based recreational activities in the reserve or at the beach (like four wheelers, etc.).
21. Supporting Projects that Benefit the Local Community
- Lapa Rios employs only local people for its full time staff, even in management positions.
- Lapa Rios built and supports the Carbonera Elementary School.
- Lapa Rios is involved in community projects such as the Puerto Jimenez Library, School activities, etc.
- Lapa Rios supports local art sales (native art), local tours (kayaking, horseback riding, etc.) and conservation programs (turtles).