What everyone ought to know about ecotourism in Costa Rica

Last updated on August 27th, 2023

Is “ecotourism” or “sustainable tourism” just another buzzword??  Does every destination in Costa Rica do ecotourism?

In 2017, the World Tourism Board (UNWTO) celebrated the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”  #IY2017.

Also, the international campaign  “Travel, Enjoy and Respect” promoted actions that should be taken by travelers around the globe. The  UNWTO did this in order to walk closer together to achieve the sustainable goals for the 2030 agenda of the UN.

The travel industry in Costa Rica is one of the main generators of employment and economic activity in the country.

According to the Tourism Board of Costa Rica, statistics informed that in 2017, tourism represented $3,864,100 (million) of revenue to the country—even more than bananas and coffee.

Costa Rica has around 2.959.869 tourists each year. From that number, 75% come to the country to do ecotourism. (Plan Nacional de desarrollo, ICT)

All those numbers will help us to understand the whole context and relation of tourism for Costa Rica.

Some people will skip those numbers, but go back and read them again!    

I will be happy if you remember the importance of tourism in the country.

Table of Contents:

 A brief history of ecotourism in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has not always been the nice and green dude that proclaims peace to the world.

We created our National Park system back in 1970 and from there protected 25% of the territory. Before that, we had cattle farms, used pesticides in our soils without control, and hunting animals in our forests was a normal practice.

At that time, we didn’t understand the potential that protecting nature would bring more benefits to the country.

After the creation of the National Parks and the increase of visitors per year.  Costa Rica started to gain popularity as the green, peaceful ecotouristic destination in Central America.

Our feelings as locals that make a living from tourism

We love tourism! However, we are not blind to the negative effects that tourism can bring to nature and our communities.

I know people want the luxurious vacation in paradise beach—relaxing under the sun with a cocktail.

My friend who went to the United States said that 60% of the people only remembered a few spots from Costa Rica: Cocos, Jaco, and Manuel Antonio and the forest … ahh yea the forest Monteverde.

We have worked in big hotel chains and traveled Costa Rica on a big bus with 60 tourists to go to the main tourist destinations. Also got tips, met wonderful people from different cultures, and enjoyed all of that touristy stuff, all-inclusive style offers.

We understand if you like fancy! Who doesn’t?

What we don’t like is when we see the other side of the coin.

So we want to challenge you to go deeper into our reality and understand that the way you perceive a country and how you travel in that country affects the economy and the environment.

The video here was a huge an eye-opener for Costa Ricans and for the international community. It shows that even though we do ecotourism, not all Costa Rica’s destinations have worked under those principles. 

Please take the time to watch the video and understand the model of tourism that we want for our country:

Three concepts, one solution

Now we want to talk, and if you are not familiar with these concepts, at least you can grasp the idea and take it into consideration when you travel.

You may think these are buzzwords that companies that are promoting themselves as green use to attract costumers. Don’t feel bad, sometimes we did. Sometimes it may seem like something that everyone is saying to be cool. But these ideas are still important.

We understand that is our responsibility to train ourselves and learn how to live under these principles. Of course, we are not perfect about it and we have also been guilty of being part of the bad practices as well.

BUT the main goal is to apply them when we travel.

  1. Rural Tourism: 

    From the three concepts, this one has been developed and used as a model that the government has tried to support in Costa Rica. Defined as:  “Rural tourism focuses on actively participating in a rural lifestyle. It can be a variant of ecotourism. Many rural villages can facilitate tourism because many villagers are hospitable and eager to welcome (and sometimes even host) visitors. ” (Wikipedia, 2009)

  2. Ecotourism:

    Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” (TIES*, 2015) Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

    *The International Ecotourism Society

  3. Sustainable Tourism:

 This is the most recent term and can be defined as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” (UNWTO, 2017)

There are many definitions and they can be similar to each other, but the thing to understand is that looking for accommodation or tours that follow these concepts is a large part of being a responsible traveler.

And the solution??? The solution has become when you are aware that you can decide to be a responsible traveler and take action on your trips. 

In the end, that is the goal and the solution to minimize the negative effects of tourism in the world.

What motivated us to create this blog?

We really feel passionate about this stuff!

We believe in a better way to travel using best practices. This understanding of minimizing the negative effects of traveling requires more commitment.

If you have visited Costa Rica, you will agree that Costa Rica is beautiful.

But for those of us who live here, Costa Rica is so much more than the sun and beautiful beaches. For us, there is a culture full of people who are trying to keep the traditions, there are communities protecting the environments, and there are also problems that need to be solved.

So our goal is to be the voice of projects and places that maybe you won’t even know that they exist if is not through this platform. We also want to be part of the support of those who already have their hands in the digital world.

We want to share a more authentic Costa Rica and support those projects by creating content that features them.

What motivates us is to connect you that are reading or planning to come to this country to have a lifetime experience with our people, with our nature.

Even if you are not coming to Costa Rica right now, you can learn something and make similar actions in your travels in your own country or abroad.

Finally, we all together are helping to create a more sustainable way to travel, not as something only theoretical but also in action.


  • Dirección de Planeamiento y Desarrollo, Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. “PLAN NACIONAL DE DESARROLLO TURÍSTICO DE COSTA RICA 2017 – 2021.” San José, Costa Rica, Apr. 2017.
  • Music, Charlene and Peter Jordan, directors. The Goose with the Golden Eggs: Tourism on Costa Rica�s Pacific Coast – Educational Edition. YouTube, www.boundlessmedia.org *

*Note: This Video Was Commissioned by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and Foundation Corcovado, 22 May 2017. This educational video exanimates the impacts of large-scale resort and vacation home developments along Costa Rica.

  • UNWTO, UNEP. “Sustainable Development of Tourism.” Ecotourism and Protected Areas | Sustainable Development of Tourism, Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers, 2005, sdt.unwto.org/content/about-us-5.
  •  What Is Ecotourism? The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), 2018, www.ecotourism.org/what-is-ecotourism. The website didn´t mention an author and date of publication of this article.

Posted by Ligia

I´m from the “Pura Vida” country, Costa Rica! My life in a nutshell: Background in Tourism and hotel managment. Married with Rodrigo a wonderful tour guide ;) Lover of cultures, nature and social causes! Full time administrador at Non Profit Children´s Organization in my hometown and part time blogger of Explore Tikizia. Favorite things: Coffee time, travel and Jesus!

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