Costa RicaCosta Rica

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  - Costa Rica

Eco-Friendly Travel

Eco-Friendly Travel

Costa Rica's ecotourism industry is booming – from oceanfront rainforests to active volcanoes and balmy beaches to biodiverse cloud forests, the great outdoors take center stage. Eco-friendly hotels and lodges blend into their spectacular surroundings, offering you exquisite views, secluded settings, and some of the world’s best hospitality. Relax by a waterfall, watch the sun set over the ocean, or experience the raw power of an erupting volcano – this is Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica is Spanish for “rich coast,” and the country is very serious about protecting its namesake natural resources. Sustainable and responsible tourism projects work to provide excellent amenities and services to tourists while protecting the environment, fortifying local communities, and benefiting Costa Ricans. By choosing responsible and eco-friendly hotels and tour operators, your tourism dollars will directly benefit local sustainability projects, help preserve local cultures, and give something back to the communities and people who make your trip unique and enjoyable.

Costa Rica’s ecological journey begins with laws to protect its verdant lands – in fact, more than a quarter of Costa Rica’s nearly 20,000 square miles are designated as national park, wildlife refuge and private reserve, which together protect four percent of the world’s total land animal species. The country’s energy consumption is pretty impressive, too; more than 90% of Costa Rica’s energy needs are produced in-country by alternative means, including hydropower, wind farms, and geothermic generation. Additionally, in 2008 President Oscar Arias pledged that the entire country would be carbon-neutral by 2021 – if Costa Rica reaches its goal, it will be the first country in the world to have entirely offset its carbon footprint!

In recognition of its environmental accomplishments and continued commitment, a joint study between Yale University and Columbia University ranked Costa Rica fifth in the world for superior environmental health and ecosystem vitality – the highest ranking in the Americas. In a nation so proudly protective of its biodiversity, Costa Rica’s tourism industry works diligently to provide eco-friendly products and services to their ecologically-conscious customers. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world” – Costa Rica leads by example and so can you. From reducing your energy consumption to offsetting your carbon footprint, Costa Rica lets you travel green and with a clean conscience. 


Costa Rica’s tourism board, ICT, has developed the Sustainability Certification Program to help hotels recognize their impact on the environment and also to provide solid, eco-friendly options to tourists. The program focuses on Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems and their delicate balance, and defines sustainability in the tourism industry as:

  • Administration of Cultural and Natural Resources: Responsible and sustainable hotels must not exploit national resources – cultural, social, nor environmental – for their own development. They must strive to seek a balance, giving back to the community and land more than they receive.

  • Economic Success that Contributes to National Development: Costa Rica’s resources are vast, but they are fixed – the country will never have more than what it possesses today. Sustainable hotels must dedicate themselves to protecting the environment and realizing conservation goals.

  • Quality of Life Improvements in Surrounding Communities: In order to be sustainable, hotels must nurture the surrounding community. This may include employing local residents, promoting local attractions, and contributing time and resources to community development.

When booking your Costa Rican vacation, ask your travel agent for CST (Sustainably Certified) hotels and eco-lodges only. Rated on a sustainability scale of one to five (most sustainable), these hotels will provide you with the service and amenities you expect without compromising the environment. Rest assured that they implement ecological practices, among them:

  • Proper disposal of produced waste.

  • Measures to reduce or eliminate emissions.

  • Exchange of harsh chemicals for eco-friendly, biodegradable and recyclable products.

  • Implement a water and energy efficiency and conservation program.

  • Patronize local companies instead of huge conglomerates.

Tours and Activities

In Costa Rica, the best way to go eco is to stay local. Ask your travel agent to arrange locally operated tours, patronize national parks, and embrace rural tourism.

  • Local Tourism: Support the communities you visit by patronizing local companies. Request tours owned and operated by residents, eat at local restaurants, and hire local guides. Their knowledge and community pride will add a personalized touch to your vacation and your tourism dollars will help families and improve local communities.

  • National Parks: Costa Rica’s private reserves and national parks benefit directly from your patronage, using profits to fund conservation projects and environmental education. Most national parks charge a very reasonable $10 entrance fee, which grants you access to a priceless web of trails and natural beauty.

  • Rural Tourism: Rural tourism is important to the economic development of Costa Rica’s isolated areas, and your support will help these communities grow. Additionally, rural tourism offers a unique look into Costa Rican culture and life – learn to milk a cow with cowboys, participate in an indigenous ceremony, or indulge in a typical meal with a Costa Rican family.

  • Tour Companies: Most of Costa Rica’s popular activities have several tours and options in each hotspot, so you’ll have your pick. When possible, choose sustainable tour companies, as defined by ICT and its Sustainability Program.


When going on vacation, you can’t avoid planes, trains, and cars, but luckily, Costa Rica offers several transportation options for the eco-conscious consumer.

  • Car Rental: When traveling to remote locations, you may decide that car rental is the only viable option. Don’t despair, there’s a solution: rent a car from one of the country’s carbon-neutral car rental companies. Reforestation and other carbon-offset projects help companies compensate for the effects their cars have on the environment.

  • Domestic Flights: In 2004, one of Costa Rica’s premier domestic airlines went carbon-neutral. Its inexpensive flights use biofuel derived from cooking oil and will deliver you quickly and efficiently to many popular destinations without cause for environmental concern – their reforestation and rainforest conservation projects have helped the airline completely offset its carbon footprint.

  • International Flights: Consider flying an eco-friendly airline into Costa Rica. These companies are committed to environmental leadership, research and the use of alternative fuels. Additionally, in November 2009, Costa Rica announced its intention to become the world’s first nation to offset its traveler’s carbon footprints. The federal government, in conjunction with Costa Rican tourism companies, will pay to offset all carbon emissions so you can fly guilt-free.

  • Public Bus: Though often heralded as a budget-conscious option, Costa Rica’s public bus system is also very eco-friendly. Extensive, economical, and mostly punctual, public buses let you ride share with many passengers, therefore reducing your carbon footprint to almost nil.

  • Public Shuttles: Hop aboard a sustainably certified, comfortable, air-conditioned van with passengers headed to the same destination. You’ll save some hard-earned cash – shared shuttles are inexpensive – and you won’t have to worry about getting lost. Best of all, your choice to travel via shuttle will save gasoline during the trip and at your vacation destination, where you can walk or hire taxis as needed.


If you’re passionate about the environment, love animals, or just want to make a difference in your free time, Costa Rica offers hundreds of responsible volunteer projects.

  • National Parks and Private Reserves: Costa Rica’s national park system covers 26% of the country, offering a first-hand look into each diverse ecosystem. Volunteer to help maintain trails, tag plant species, and to keep the beaches clean.

  • Conservation Projects: Work with private organizations to rehabiliate and care for injured wildlife, preserve the rainforest, create permanent biological corridors, and tag plant species.

  • Turtle Protection: Costa Rica is one of the world’s most important sea turtle habitats – the country is home to six of the world’s eight species. Volunteers are invited to help in the research, tagging and protection of sea turtles, especially with Tortuguero’s Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), one of the world’s premier turtle advocates, and along the Pacific coast.

  • Village and Communities: Help Costa Rica’s small and rural communities to build infrastructure and become more sustainable. Plant trees, build recycling stations, help paint rainforest signage, and use your enthusiasm to inspire the next generation of eco crusaders.

  • And so much more: Costa Rica’s volunteer opportunities are almost limitless. Contact your travel agent and explain your interests – you’ll have more than enough options to find your ideal eco volunteer experience.

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