Over the past two decades, Costa Rican and international conservationists have employed effective methods in remedying many of the nation's environmental problems that resulted directly from over 200 years of unsustainable land use and industry. As Costa Rica experiences the greatest surge of its new primary industry, tourism, it is important that both tourists and their hosts follow guidelines of responsible and sustainable practices.
The Institute for Central American Studies' Department of Responsible Travel has summarized a code of ethics for sustainable tourism. Most responsible ecotourism agencies attempt to follow the code as closely as possible.
Code of Environmental Ethics
1. Tourism should be culturally sensitive. Visitors should be given the opportunity to enjoy and learn from Costa Rica's mix of cultures. Tourism should serve as a bridge between the cultures, allowing people to interact and enrich their understanding of how other people live. Tours should be designed to provide participation in and enhance appreciation of local cultural traditions.
2. Tourism should be a positive influence on local communities. Tourism and tour operators should make every reasonable effort to allow communities near natural areas to benefit from tourism. By hiring local guides, patronizing locally owned restaurants and lodges, and buying local handicrafts, tourists can help convince residents that wild and historical places are worth saving.
3. Tourism should be managed and sustainable. Tour operators and visitors should encourage managers of parks, preserves, archaeological sites, and recreational areas to develop and implement long-term management plans. These plans should prevent deterioration of ecosystems, prevent overcrowding, distribute visitors to underutilized areas, and consider all present and future environmental impacts.
4. Waste should be disposed of properly. Service providers should set a good example for visitors by making sure that all garbage is confined to the proper receptacles. Boats and buses must have trash cans. Special car should be taken with plastic that is not biodegradable. No littering of any kind should be tolerated. When possible, travelers should use returnable or reusable containers.
5. Wildlife and natural habitats must not be needlessly disturbed. Visitors should stay on the trails, remain within designated areas, and not collect anything (except litter). Some ecosystems, such as coral reefs and caves, are particularly sensitive, and special care should be taken to avoid damaging them.
Visitors should keep their distance from wildlife so it is not compelled to take flight. Animal courtship, nesting, or feeding of young must not be interrupted. Birds and their nests should be observed from a safe distance through binoculars. Nesting sea turtles should be observed only with the assistance of a trained guide. Photographers should keep their distance: foliage should not be removed from around nests, and animals should not be molested for the sake of a picture. Monkeys and other wild animals should not be fed, because this alters their diet and behavior.
6. There must be no commerce in wildlife, wildlife products, native plants or archaeological artifacts. Strict international laws prohibit the purchase or transport of endangered wildlife and archaeological artifacts. Tourists should not buy or collect ANY wildlife, and should make sure that the natural products they wish to purchase are commercially grown. Wood crafts generally constitute a viable economic option for local artisans, and tourists should encourage local production from sustainable timber sources.
7. Tourists should leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of nature, conservation, and the environment. Visits to parks, preserves, archaeological sites and recreational areas should be led by experienced, well-trained, and responsible naturalists and guides. Guides should be able to provide proper supervision of the visitors; prevent disturbances to the area; answer questions of the visitors regarding flora and fauna, history and culture; and describe the conservation issues relevant to the area.
8. Ecotourism should strengthen conservation efforts and enhance the natural integrity of places visited. Companies offering "ecotourisms" must show even greater concern for the natural areas visited, involving tourists in conversational efforts. Tour operators should collaborate with conservation organizations and government agencies to find ways to improve Costa Rica's environmental programs.
Visitors should be made aware of Costa Rica's great achievements as well as the problems. The best tour operators will find ways for interested tourists to voice their support of conservation programs: by writing letters of support, planting a tree, contributing money, volunteering to work in a park, or other creative outlets for concerned activism.
If tour operators, tourists, government agencies, conservation and development organizations work together, ecotourism in Costa Rica can continue to grow, visitors will leave this country satisfied and enriched, and local efforts to conserve our natural heritage will be stronger and more diverse.
Asking Questions and Writing Letters
Tourism is the largest industry in Costa Rica, so the input of tourists is key in addressing environmental concerns. Your experience in Costa Rica is of interest to policymakers, and should be directed to the following people.
Write to the president of Costa Rica:
Hon. Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Presidente de Costa Rica
Zapote, San José
Write to the minister of tourism:
Walter Niehaus, Ministro de Turismo
It's a good idea to send a copy of your letter to the media as well:
The Tico Times
The efforts of Costa Rican conservationists are fueled by visitor finances. There are general conservation groups like the ones named here, as well as smaller grassroots groups that may focus on a particular region of the country. Be sure to check into the reputation of any group before sending funds. The following is a list of some of the most active conservation organizations:
(Asociación Ecologista de Costa Rica)
AECO works with local grassroots groups against threats in their areas, and helps small-scale campesinos find economic alternatives to environmental destruction.
(Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna Silvestre)
APREFLOFAS organizes volunteers on weekend patrols of wilderness areas to report any illegal activity, such as hunting or logging.
(Sede Estation Carara
Carara-Potenciana Corredor Ecologico)
Apartado 087 Coronado
2200 Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 294-6219
Fax: (506) 416-0360
Arbofilia is an organization of 460 campesino families who design restoration plants, raise native species of tree seedlings, and raise cocao and honey.
(Centro de Derecho Ambiental y de los Recursos Naturales)
CEDARENA seeks to make the environment a fundamental element within the legislative and judicial order.
(Costa Rican Federation of Environmental Groups)
FECON is the main environmental lobby in the legislative assembly. They help grassroots organizations report environmental abuse, and help follow through on cases.
Fundación Iriria Tsochok
Phone: 234-1512 or 225-5091
Fundación Iriria Tsochok works to protect the people and the forests of La Amistad from agro-industrial expansion, mining, deforestation, and fires.
Fundación Neotrópica promotes conservation and sustainable development in communities near national parks and other protected areas.
Phone: 297-0970 or 236-3823
Grupo YISKI is a student-parent group that has done much to persuade Costa Ricans to recycle.