ecotourism in costa rica

Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Where to go and why

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(Last updated on: 24/02/2022)

Ecotourism in Costa Rica is big business. The ecotourism industry has been rapidly expanding worldwide, and Costa Rica a is proudly one of the world leaders in this sector. But why is Costa Rica so good at ecotourism and where are there best places for an ecotourist to travel in Costa Rica? In this article I will explain all…

What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism in Costa Rica is popular, and that popularity is ever-growing. By definition, ecotourism is tourism directed towards exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife. It caters for people who want to discover the world without having too much of an impact. There are many examples of ecotourism, and many ways travellers can give back to an environment and/or community while travelling.

Ecotourism, in Costa Rica and beyond, is all about being responsible while travelling. Whether that means choosing to stay at an eco-hotel or lodge, making a conscious effort to cut down on single use plastics while travelling (you can learn how to avoid using single use plastics when you travel here) or choosing tours that involve giving back (like sea clean-up boat rides), there are many ways to be any ecotourist!

We should all strive to do more when it comes to protecting the Earth while travelling. After all, we want to be able to enjoy it for years to come – and for future generations to be able to explore, too. By taking care of the planet now, we ensure that ourselves and others are able to enjoy it in the future.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica

ecotourism in costa rica

Despite being a tiny country of just 19,730 sq. miles (51,100 sq. km), Beautiful Costa Rica has a lot to offer when it comes to the natural environment. Costa Rica occupies less than 1% of the world’s surface but is home to more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity. There are 26 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves. There are coastal areas, cloud forests, wetlands, rainforests and rainforests.

Costa Rica is seen as a pioneer in ecotourism. While many tourist destinations around the world were destroying large parts of the natural environment in exchange for high-rise hotels and built tourist attractions, tourism stakeholders in Costa Rica were busy working out ways for tourists to enjoy the natural environment whilst causing as little harm to it as possible.

Costa Rica’s ecotourism success is demonstrated through the awards for sustainable tourism that the country has won. The most notable of these was the Champion of the Earth award from the United Nations. 

Furthermore, Costa Rica is well on its way to being the first carbon-neutral country in the world. Almost 98 percent of the electricity in Costa Rica currently comes from renewable resources and the aim is to increase this to 100% by 2030! Now that’s impressive!

Ecotourism in Costa Rica is facilitated through a number of travel and tourism initiatives, from outdoor adventure activities, to animal welfare projects to eco lodges and hotels. Many organisations choose to invest in Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). This is a government program that provides Green Leaf Certification to responsible businesses and ecotourism activities in Costa Rica.

So, you have decided that you want to experience ecotourism in Costa Rica, now what? Below I have outlined the best places to go and things to do for the avid responsible tourist in Costa Rica.

Ecotourism in Arenal

ecotourism in costa rica

When it comes to ecotourism in Costa Rica, one place on everyone’s list is Arenal. The Arenal Volcano National Park was one of the most active volcanoes in the world until around 2010 – the volcano itself presides over the landscape of northwestern Costa Rica. The scenery is incredibly atmospheric. Arenal Volcano itself might be dormant now, but the area is still a must-visit for ecotourists heading to Costa Rica.

From the tiny town of La Fortuna with its beautiful waterfall to the hot springs of the area and Lake Arenal, there is so much nature to fall in love with here. Birdwatching, white water rafting, the Venado caves – there is something for everyone to discover! The scenery here is just breathtaking, and there are a few eco lodges in the area too…

Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa

The Arenal Observatory and Spa is often called La Fortuna’s #1 eco lodge. Set across hundreds of acres of land, the rainforest and farmland here is incredible. You’ll get to see various species of exotic wildlife and so many types of plants – and the best part? The hotel is actually located within the boundaries of the Arenal Volcano National Park, because the formation of the national park itself in 1991 came after the ranch was already there. There is nowhere you can stay that is closer to the volcano, or Lake Arenal.

Originally a scientific research station, this lodge is now one of the best places to stay to experience ecotourism in Costa Rica. There are 48 rooms and two holiday homes, alongside a restaurant and spa. The huge observation deck and many floor-to-ceiling windows ensure that you’ll always have a good view… With daily walks on offer, a swimming pool, an observation tower, gardens, bridges and so much more, this is an incredible place to stay!

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa

Another idyllic place to stay in Arenal is the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa. Get back to nature and discover beautiful scenery right outside your window – stay in this wellness retreat and get some well needed R&R. The staff are happy to help you plan your time in the Arenal area: horseback riding, canopy tours, nighttime frog-watching and much more!

Ecotourism in Monteverde 

ecotourism in costa rica

Monteverde is another popular location for experience ecotourism in Costa Rica.

Monteverde is beautiful, and home to one of the best cloud forests in the world. Located in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica, around four hours away from the Central Valley, this is actually one of the best ecotourism destinations in the world. A cloud forest is a unique type of ecosystem where the clouds hang low inside the forest itself, providing a wealth of biodiversity.

Zip-lining and canopy tours are two great ways to experience the forest, where you can see Resplendent Quetzals and colourful hummingbirds and so much more. There are three reserves here: Monteverde itself as well as Santa Elena and Children’s Eternal Rain Forest. Monteverde is the biggest and best, and it is no wonder that it is so popular!

The scenery is breathtaking. There are so many species to discover, and plenty of things to do like coffee tours, night walks and much more….

Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge

When it comes to where to stay, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge couldn’t come more highly recommended. It is completely environmentally friendly, providing educational and fun experiences to guests as well as giving back to the local community. With spectacular views from the comfortable rooms, you’re in for a treat if you stay here. 

There is a restaurant, too. It’s called MOTMOT and all of the food is home-grown, flavoursome and hugely varied. They serve food from 6.30 am until 10 pm, with bar service from 10 am. Rooms start at $90 per night – the decor is simple but gives off a lovely calming vibe that makes a stay here such a good time.

Ecotourism in Tortuguero

ecotourism in costa rica

Tortuguero National Park is a protected wilderness area. This is one of the best places in the world for seeing sea turtles – they nest on the beaches here. Seeing them hatch is one of the best experiences in the world, and one on many peoples’ bucket lists!

There is high biodiversity here due to the range of habitats: mangrove forests, lagoons, swamps and more. You might see the American crocodile or some manatees, as well as jaguars and white-tailed deer. With 779 different species of places in the area, there is no shortage of things to see at Tortuguero.

If you are looking for ecotourism in Costa Rica, Tortuguero is a great place for it. But where should you stay?

Caribbean Paradise Eco Lodge

Simple, functional rooms with balconies and stunning views as well as free WiFi, a garden, a restaurant/bar and more: Caribbean Paradise Eco Lodge has everything you need for an eco-friendly stay in Tortuguero. You’ll be surrounded by the national park, and there is a pool as well as outdoor seating. Fall asleep to the sound of howler monkeys, and keep your eyes peeled for wild birds who pop in and out to say hello. Reviews describe the hotel as rustic but friendly, and great for families looking for this kind of holiday!

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens

With the Tortuguero River on one side and plantation-style gardens on the other, Tortuga Lodge & Gardens is an incredible place to stay. There are 27 rooms with free WiFi, a bar and restaurant, beautiful grounds and other amenities. You can borrow equipment for walking and other activities, meaning you can head out to explore whenever you want. Head out on a boat trip with a local guide, or go and see the baby turtles hatching. Experience the rainforest up close and fall in love with ecotourism in Costa Rica!

Ecotourism in Manuel Antonio National Park

ecotourism in costa rica

When it comes to experiencing ecotourism in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is often viewed as a model for what the concept should be. This beautiful rainforest area covers around 2.64 square miles. Home to iguanas, sloths, crabs and so much more, it is an amazing place to visit if you want to experience the natural splendour of Costa Rica. From guided tours to paddle boarding sessions, horseback riding through waterfalls to traversing the jungle at night – there are so many amazing ways to experience Manuel Antonio National Park, and so much to discover.

Hotel Costa Verde

When staying in the area there is one incredible place that should be on your radar: the Hotel Costa Verde. This is an eco lodge, so perfect for enjoying ecotourism in Costa Rica. It lies 300 yards from the beach, and overlooks the national park itself. As you can imagine, the views are just amazing.

The hotel itself is made from abandoned things such as planes and boats, recycling them into rooms and restaurants to avoid them going into landfill. Their sustainability efforts go way beyond this, though. They make most fittings and fixtures themselves, recycle the majority of their waste, use rain water for laundry and so much more. Guests are encouraged to take care of their surroundings, and learn about the ecosystem here.

Hotel Costa Verde also supports the local community. They sell products from local artists, and help with beach clean-ups. In general, they aim to support the cultural development of the area while ensuring that nature can thrive.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Further reading

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