Eco-Sustainable Travel to Costa Rica

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What Is Sustainable Tourism?

There's no eco-tourism destination in the world like Costa Rica. 
Admittedly, this small, Central American country might not be famous for much. But still, it's become a true world leader in environmental awareness and sustainable tourism practices in recent years.
If you're planning a vacation to Costa Rica, chances are you're coming (at least in part) because of its eco-tourism credentials. It's a rare traveler to Costa Rica who isn't interested, even in a small way, in experiencing the magic of nature while knowing that they're contributing to sustainability in some small way.
If Costa Rica appeals to you as a destination, it wouldn't surprise us if you were looking for a Costa Rica eco-adventure to enjoy with your favorite people. This is why so many people come to Costa Rica and why Costa Rica stays relevant in world tourism as an eco-leader.
With that all said, you can help protect the destinations you love with eco-sustainable travel in Costa Rica! It's easy to do and an easy way to travel with us here at Costa Rican Vacations.
Tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the world. Unfortunately though, the very things that attract the crowds – like biologically diverse habitats and indigenous cultures – are often the things most affected by the influx of travelers. This "boom" in growth, especially in still-developing areas, can place great strains on local economies, the environment, and a community's way of life, which is why sustainable tourism is so important. It helps protect the destinations we love, the cultures that attract us, and tourism in general.
Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the local environment, society, and economy. Tourism can involve primary transportation to the general location, local transportation, accommodations, entertainment, recreation, nourishment, and shopping. 

Eco-Friendly Costa Rica

Sustainable tourism has become a buzzword, especially in Costa Rica, and it doesn't always mean what people think it does. 
Nowadays, with green- and eco-friendly everything making headlines, everyone is scrambling to prove they're doing it too. Everyone wants to show their green credentials, even if they don't have many to offer. But, with so many companies and industries jumping on the eco-bandwagon, it's hard to know who to trust.
Costa Rica has been a forerunner in sustainable tourism from the start. That means it's perfectly natural this country would have a heads up on eco-friendly and sustainable travel. With only .03% of the world's surface area, Costa Rica is home to over 5% of the world's biodiversity. There's a lot at stake.
Since the earliest pioneers of sustainable and eco-tourism arrived in the 1970s and 80s (far earlier than most other tourist destinations around the world) Costa Rica has set an example for other countries. For example, in Costa Rica today, almost 30% of its territory is protected in some way or another. Whether it's a national park, wildlife refuge, or private reserve, there is always an area nearby dedicated to protecting the environment. And that’s not all: Costa Rica has enacted many policies and programs to protect its natural resources, from clean-beach programs to harvesting sustainable energies or expanding the ocean's protected territory. 
Costa Rica also, in 2018, committed itself to become carbon neutral by 2021. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and more realistic predictions expect carbon neutrality by 2050. Even so, Costa Rica remains way ahead of most other countries in its quest to achieve this critical goal. Most of the electricity used in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources, which is of great pride to many Ticos. 
Costa Rica's electrical grid has been running on over 98% renewable sources since 2014 on a more or less continuous basis, with 2021 logging in 100% of its power coming from hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind. The government even offers incentives for eco-friendly practices, for example, buying back solar energy from users with a surplus.
Thanks to all these efforts, Costa Rica is ranked 38th in the world (out of 130) on the WEC's 2019 Energy Sustainability Index with ABB. Costa Rica also ranked 7th in the world for general environmental sustainability for that year, something remarkable for a developing country, since most other top ten countries are developed European nations. But there's no need to leave all these efforts to the Costa Rican government and businesses here on the ground. 

Positive Impact? Yes!

If you're wondering if all this really helps, the answer is YES. Eco-conscious travelers have plenty of opportunities to partake in the conservation efforts. You can make green choices between choosing eco-friendly hotels and carbon-neutral travel options. However, if you're more focused on how your trip will affect locals, you can select cultural tours and activities that will positively impact you and them!
Visiting national parks is also a great way to enjoy the outstanding beauty of Costa Rica beauty while being sure that your money will support something like the national park system. If hands-on is more your style, then include some time for volunteering. 
From rainforest reforestation and beach cleanups to turtle protection and soup kitchens, there are plenty of ways to give back while you have the trip of a lifetime. Many hotels in Costa Rica act as excellent stewards of the communities where they're located, and often they will have some program you can take part in while staying with them.
Here’s a brief rundown of how Costa Rica is keeping tourism sustainable—and how your itinerary can leave a positive impact everywhere you visit:


The Costa Rican Tourism Board, ICT, has created a Sustainability Certification Program to define eco-friendly policies for hotels, resorts, B&Bs, and other accommodations. The program’s goal is to educate Costa Rica’s hotels on how they can reduce their environmental impact, protect the nation’s lush surroundings, and promote sustainable communities. Even better: compliant hotels are rated on a sustainable scale of one to five leaves (least to most sustainable)—making it easy for you to choose only the greenest hotels in the nation.


It’s hard to avoid transportation when traveling—even the greatest hikers and bikers probably need to hop a flight to Costa Rica! But that’s not to say you can’t go green—or at least carbon-neutral—during your Costa Rican vacation. In fact, there’s a greener version of every kind of transportation into and around the country:
  • International Flights: There are eco-friendly airlines out there, but even if you don’t fly on a sustainable carrier, you can still make a positive impact by purchasing carbon offset for your flight. 
  • Domestic Flights: If you plan to jet-set around Costa Rica, you can definitely go green. In 2007, one of the nation’s premier airlines, Sansa, became carbon-neutral. Through reforestation and other conservation initiatives, the company has offset its carbon footprint 100%
  • Private Drivers & Public Shuttles: Several private transportation companies and shared shuttles have also gone carbon-neutral. Travel stress-free and guilt-free in an air-conditioned shuttle, where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. 
  • Rental Cars: When taking the road less traveled, there’s nothing better than a rental car—except a carbon-neutral rental car, that is!

Tours & Activities

When it comes to responsible travel, local tours aren’t about going green: they’re about sustainability. In tourism terms, sustainable travel is local travel. It means interacting with local communities and spreading your tourism dollars to Costa Ricans, instead of multinational corporations. Here’s a few tips for choosing sustainable tours:
  • National Parks: Costa Rica has an extensive national park system that protects invaluable flora, fauna and environs. Most parks are just $10 to visit, and your tourism dollars make a big impact on keeping parks clean—and ecosystems protected. 
  • Private Refuges: Private reserves and wildlife refuges are often operated by independent organizations and private patrons. Some charge reasonable entrance fees while others ask merely for a voluntary contribution: either way, you’ll not only enjoy your visit, but will help fund ongoing sustainability and wildlife rescue programs. 
  • Tour Operators: Like hotels, Costa Rica’s tour companies are also ranked on a scale of one to five sustainability leaves. Whenever you can, choose the “leafiest” option. 
  • Rural Tourism: Even if you stick mostly to the tourist trail, you can still dip your toes into rural tourism. Choose tours that include a visit to an indigenous pottery village or chocolate plantation; make sugar cane juice with just oxen to help; or learn to ride like a Costa Rican cowboy. You’ll meet awesome people who will have a lasting impact on your memories of Costa Rica.

How to Travel Eco-Sustainably in Costa Rica: Tips for Being a Responsible Tourist

Sustainable tourists can reduce the impact of tourism in many ways:
  • Informing themselves of the culture, politics, and economy of the communities they visit while traveling.
  • Anticipating and respecting local cultures, expectations, and assumptions in Costa Rica.
  • Supporting local cultures' integrity by favoring businesses that conserve cultural heritage and traditional values.
  • Supporting local economies by purchasing local goods and participating with small, local businesses.
  • Conserving resources by seeking out environmentally conscious businesses and using the least possible amount of non-renewable resources.
  • Removing their trash and recyclables, and finding the proper place to dispose of them. Most hotels offer recycling programs. 
  • Leaving nature where they find it. By law, Costa Rica prohibits the removal of natural elements such as shells and plants from national territory, so leaving it where it lives is the best policy. 
  • Eating locally whenever possible goes a long way. Choosing restaurants owned and staffed by Costa Ricans not only provides a more authentic experience but also helps the local economy. 
  • Volunteering when possible at local conservation projects, turtle nesting programs, and national parks.

‘Let’s Talk Tourism’ Podcast by Casey Halloran

2020 had as all hunker down and change the perspective on how tourism and travel works. Each week, Casey Halloran, CEO and Co-Founder of Namu Travel Group and Costa Rican Vacations talks to industry leaders in Costa Rica on the state of tourism in the pre-, during, and post-Covid19 world.  
If you want to check out our channel on YouTube and watch more episodes, click here. We'll leave a sneak peek of our videos below!

Let’s Talk Tourism with Gabriel Saragovia the Founder of the Rio Perdido Hotel & Thermal River

On Nov 28, 2020, Casey catches up with this Colombian born, US ecologist who loves his mountain biking and who is always pushing the limits of Eco-tourism & luxury!
Gabriel has been in Costa Rica for many years, and has founded one of the America’s most compelling Eco-tourism destinations in the Rio Perdido Hotel and it’s thermal river in Northern Costa Rica.
  • Which US National Parks might you compare Rio Perdido?
  • What does Costa Rica need to do to remain a tourism leader in the next decade?
  • What are the things you hope never change about Costa Rica?
  • What do you think it is about Costa Rica that makes it so appealing?

Let’s Talk Tourism with Hans Pfister—President and Co-Founder of The Cayuga Collection

On Oct 22, 2020, Casey catches up with Hans Pfister and old friend and Tourism Industry Leader. Hans is President and Co-Founder of The Cayuga Collection in Costa Rica Cayuga is a property management company running over ten different sustainable luxury resorts and hotels, dotted across Central America.
  • What do you see has changed the most in the tourism industry?
  • Is becoming Cancun or Barcelona inevitable of any successful tourism destination? If so can we slow it?
  • If you could implement a few things from best practices you’ve seen in other destinations, what would they be?

FAQs About Eco-Sustainable Travel to Costa Rica

What is the best time to go to Costa Rica? 

There's no wrong time to go to Costa Rica, so the best time is anytime, year-round. The best weather is from December to April, while the best time to see animals and wildlife is the rest of the year, during the rainy season.

Is there a lot of wildlife in Costa Rica? 

Yes. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries globally, with some 30% of its territory protected somehow. From tiny insects to reptiles, amphibians, big cats, and humpback whales, Costa Rica is one of the best wildlife-spotting destinations.

How long should I spend in Costa Rica? 

The longer, the better! Who wants to think about going home again while enjoying a luxury Costa Rican vacation? But in all seriousness, we recommend at least a week (seven nights) in Costa Rica to get the best of the country. Is it possible to come for less than that and have a wonderful time? Yes, of course. But you'll be doing yourself a massive favor if you can come for at least seven nights.
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