Welcome to Eco Wild!
In this issue:
1. Why is Costa Rica a strong ecodestination?
1. Why is Costa Rica a strong ecodestination?
It appears that I hit a raw nerve when I mentioned in the May
9 Eco Wild newsletter that Costa Rica is considered one of the world's top ecodestinations!
I received an incredible amount of feedback on this topic, asking what is so special
about Costa Rica and what is the secret to its success? Consequently, I have decided
to devote this week's issue of Eco Wild to Costa Rica and what makes this country
one of the world's top ecodestinations. Most of my information is from an interesting
book called, "Ecotourism and Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise?", by Martha
Honey; I quoted Martha Honey's words in quotes below. If you are interested in
ecotourism, this is a must read on your book list!
Costa Rica did not originally consider ecotourism as a source
of income and employment for people living near the national parks. "Rather, as
is the case in Africa, they adhered to a preservationist philosophy that sought
to isolate the parks and prevent any outside encroachment." It appears that Costa
Rica needed to change its way of thinking because by the 1980's, Costa Rica had,
outside its parks, the highest rate of deforestation in all of Latin America.
Squatters cleared acres of land inside the parks for grazing and agriculture,
reducing the amount of game animals inside the parks. In 1985 the Costa Rica Parks
director asked for a study to be done on the situation and was told "the (park
service) should involve itself deeply with neighbouring communities and other
planning agencies to show the benefits of the park."
This study changed ecotourism's future in Costa Rica. By the mid
1990's, sustainable timber harvesting, improved farming techniques, environmental
education and community development activities were successfully implemented.
Costa Rica is most famous for its large, well protected national parks. However,
the current ecotourism trend is in private reserves. "In one survey, Canadian
ecotourists ranked four private reserves-Monteverde, La Selva, Rara Avis, and
Marenco- as the most impressive natural areas visited."
Monteverde "is the most famous of Costa Rica's private reserves
and the country's leading ecotourism destination. Internationally acclaimed for
its sound conservation and tourism strategies, Monteverde is blessed by its relative
inaccessibility, careful monitoring by scientists, well-trained guides, and cohesive,
socially responsible local community." Monteverde tourism increased by 36% per
year in the late 1980's and by 50% per year in the 1990's. The biggest beneficiaries
of Monteverde's ecotourism has been CASEM, a women's handicraft cooperative. "CASEM
...created a handicraft environment that didn't exist before ... and has been
a wonderful way for women to feel empowered, to gain self esteem, and to build
a sense of sisterhood to address family problems such as alcoholism and domestic
However, Monteverde became so popular that infrastructure problems
were imminent. Consequently, "the reserve limited visitors in 1991 to 100 people
at a time, restricted most tourists to well-marked trails through only 2% of the
reserve, hired and trained more naturalist guides, and sharply increased entrance
fees for foreigners to $23, including a guided tour and a slide show, in hope
of curbing the number of visitors, particularly those on package tours." By 1994,
Monteverde earned $850,000 annually, more income than from all of Costa Rica's
national parks combined!
According to Martha Honey, Costa Rica has fulfilled the seven
main criteria for sound ecotourism:
1. Involves travel to natural destinations. Costa Rica's national
parks and private reserves attract the majority of its tourists.
2. Minimizes impact. "By 1997, some 73% of the 360 registered hotels had sixteen
or fewer rooms". Unfortunately, few of these hotels were built to limit environmental
impact, although the use of local thatch and other local construction materials,
solar heated water and natural ventilation is becoming more popular.
3. Builds environmental awareness. "Ecotourism has clearly helped to build environmental
awareness among both visitors and Costa Ricans." Costa Rica is one of the two
countries worldwide that have completed a "sustainable tourism rating", using
international criteria for independent ecolodge assessments. "Such surveys are
not only extremely useful to tourists but also help to set national standards
and definitions of what constitutes high quality ecotourism. They are therefore
important educational tools for the traveling public, government officials, NGOs
and community organisations."
4. Provides direct financial benefits for conservation. Conservation and private
research has benefited from Costa Rica's ecotourism. The rate of deforestation
in the country has slowed considerably with the growth of ecotourism, resulting
in the Costa-Rican government winning the ASTA/Smithsonian Magazine Environmental
Award for rain forest protection.
5. Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people. A sizable number
of local people have benefitted from Costa Rica's ecotourism boom. Locals offer
related services, (handicrafts, butterfly farms, organic farming), activities
(hiking on their local farms) and local restaurants serving authentic Costa-Rican
food. In addition, environmental awareness and education has produced local naturalist
guides, park rangers, hotel managers and tour drivers. A majority of the Costa-Rican
based tour companies and half of the ecolodges are locally owned.
6. Respects local culture. Ecotourism has helped stimulate and improve local crafts,
folklore, national museums and theaters, pride in regional areas and adherence
to religious holidays. Despite pressure from the tourism industry, the country
literally closes on Easter and Christmas!
7. Supports human rights and democratic movements. "Costa Rica has the oldest
democracy in Latin America." Ecotourism has helped mobilise the government to
take action to protect its parks and other environmental groups and to create
some solid programs to improve the political rights and economic conditions of
the rural poor.
As you can see from above, Costa Rica has changed its image in
15 years from the most deforested country in Latin America to the world's top
ecodestination. I am not saying that Costa Rica does not have problems. It suffered
a drop in tourism revenue in 1996 due to various reasons. However, I think East
Africa can learn from Costa Rica's success! I challenge all of us involved in
East African tourism to work together to ensure that Kenya and Tanzania fulfill
the seven main criteria for sound ecotourism as well, allowing our countries to
stand next to Costa Rica as one of the top ecodestinations in the world. It won't
be easy, but it will be worth it for the benefit of the wildlife, communities
I hope you enjoyed this week's issue as much as I enjoyed writing it; now I
encourage you to take some action and go wild about East Africa, wildlife and
Thank you for your support!
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