carara national park

Ecotourism in Costa Rica – Plan a Sustainable Trip

Costa Rica prides itself on its environmental and sustainable values. This extends to the entire country running on almost 100% renewable energy and being home to about 5% of the world’s biodiversity despite only taking up a landmass of 1% of the earth’s surface.

With tourism being the biggest income source to the country, it is important for us all to do our part in maintaining and strengthening the eco-friendly classification that Costa Rica has worked so hard to achieve.

We created this guide to ecotourism in Costa Rica to give you some insight on how you can enjoy a sustainable trip, the best places to stay at a variety of price points, and great eco-friendly activities. 

What is Ecotourism?

cahuita path

Ecotourism is the idea of creating a travel experience that emphasizes conserving the environment, protecting natural areas through minimal impact travel, education of the traveler, and improving the lives of local people. 

Costa Rica has been a popular ecotourism destination since the 1990’s. In fact, the country, with its rich biodiversity and immense ecosystem, is considered a leader in eco tourism and is often considered a positive model for the rest of the world.

How Ecotourism Has Affected Costa Rica

montezuma beach waterfall

It is hard to balance the pros and cons that the ecotourism model has had on Costa Rica. 

Personally, I believe that the eco-friendly travel classification of Costa Rica has had many positive effects on the country. Of course, there are always going to be negatives, but it seems to me that the positives outweigh the negatives.

A lot of this is thanks to the efforts that the Costa Rican government and citizens have put on living up to this ecotourism classification in order to increase tourism while simultaneously preserving the land and culture.

As a result: 

– The country is the wealthiest in Central America 

– Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America

– 25% of all areas in Costa Rica are protected through national parks, reserves, and protected areas

– 98% of energy is produced from renewable resources

– The country boasts is a 95% literacy rate

However, although increased tourism and preservation of the environment sound great in theory, the downside is that some citizens feel that it is impossible for them to survive financially if they do not work in the tourism sector. The cost of living has gone up as a reflection of tourism, and not everyone in the country can keep up with that. 

Another downside is the increase in foreigners (like us) that move to Costa Rica. Often these foreigners come on a retirement scheme or set up new tourism businesses in the country which can take away from opportunities for locals to reach the same success. 

It is a tough balance for sure! This is why we try to always recommend companies run by Costa Ricans when possible. But, I don’t always know if we are helping or contributing to problems. 

I guess, all we can do is try our best and hope that we are helping rather than hurting.

And this extends to you as a traveler as well. All you can do is your best when it comes to sustainable travel.

And that is my TED Talk on Costa Rica ecotourism. 😉 

Now, the fun stuff!

Eco Friendly Activities

monteverde zip lining

Most activities in Costa Rica are eco friendly because you will likely spend most of your time outside during your travels. Here are some great ideas for things that have minimal environmental impact and also help support locals.

Hike in a National Park

corcovado national park

All the national parks are amazing, but for a really unique environmental experience, we suggest Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula.

Relax on a Beach

With amazing coastline on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast of Costa Rica there is no shortage of beaches to enjoy. Also, you don’t have to limit your enjoyment to relaxing on a beach, there is also always surfing, snorkeling, kayaking etc.

Check out our guide to Costa Rica beaches for more tips.

See a Volcano Up Close

irazu crater

There are several volcanos in Costa Rica. Our favorites to visit up close are Poas Volcano and Irazu Volcano. Arenal is amazing as well to view from below.

Visit a Waterfall

rio celeste

Waterfalls are everywhere in Costa Rica. There is such a variety from places with multiple falls, spots you can swim under, and even some with crazy bright blue coloring.

Find out more in our complete waterfall guide.

Walk on a Hanging Bridge

montezuma hanging bridge

Our two favorite places to enjoy a walk along hanging bridges are La Fortuna with views of the Arenal Volcano and Moteverde where you can walk on suspension bridges above cloud forest canopies. 

Go Zip-Lining

zip line Monteverde

It is possible to go zip-lining all over the country. Our absolute favorite places are Monteverde and La Fortuna because the views are next-level amazing.

Eco Lodges in Costa Rica

pool airbnb santa teresa

Costa Rica has accommodations for all travel styles and interests and that includes places that will satisfy all your eco conscious needs. Eco lodges in Costa Rica are prevalent. 

Here are a few that we have either visited or know great things about…

High End Eco Resorts

Pacuare Lodge: This all inclusive resort is located in the dense jungle between San Jose and the Caribbean coast. This is a popular spot for white water rafting tours, but the property is so amazing that you could also just spemd time enjoying all it has to offer.

Lapas Rio Lodge: Ok, this is next-level luxury located in Puerto Jimenez near Corcovado National Park. The property boasts 17 private bungalows on over 1,000 acres of privately protected land.

El Silencio Lodge & Spa: This amazing resort is located only about one hour away from the San Jose International Airport in dense jungle. This has been on our personal Costa Rica bucket list for awhile because the vibe is everything we want with a nice combo of luxury, education, and nature.

Mid Range Eco Resorts

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens: This lodge is located on the Caribbean coast of the country in Tortuguero. It is an absolutely beautiful place to stay with a pool along the Tortuguero River.

Finca Luna Nueva Lodge: Located in the hilly region just south of La Fortuna, this eco-lodge has a swimming pool, spa, and extensive gardens and forest that guests can explore. Oh, and the food is delicious!

Danica Cloud Forest Lodge: Located in one of our absolute favorite place, San Gerardo de Dota, this eco lodge provides an on-site art gallery, an amazing restaurant, private hot tubs at each room, and amazing grounds with cloud forest views.

Budget Friendly Eco Lodges

Drift Away Eco Lodge: This place, located on the beach just south of Tamarindo, is run by two other travel bloggers. In other words, they know all about what matters when it comes to great accommodations and execute that all perfectly with their lodge.

Is it Really an Eco Lodge?

airbnb san gerardo

Keep in mind that an eco lodge can really mean whatever someone wants it to mean. In Costa Rica, hotel owners know that the term “eco lodge” has a positive connotation which can be used to attract customers. 

There isn’t any qualification in Costa Rica that accommodations need to follow in order to advertise with the eco-lodge distinction.

In other words, if you care a lot about the place you are staying focusing on sustainable methods, send them an email before you book and ask them how exactly they distinguish themselves as an eco-lodge.

Tips for Being a Good Eco Traveler While in Costa Rica

hiking in Montezuma

– The Institute for Costa Rica Tourism (ICT) has a system of classification for sustainable businesses. If you see this symbol ⇩ on a Costa Rican business website, that means it has met the requirements to achieve a certificate for sustainable tourism.

– Keep in mind that being a good eco tourist goes beyond just helping the environment. A big factor is preserving local culture. For us, it is important to support local businesses whenever possible. 

If you have any questions about eco travel in Costa Rica, just leave them in the comment section below and we will get back to you. We area always happy to help you out!

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About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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