Ecotourism in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is notable for having a stronger democracy than the United States and being the least impoverished nation in Central America. Twenty-five percent of the country is national parks – some might say that leaving all that land unfarmed means losing productivity. The national parks also contain untouched forests, which create economic incentives to develop that land into a pasture or city. However, since it is doing better than its neighbors at economic and social development, there must be some other reason Costa Rica is successful. A large part of that answer is the amount of ecotourism in Costa Rica.

History of Ecotourism

Ecotourism in Costa Rica started in the 1960s when only 25% of the once entirely forested country remained untouched. Entrepreneurs were curious about how the country could preserve the forest in a way that earned more money than logging it. They built lodging near newly-founded parks and worked with foreign retailers such as Any Mountain to make specialized outdoor gear to handle the terrain. Entrepreneurs also encouraged the government to produce web pages that emphasize the positive environmental impacts of ecotourism.

Benefits of Ecotourism

As a result of these investments, Costa Rica attracted 3.14 million tourists in 2019. The direct and indirect benefits of these tourists are:

  1. Money: Costa Rica earned $3.4 billion in just one year— around 5% of the country’s GDP—due to visitor spending. That money can increase the number of people in the middle class and help Costa Ricans avoid the poverty that affects neighboring countries.
  2. Sustainability: If Costa Rica’s businesses decided to use the remaining 25% of the forests for lumber, there would be none left now. Ecotourism can exist as a source of income indefinitely. In the long run, that can create lasting prosperity and health for the citizens of the country.
  3. Protected Biodiversity: Places closest to the equator like Costa Rica contain the most species per unit area. Those species have the potential to cure diseases. They act as a harbor of life in the developed world where many are going extinct.
  4. Proof of Concept: Costa Rica was one of the first countries that had visitors to admire ecological, not historical, sites. People first created the term ecotourism, then, to describe the focus of the visitors. Many places in Africa such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Benin established national parks in an attempt to reap the same rewards as Costa Rica.

The Future of Ecotourism

Ecotourism in Costa Rica and in other parts of the world is a way to satisfy both the ecological and economical needs of people. This leads to stable and robust governments that can stand up to disturbances like natural disasters. They can also serve their constituents better by preventing vast swaths of the population from sliding into poverty.

That is not to say that it is a perfect solution. Historically, leaders have uprooted indigenous communities to make the parks for ecotourism. Other sectors like Costa Rica’s computer parts manufacturing can use it as a false front to justify unnecessary pollution. Diseases like COVID-19 can reduce traffic, leaving many without jobs. However, under normal circumstances, the positives outweigh the negatives. Countries around the world should at least consider integrating ecotourism into their economies and the lives of their citizens.

– Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr