Tourism is extremely important to the economy of Costa Rica. The travel boom began in the late 80s, and in 2012 the country played host to more than 2.3 million foreign visitors – a historical record. Tourism has contributed to a 3% reduction in the nation’s poverty, as more than 13% of the population benefits directly or indirectly from this thriving industry. At the same time, Costa Rica remains the leader in ecotourism, with more than 45% of travelers participating in cultural and nature-oriented activities.
What does it mean to be an ecotourist? At the core it’s a commitment to “do no harm,” to be conscious of the environment and avoid leaving a negative impact on fragile ecosystems. It’s also a call to learn about a foreign culture and the citizens who make up the community. Simple tips for travelers:
Language Learn a few words of the local language and use them.
Dress Read up on local conventions and dress appropriately. In many countries, modest dress is important.
Behavior Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes or private land.
Photographs Be sensitive to when and where you take photos or video. If people are present, always ask first.
Environment Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass animals. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.
Animal products Never purchase crafts, clothing, furniture or other products that are derived from members of protected or endangered animal species.
Buy local Choose locally owned lodges, hotels and B & Bs. Use local buses, car rental agencies and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets and attend local events. This way money spent in the community will stay in the community.
Hire local guides Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live locally. Are they recommended by tour operators?
Pay a fair price Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Tip for services at the same rate you would at home.
Your stay in Costa Rica – or wherever you travel – should be an experience that lasts long after you’ve returned home. What you learn will broaden your horizons, and what you contribute as a responsible tourist will foster enduring cross-cultural bonds.