Keeping it Real: 3 Costa Rica Travel Tips for Sustainable Travel

By Trish Keatings

2017 marked the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, as designated by the United Nations.

That year, the mainstream got the message that policies, business practices, and consumer behaviors in the global tourism industry had the power to transform our world. Just one year later, one study indicated that nearly 70% of travelers intended to stay in an eco-accommodation for their 2018 vacation.

In Costa Rica, ecotourism and sustainable travel infrastructure is among the most advanced and innovative in the world. A visit here is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in that culture of sustainability.

But sustainable travel is more than staying at a hotel that turns the water off at 8 pm every night. With these easy to follow Costa Rica travel tips, you can travel the country in a more responsible way.

Keep reading for all you need to know about what sustainable travel is, why it’s important in Costa Rica in particular, and our 3 tips for keeping it real.

A Brief Introduction to Sustainable Travel

When you travel, you’re never travelling in a vacuum. That is, every choice you make as a consumer, from where you stay to the tours you take, has an impact on the economy, environment, and culture of the place you’re visiting.

Sustainable travel is, first and foremost, about being aware of that reality and making choices that minimize any unintended negative impact. There are three foundational pillars to the sustainable travel ethos:

  1. Being environmentally conscious. While being green and reducing your carbon footprint is part of being environmentally conscious, it’s actually more than that. To be environmentally sustainable, tourism must work to protect both the natural and built environment in which it operates and in a way that preserves resources for the use of future generations.

  2. Protecting both cultural and natural heritage. When tourism expands in a community, the community is bound to be affected in some ways. The key to fulfilling this pillar is in minimizing the negative impacts and maximizing positive ones. This might be through efforts that promote cultural exchange, preserve traditions, and get the community involved in the industry in a way that’s beneficial.  

  3. Improving the social and economic wellbeing of the local community. Tourism is a profitable business. Historically, big, often foreign-owned businesses are the benefactors of that wealth, to the detriment of local communities and economies. Sustainable tourism seeks to keep the financial benefits of tourism within the community, so that it might be used for further sustainable development.

Although Costa Rica ecotourism is often used interchangeably with sustainable tourism, and it’s true that environmentalism is a big part of sustainability, all three criteria must be met in order to be truly sustainable.

Why Is Sustainable Travel in Costa Rica Important?

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. For a country that amounts to less than 1% of the planet’s surface, Costa Rica holds 6% of all the plant, animal, and insect species we know of.

For the potential impacts on the environment alone, travelling sustainably in Costa Rica is of utmost importance – it’s essential to protecting that diversity, building awareness, and generating a cohort of travelers who work to protect the communities, environments, and economies they visit.

Staying green is easy in Costa Rica, where ecotourism and eco-friendly practices are well-established. Indeed, nearly 30% of the national territory is safeguarded by government conservation efforts and 93% of the country’s electricity is produced by renewable energy sources.

But in keeping with their reputation for being a leader in progressive practices, you’ll also find a robust sustainable tourism industry in Costa Rica. Here, it’s often referred to as rural or community tourism.

Local people and communities facilitate experiences that include everything from cooking traditional foods in small, campesino kitchens to visiting local coffee farms and roasting your own coffee. Travelers are given the opportunity to interact with and within the community, while the money they spend is reinvested and allows them to direct their own sustainable development.

With that infrastructure in place, a responsible tourist would be remiss not to utilize it. But there are a few other Costa Rica travel tips to keep in mind for an even more positive trip.

3 Costa Rica Travel Tips for Sustainable Travel

While you’re researching all the best Costa Rica travel tips for where to visit and what to eat, don’t forget that you’re heading to the very heart of the sustainable tourism movement and that your choices while there are powerful.

Keep these 3 tips in mind as a very minimum standard for staying sustainable in Costa Rica.

1. Spend Your Dollars Wisely

Research conducted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) indicates that as much as 95% of the dollars spent by international tourists don’t benefit the economies where the trip was taken. In fact, that money rarely even stays in that economy.

When tourist dollars remain in the hands of the community, the local economy and people benefit, thus fulfilling a component of the sustainable travel pillars. What’s more, putting tourism dollars into the hands of the local people empowers them economically, making it less likely that land gets sold to foreign corporations. It also decreases the likelihood that people have to turn to illegal means, such as illegal logging and hunting, to make a living.

All that to say that an important aspect of travelling sustainably is spending your dollars wisely in terms of the tours you take, the places you stay, and the things you purchase along the way.

Lokal Travel, for example, ensures that 80% of the money spent on your tour stays in the local economy. Lokal also uses a strict vetting system for tour operators, to be sure that they’re committed to working with local communities, preserving cultural traditions, and conserving the environments in which they operate.

2. Use the Guidelines in Place

Not specifically a Costa Rica travel tip, but a tip for traveling anywhere in the world, is to use the guidelines and infrastructure that’s been put in place for you. In Costa Rica, that means knowing about the many programs and organizations that can help you reduce your footprint and make a positive impact.

Of the best known programs in Costa Rica is the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). This program rates businesses on a 5-point scale, according to how well they comply with sustainable practices and guidelines developed by the Government of Costa Rica.

The CST rating involves analyzing good management practices, the environmental and social impact of the service, and consumer perceptions of the service. You’ll recognize the rating by its green leaf seal, which can be found at many businesses across the country.

3. Avoid Single Use Plastic

By the year 2050, it’s estimated that plastic will make up 13% of the world’s carbon budget. That’s because greenhouse gases are used to refine the raw materials that make plastics as well as in the production process – they’re even a major component of the systems we use to dispose of and manage plastic waste.

This is how single-use plastic and its expanding production worldwide is increasing the effects of climate change.

But Costa Rica has pledged to become the first country to ban single-use plastics in the world. The nation hopes that its efforts will result in the elimination of disposable straws, cutlery, bags, bottles and cups made from plastic by 2021 – and you should be part of that movement.

Bring your own grocery and shopping bags, notice restaurants that are still serving drinks with plastic straws, recycle where you can, and consider bringing a refillable glass bottle for your drinking water. Any efforts you make toward avoiding single-use plastics will make a huge impact in achieving plastic-free goals that are ahead of almost any other country worldwide.

More About Traveling Costa Rica

Among all the Costa Rica travel tips you’ll come across in your research, tips on how to be a responsible tourist are some of the most important. That’s especially true considering that you’ll be travelling to one of the most sustainable countries in the world, with some of the most innovative opportunities for eco and sustainable tourism.

When you’re ready to start filling your itinerary, our selection of tours has already been vetted by our travel experts and according to our strict guidelines. Check out what we have to offer for sustainable Costa Rica tours here.

Trish Keatings

Trish is a freelance content and copywriter whose passions are travel and wellness. A full-time traveler herself, she finds inspiration on the road, among the people she meets and the cultures she immerses in. When she's not writing for others, she's working on her own stories, which she hopes to publish into a novel about the transformational experience of facing fears, pursuing dreams, and finding purpose.

Keep Exploring