Retiring and Living in Costa Rica
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES, 1990).
Costa Rica is recognized around the world as a pioneer in ecotourism; since the decade of the 1980s, prescient and intrepid entrepreneurs have created small lodges and hotels in many of the country’s most beautiful areas, specifically to provide visitors with the best possible experience of the country’s fantastic natural surroundings, as well as a taste of local culture. Oftenthese businesses have also sought to contribute to conservationand community development efforts in a number of ways, from establishing private nature reserves to supporting local schools. An important impact of ecotourism has been to provide good jobs and training to locals living in areas traditionally isolated from the national economy and where jobs have been in short supply. Another important element of ecotourism is incorporating education into tourists’ experience to allow them to better understand what they are seeing and experiencing, both as regards nature and the local culture.
Over the last two decades, ecotourism has becomea mainstream activity, with even large hotel chains identifying themselves with the ideal of ecotourism, and making efforts reduce their impacts on the environment and to expose their guests to experiences of local nature and customs. While many of these efforts are sincere and make positive contributions to the country’s conservation and sustainable development, others are little more than “greenwashing,” or expressing concern for the environment with little actual commitment.
One way to distinguish between real ecotourismoperations and pretenders is through certification programs, in which independent third parties rate the facilities, operations and activities of hotels and other tourism operations for their level of environmental and social impact and sustainability. In Costa Rica, the most widely used and recognized program is the governmental Sustainable Tourism Certification program, implemented by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT). A caveat regarding certification is that some smaller lodges, which might be highly sustainable, often do not seek certification because of the cost involved and because these programs are usually designed for larger operations.
A newer wrinkle in the field of ecotourism or sustainable tourism is community-based tourism, which involves visiting projects and staying in accommodations developed and run by local communities, which gives visitors an opportunity to experience firsthand how rural Costa Ricans live and work.
One of the specialties of EcoRealtors is identifying the best available opportunities throughout the country for persons interested in investing in new or ongoing ecotourism operations.