The Green Traveler’s Guide To Costa Rica Eco Tourism

Last updated on February 17th, 2024 at 05:35 am

Costa Rica eco tourism is the foundation of the country’s tourist industry. Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to prioritize sustainable travel, this is one of the many wonderful things Costa Rica is known for.

As Costa Rica has continued to prioritize reserving its lush tropical lands, it has begun attracting a more comprehensive range of tourists interested in checking out Costa Rica sustainable tourism.

There are few other countries where you can explore the preserved national parks and untouched beauty of Costa Rica’s land.

What Is Costa Rica Ecotourism & Why Is It So Important?

Ecotourism is defined as tourism with the goal of supporting conservation. It’s about combining conservation, sustainable travel, and the support of local communities in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica ecological tourism is extremely important to the country’s culture. Costa Rica has prioritized preserving its ecosystem with responsible travel for many years and is often considered the leader in ecotourism.

Costa Rica aims to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world. Costa Rica has already made the news multiple times for designing carbon-neutral airlines. Much of the ecotourism in Costa Rica is also built on ecolodges and the preservation of the country’s natural wonders.

Costa Rica's National Park System

In Central America, Costa Rica stands as a beacon for sustainable development and ecotourism. Starting from the bustling city of San Jose, travelers can easily access the country’s national park system which showcases some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Such gems as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Corcovado National Park located in the remote Osa Peninsula have a breathtaking forest canopies teeming with unique flora and fauna. Both places have many hiking trails that let visitors experience firsthand the beauty of Costa Rica. From the lush interiors to the serene Pacific Ocean coastlines, eco-tours abound, offering a deep dive into the heart of Costa Rica’s commitment to nature conservation.

Costa Rica, an eco-conscious nation, boasts 29 national parks that cover a significant portion of its national territory.

Whether you’re venturing into a cloud forest or exploring a coastal forest reserve, every step taken on Costa Rican soil is a testament to the nation’s dedication to ecotourism.

Ecotourism Activities: 17 Ways To Experience Costa Rica's Natural Beauty

You can help support Costa Rica’s ecotourism and sustainable development by visiting the country’s forests, organic farms, hot springs, and coffee plantations. Here are a few of the best ways to support Costa Rica’s ecotourism:

Hike a Coffee Plantation

The most prevalent export in Costa Rica is coffee. According to the Costa Rican tourism institute, Costa Rica exported approximately $372M in coffee in 2022 to countries like the United States, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany.

Coffee culture is vibrant in this tropical country. The county is one of the largest Arabica bean exporters. The weather, volcanic ash, and heavy rainfall are the perfect nature conditions for sourcing premium coffee.

You can take a guided hike through a coffee plantation, which allows you to enjoy the beautiful land and learn all about the different environmental ecosystems in Costa Rica. Remember to grab a sip of the delicious coffee made with premium Arabic beans.

The Doca Farm and Estate is one of the oldest roasting factories in the country. Tourists can learn all about local ecotourism and the importance of coffee while sipping on freshly brewed drinks. Even non-coffee drinkers will enjoy viewing nature and learning about local agriculture.

Visiting Costa Rica’s coffee plantations and farms also means supporting local farmers. Many of Costa Rica’s residents rely on income from purchased products. Some residents even earn their living as tour operators.

Indulge in Chocolate on a Guided Tour

Another thing Costa Rica sources is cocoa beans. Some farms may grow both coffee and cocoa. Cocoa production dates back many years in Costa Rica’s history. The early indigenous people of Costa Rica considered the cocoa bean sacred. The people would source cocoa beans to turn them into chocolate drinks, which were then used in special rituals.

A cocoa tour takes you through the extraction, fermentation, and chocolate-making processes. You’ll even learn more about how cocoa beans are important to the Costa Rican government and its efforts in ecotourism.

Support Locally-Owned Accommodations

An essential part of supporting ecotourism in Costa Rica is the hotel or rental that you support. You’ll find many hotels and other accommodations in busier cities like San Jose, La Fortuna, or Tamarindo.

Instead, consider supporting Costa Rica’s locals by staying in a more rural villa. Supporting Costa Rico ecotourism can also mean luxury accommodations nestled in the tropical rainforest overlooking the beautiful nature of the country.

Additionally, when you support an eco lodge, local hotel, or villa operators, you become an important part of helping the local Costa Ricans. Booking a larger chain hotel means your tourist dollars may not always support the local economy.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica - Arenal volcano
Arenal Volcano National Park

Hike Near a Volcano

Adventurous travelers will love visiting an active volcano. With Costa Rica home to over 60 volcanoes, you can easily find one worth visiting.

Experience an active volcano by visiting the Arenal Volcano National Park. Arenal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The Arenal Volcano extends over 5,400 feet into the air and overlooks the popular manmade Lake Arenal.

Visiting the Arenal Volcano National Park also allows you to enjoy the ever-popular La Fortuna Waterfall and a wide variety of refreshing hot springs. Imagine dipping into a refreshing pool as the strongest stream flows over the waterfall and soothes your tired muscles.

The Poas Volcano is also worth visiting. This volcano extends over 8,800 feet into the sky and overlooks a unique boiling acid lake. Many of Costa Rica’s national parks are home to the must-visit volcanoes.

You’ll also find volcanoes in other areas throughout Costa Rica. Only six of the volcanoes in Costa Rica are active, though. Many of Costa Rica’s volcanoes and protected areas require that you hike or zip line to them.

If you still want to experience the volcanoes in Costa Rica but don’t want to hike, check out Irazu Volcano. This over 11,000-foot volcano is accessible by car.

Visit an Eco Lodge That Focuses on Sustainable Tourism

Spend a night or two in an ecolodge, which is an accommodation that supports ecotourism in Costa Rica through no Wi-Fi or electricity. Some of Costa Rica’s ecolodges use solar energy to power the resort.

Eco lodges provide a unique experience of Costa Rica’s protected areas and ecotourism efforts.

Additionally, many of the eco-lodges in the country support locals and further conservation efforts. Many of the ecolodges in Costa Rica also have comprehensive recycling programs to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint.

Even a day visit to one of the ecolodges allows you to support ecotourism.

Explore Local Farms

Farmland makes up a significant portion of the land in Costa Rica, so one of the best ecotourism activities in Costa Rica is visiting local businesses and farms including many of it’s organic farms.

Not only does this allow you to support small businesses and the Costa Rican government, but you can also stock up on fresh ingredients to cook some of Costa Rica’s authentic dishes in your villa.

There are various ways to explore local farms, including hiking, touring, and even horseback riding. Don’t be afraid to travel to some of the more rural areas to support Costa Rica’s ecotourism.

Some of Costa Rica’s farms even accept volunteers. Volunteering your time helps support ecotourism in Costa Rica while giving you hands-on education about the country’s natural resources.

Soak in the Sun on the Beach

Costa Rica offers much more than your traditional beaches. While you can expect beautiful, refreshing beaches, you’ll also find hiking trails with extraordinary biodiversity along the coast. Hike among active volcanoes or climb a ledge along the beachside and try to spot humpback whales.

You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches of Costa Rica in the northwest part of the country. This includes Guanacaste and Puerto Viejo. Head on over to Tamarindo Beach for swimming.

Pro tip: Visiting Playa Chiquita, located on the country’s east coast, is a great way to experience sparkling clear waters surrounded by lush nature.

Surf at Cano Island

Situated on the Osa Peninsula, Cano Island is a biological reserve worth exploring. Here, you’ll find an abundance of culture, history, and ecotourism. You’ll also often find a lot of surfers on Cano Island since it’s home to five diving platforms and the coral reefs.

History buffs will also love visiting Cano Island, where you’ll find hand-carved stone spheres from the Diqui tribes. This pre-Columbian indigenous culture of Costa Rica dates back to at least AD 700 – 1530.

You could also go snorkeling and get a view of the whales, ray fish, sea turtles, and lobster on Cano Island. The Osa Peninsula is also home to growler monkeys, lizards, snakes, and peccaries. Of course, you’ll find an abundance of fish off the coast of Cano Island and the Osa Peninsula.

Zip Lining

Zip lining has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Costa Rica. A zip line experience through the tropical forest is one of the best and most exciting ways to view the native wilderness, thriving fauna, and waterfalls.

Zipping through the jungle canopies in Costa Rica also makes it easier for the country to sustain its vibrant forest canopy and coverage. By allowing guests to explore the tropical rainforests via zip line, the country can preserve more of the native plants and flowers. The reduction of footprints also reduces pollution and helps keep wildlife in nature safer.

If zip lining isn’t for you, consider exploring the canopy on a hanging bridge. This eco-friendly method of traveling is an exceptional way to explore the vibrant forest cover while reducing your carbon footprint.

The great thing about exploring via zip-lining or hanging bridge is that both methods are possible even during the rainy season.

Go Wildlife Spotting

Hiking and wildlife spotting is another exciting activity. Costa Rica is home to 29 national parks, which gives you your fair share of wilderness viewing.

Many of the national parks charge a small admission fee, which helps support conservation efforts. In return for a fee of $7-$15 per person, you can enjoy the unique nature that Costa Rica offers.

The Osa Peninsula is the country’s most popular place for whale watching. But you can also find marine life at the Ballena Marine National Park, which is also known to be one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching.

The best time to visit Costa Rica for whale watching is between July and October and from December to February. You could also sign up for a locally-based guided tour to spot more humpback whales.

Another exceptional place to spot wildlife in Costa Rica is the Tirimina Biological Reserve. Strap on your hiking boots and explore the wetlands and cocoa plantations.

What Type of Wildlife Will I see?

In the heart of Costa Rica’s national parks, the ecotourism hub of Central America, visitors are treated to a vibrant display of biodiversity. Journeying through the trails, beneath the dense forest canopy, one can spot a myriad of animal species that call these wildlife refuges home.

From the roar of howler monkeys overhead to the stealthy jaguars prowling in the underbrush, the parks are alive with creatures of all shapes and sizes. Mangrove swamps house crocodiles and manta rays. Visitors might catch a glimpse of sea turtles nesting while colorful birds like toucans, macaws, and ospreys soar above. The trees resonate with the calls of animals, from the chirping of many amphibian species like frogs to the rustling of bats at dusk.

Costa Rica’s commitment to preserving its rich ecosystems is evident in the number of species you’ll encounter, including amphibians, insects, and so much more.

Support Small Towns in Costa Rica

While cities like La Fortuna and San Jose get much attention when it comes to ecotourism activities, many smaller towns that are considered off the beaten path in Costa Rica are worth visiting. Nosara is located on the Nicoya Peninsula and offers excellent surfing and beautiful beaches.

The Nicoya Peninsula also draws in thousands of tourists each year to view the arribada, which is when thousands of sea turtles arrive in the area during their sea nesting season.

You can also find a large protected sea turtle population at Barra del Colorado.

Yoga is another important part of Costa Rica culture. You can find open-air yoga classes in some of the smaller towns of Costa Rica.

Relax, stretch, and become one with nature among the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica. A yoga class in front of a sculpted waterfall in the middle of nature will become a favorite memory.

Hike Diverse Ecosystems in the National Parks

Make sure you bring a good pair of hiking boots on your trip to Costa Rica. Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the diverse ecosystems of Costa Rica. Hike among one of the 28 national parks.

Visiting Corcovado National Park allows you to hike through 13 separate ecosystems. This means you’ll find many wildlife, including monkeys and sloths. This is also one of the best places in Costa Rica to find harder-to-spot wild animals, like jaguars.

In fact, the Corcovado National Park has been named one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet by National Geographic. Numerous hiking trails wind through Corcovado National Park, offering a front-row seat to the rich biodiversity.

You can hike through lowland forest cover, mangrove swamps, and rainforests, and experience some of the best nature in the country. Bird watchers also come to the Corcovado National Park from all over the world to capture photographs of great curassow, white-whiskered puffbird, black-throated trogon, and pale-billed woodpecker.

Corcovado National Park also features conservation areas where you’ll find wilderness refuges and likely see big cats and monkeys.

The great thing about Costa Rica is that it has exciting hiking opportunities for hikers of all skill levels. Beginner hikers will enjoy the Arenal Volcano Trail #1 or Las Pailas Loop, both of which have an easy hike rating. More experienced hikers may want to check out Bahia Drake Public Trail and the Tres Cruces Escazu Trail.

Monteverde cloud forest reserve

Experience the Cloud Forests

Hiking through the cloud forests is also a must when experiencing eco tourism in Costa Rica. Monteverde is perhaps one of the most common ways to experience Costa Rica ecotourism. Made up of six ecological zones, you can explore the best of Costa Rica’s biodiversity within one park.

Monteverde grew in popularity in the 1980s, when it became one of the best birdwatching destinations in the world. As the word got out that Monteverde cloud forest was home to many rare bird species, the number of visitors also increased.

Whether you choose a beginner or more advanced hiking route, you’re in for an adventure since almost 30% of Costa Rica is in protected areas. The country’s conservation efforts mean you get to experience a pure outdoor experience.

Enjoy Hot Springs & Spas

With so much to see and do in Costa Rica, you’ll want to plan ample downtime for relaxation. A dip in one of the refreshing hot springs is a great option.

The Tabacon Hot Springs is located in a thermal resort and spa near the Arenal Volcano. The warm waters are known for their healing properties. Additionally, with access to five thermal pools, you can easily find one that’s quiet and serene.

The Baldi Hot Springs is also one of the largest in Costa Rica and is located within a rainforest. The 100% natural springs come from the subterranean volcanic river nearby. This means that the waters aren’t only relaxing, they’re rich in minerals too.

If natural pools are more your thing, plan a visit to Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Enjoy an adventurous hike through the lowland rainforests before cooling off in one of the streams or lagoons. The naturally heated pools are also a great way to destress after traveling all day to Costa Rica.

A spa day in Costa Rica is an adventure that everyone should experience at least once. Costa Rica offers many eco-friendly spas fueled by natural resources. You can enjoy a mud bath, mud masks, and natural massage fueled by the streaming waterfalls.

Some of the thermal springs have on-site spas too. Schedule a full day of pampering amongst the conservation areas, complete with a full body massage.

Sign up For a Day Boat Tour

A boat tour are also an exceptional way to experience ecotourism in Costa Rica. Go whale watching on a guided cruise in Costa Rica. Tour operators will take you along the Southern Pacific Coast, which is a prime destination for whale watching.

Some guided tours also offer scuba diving excursions and dolphin watching. You can also sign up for a guided snorkel and sunset tour, which allows you to spend the day on the water exploring the marine life before then watching one of the best sunsets in the region.

Support Local Restaurants

Many of the local restaurants in Costa Rica have menus that include fresh fruits and vegetables from the country’s forests. A lot of the culinary delights in Costa Rica are their own take on comfort food, with dishes like Gallo Pinto and Casado, each with a Latin American base.

Make sure you try Casado on your Costa Rica trip, which is a pork chop-based dish. Costa Rican Tamal wrapped in a banana leaf is also a must-try. Finally, a visit to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without Arroz con leche.

If you can’t choose one dish or restaurant, check out Mercado Central. This market is located in San Jose and consists of over 200 locally-based food vendors. If you’re near a beach, towns such as Tamarindo, Jaco, and Manuel Antonio are known to have great restaurants.

Explore the Caribbean Coast

While off the beaten path for most, the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is also an exceptional location for sustainable tourism. Hop on a boat or plane to visit the Tortuguero National Park. Tortuguero National Park is one of the best national parks for spotting sea turtles in Costa Rica.

Puerto Viejo is known for its surf breaks and wildlife cat rehabilitation centers. The small town is also directly on the Caribbean coast, offering beautiful beaches and waterfront views. Cahuita is another small village on the Caribbean coast worth visiting that’s also home to the Cahuita National Park. Here, you’ll find coral reefs and sandy beaches. Of course, enjoying local cuisine is a must when visiting each destination.

The History of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Ecotourism in Costa Rica has been a priority since the 1960s. Only about 25% of the forested country was untouched during this time. Business owners considered how valuable the land would be if preservation efforts became the main selling point.

Today, Costa Rica’s ecotourism is led by the Environment Ministry and the Tourism Board. The conservation and preservation efforts have been successful, with ecotourism being one of the main reasons people visit.

Costa Rica can still earn money through tourist dollars without sacrificing its land. The country’s lowland rain forests, hot springs, and well-preserved national parks are the foundation of Costa Rica’s beauty and reason for visiting.

Plan a Costa Rica Ecotourism Trip Today

Explore Costa Rica! Scheduling an ecotourism trip in Costa Rica promises an exciting adventure.

Spend your mornings visiting the local towns along the Caribbean coast, where you can indulge in the country’s comfort foods. By afternoon, hop on a guided tour by boat and check out the national parks, rainforests, and biodiversity scattered across Costa Rica.

Whether it’s a birthday getaway or a multi-family vacation, for the ultimate ecotourism in Costa Rica experience, book an eco-friendly luxury villa in the lush jungles of Costa Rica. With your own chef and concierge, you’ll enjoy the best of Costa Rican nature without sacrificing comfort.


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