During a recent trip to Costa Rica to visit some of the beautiful natural areas, I was able to witness first hand the success of the national strategy to promote tourism, an industry that now exceeds the income from cash crops such as coffee, banana and pineapple, and above all the surge in ecotourism and active tourism as compared to the classic beach vacation. By Susana Canogar
Thursday, 12 de May de 2016
Costa Rica has a privileged geographical location, lying between two continents and washed by two oceans, with one the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. The amount of protected natural areas has steadily increased over the years, now covering a quarter of the surface area of the country. In certain areas of the northeastern interior, such as Arenal, Monteverde and Guanacaste, ecotourism is on the rise and the sloped rainforest that had been cleared for agriculture and cattle grazing are now being regenerated, so helping to conserve water resources and reduce soil erosion. The National Program for Biological Corridors created in 2006 seems to be achieving its objective of reinstating the connectivity of forests, a program inspired in the ambitious regional program known as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, launched by Central American countries during the 90s.
In the vicinity of the national parks and reserves all sorts of activities are being generated catering to visitors that come to enjoy nature, including training of excellent local guides that not only facilitate the observation of flora and fauna during day and night expeditions, but also control the actions of tourists in the rainforest. The involvement of the local population in the life of these parks is very notable, actively educating their school children on the importance of protecting their natural heritage.
There is also an increase in active or adventure tourism, associated with the limits of the national parks, which has had the effect of extending the forested area. Adventure parks complement national park expeditions and allow the brave tourist to practice zip-lining, to literally enjoy a birds eye view of the jungle, or follow a hanging bridge trail, climb trees, practice rafting or downhill mountain biking. Many lodgings of all types now proudly show their ecotourism certificate and participate in conservation and environmental education efforts, forming part of what is termed rural community tourism.
In Spain perhaps we have something to learn from Costa Rica, by promoting this type of quality tourism that seeks an intense nature experience. This approach has allowed Costa Rica to increase is GDP and to have a better economic situation than many of the surrounding countries. Just as in Costa Rica, one of the great offerings of Spain is the wealth of natural areas and biodiversity. There is a clear opportunity to develop ecotourism in the interior of the peninsula that would benefit and involve rural communities and stop the alarming exodus of young people from Spanish rural areas.