Costa Rica: An ecotourist’s paradise | AspenTimes.com

Costa Rica: An ecotourist’s paradise

May Eynon

Costa Rica is a Central American wonderland, with a melange of recreational activities and natural beauty in a safe and pristine environment. Bordered on the north by Nicaragua, on the south by Panama, on the east by the Caribbean Sea and on the west by the Pacific, Costa Rica is riddled with rivers offering world-class rapids. Water sports are one of the nation’s main attractions.

Recognized internationally for its environmental protection efforts, the Costa Rican government has constituted roughly 20 percent of the country as national park or reserve. In addition to the 30-plus parks, reserves and wildlife refuges in this tropical paradise, there are myriad rain forests, active and dormant volcanoes and dense cloud forests with verdant canopies.

The 130-mile Caribbean shore is characterized by both rugged coastline and sandy beaches; the 630-mile expanse along the Pacific features numerous gulfs, rocky peninsulas and spectacular white beaches.

Known for their infectious warmth and hospitality, the locals, or “Ticos,” present a welcoming face in a generally safe environment. The armed forces were abolished in 1948, and Costa Rica boasts the oldest democracy in Central America.

Nearly 90 percent of the country’s 3.5 million people practice Roman Catholicism, the official religion. Colorful churches can be found in nearly every town.

Though Costa Rica produces coffee, bananas, textiles and sugar, tourism is its main industry. One of the fastest-growing industry sectors is ecotourism, defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”

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Ecotourism helps generate the funds needed to protect Costa Rican wilderness, while educating visitors about how to treat the environment.

The net environmental impact of ecotourism seems to have been positive so far. Tour operators and travel agents have responded to this demand by adapting their efforts and offering eco-friendly trips. One such outfitter is Rios Tropicales (www.riostropicales.com), which offers white-water outings on the Pacuare and Reventazon rivers. Rios Tropicales has been acknowledged for its conservation efforts, green-minded tours and efforts to educate visitors and locals about preservation.

Another eco-oriented outfitter is Coast-to-Coast Adventures (www.ctocadventures.com), which specializes in coast-to-coast expeditions. Typically departing from the Pacific shore and traversing eastward, they provide a means to see the country from a more intimate perspective, to bike, hike and paddle, and to meet Ticos while visiting their small towns.

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