Ecotourism in Costa Rica is one of the main activities of the tourism industry in the country. In the early 1990s, Costa Rica became the flagship of ecotourism. [2] The country is among the many developing countries that consider ecotourism as a means of coping with the growing demand for this popular travel trend. [3]

Ecotourism attracts many tourists to visit the vast national parks and protected areas across the country. Costa Rica has been a pioneer in this type of tourism, and the country is recognized as one of the few with true ecotourism. [2] While Costa Rica has gained immense popularity for its development of a successful but environmentally friendly ecotourism industry, environmentalists and economists debate whether a tourism-driven economy produces more good that’s wrong.

Current situation 

With its rich biodiversity and vast ecosystem, ecotourism in Costa Rica ranks first in this category of tourism. [  citation needed  ] The country is benefiting from growing demand from eco-tourists to visit these protected areas in return for profit. [3] For years, tourism growth in Central America has been extremely slow due to civil wars in various regions; However, with the development of peace in neighboring countries, tourism in Costa Rica has exploded over the past two decades. [4]: 52

Many of the early ecotourists were academics who came to Canada to study biology. The publications generated by these biologists, coupled with a more aggressive campaign from the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), quickly led to a growing group of “nature tourists”. In 1995, more than 800,000 foreigners came to Costa Rica, many of whom visited national parks and reserves. [5] The tourism boom began in 1987 [6], with the number of visitors rising from 329,000 in 1988 to 1.03 million in 1999, a historic record of 2.34 million foreign visitors in 2012. [7] ] [8] In 2012 international tourist receipts reached $ 2.4 billion. [8] The country ranks fifth in the world and first in the Americas in terms of the 2012 Environmental Performance Index. [9]


Because of Costa Rica’s position on the world stage, much of the nation’s success in the ecotourism sector can be attributed to its proximity to the United States. In addition, US travelers account for 20% of the global tourism market; Costa Rica is a great place for Americans to visit. [3] With its favorable climate and advantageous access to the North American market, it illustrates why 49% of foreign visitors come from the United States and 9% of visitors come from Canada and Mexico. [3] Expatriate American entrepreneurs such as Jim Damalas, Jack Ewing and Michael Kaye were also prominent in the construction of the sector during the late twentieth century. [10] [11] [12]

Higher standard of living 

Compared to other undeveloped regions of the world, Costa Rica ranks relatively high in terms of standard of living. [4]: 83 With high growth rates, economic stability and low crime rates, Costa Rica maintains a per capita GDP of $ 6,700, a literacy rate of 95% and a female life expectancy of almost 79 years old. [3] When comparing Costa Rica with other leading countries in the ecotourism sector, the differences on these indicators are much larger. [3] Thus, “Costa Rica offers a look at a way of life distinct from the modernized world, while allowing tourists to largely avoid the sad realities of poverty in the Third World”. [3]

Local people

The rise of ecotourism in Costa Rica over the last decade has led to a considerable expansion of the labor market. This has allowed local citizens to generate income and jobs, both at the national and local levels: [13] The ecotourism industry has offered residents almost double the monthly income compared to other opportunities job. [14] Local communities and schools have received significant amounts of investment and donations from visitors as a result of this expansion, helping to modernize the living conditions of the local population. [15] Unfortunately, we can not say that all citizens feel they have reaped the benefits of a thriving economy, because some Costa Ricans “consider the growth of tourism as” the kidnapping of a nation “in which they have no say. involved “. [15]

Effects on the environment 


Poas Volcano Crater is one of the main tourist attractions of the country.

The environmental benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica have been considerable. Initially, this was not the case, but over time, ecotourism has become a way to preserve natural areas throughout Costa Rica. The interpretation of ecotourism as a means of conservation has led to various initiatives. The rapid expansion of the Costa Rican national parks system in the 1970s and its extension to 70 protected areas covering 21% of the national territory are some of these initiatives [4]: ​​87. Thus, ecotourism has provided greater incentives for the conservation of natural resources in the form of state protected areas and private lands. [13] With nearly half a million acres of land designated as protected areas, tourism in Costa Rica has increased, with scientific and natural tourists from around the world converging on this natural paradise for tourists. [13]

The conservation of natural resources has particularly increased, as ecotourism has served as an alternative to industries that are harmful to the environment. Without market demand and political support for environmental protection, protected areas may have long fallen to the demands of agriculture, forestry or the mining industry. [16]

Ecotourism in Costa Rica also encourages individual conservation efforts based on individual ecotourism. Ecotourism aims to educate and entertain travelers. Thus, “by directly discovering the beauty of the Monteverde Reserve or the majesty of a red macaw, tourists can go home and want to do more to protect the environment.” Tourist guides and educational brochures can encourage tourists to become ecologists, thus promoting conservation efforts around the world. [4]: 24


Ecotourism has made a significant contribution to Costa Rica – as a country and as an economy. However, it is also an excellent example of “ecotourism gone bad”. In the early stages of ecotourism in Costa Rica, all stakeholders benefited from this type of tourism and attention was paid to nature conservation because of the amount of money that flowed into the country. [3] However, as the amount of ecotourism benefits began to increase, local environmental and nature protection issues became secondary issues with all the attention focused on maximizing profits. [15]

Overcapacity of visitors is one of the biggest threats to Costa Rica’s natural environments. Although Costa Rica’s policies direct ecotourists to specially designated areas, easing pressure on other, more fragile environments, the fact is that even designated eco-tourism environments are becoming increasingly fragile. [13] This reality is precisely one of the reasons why so many people converge on such areas; they can not experience such a nature in their own country. [13]

Inadequate enforcement, including limited finances, inadequate local expertise and corruption, has contributed significantly to passive conservation efforts. [4]: 62 Often, because developing countries do not have the resources to train the personnel needed to effectively regulate and protect a national park, this results in a degradation of the environment to which no one can be held responsible. [4]: 62For example, “44% of the 3.2 million acres marked as protection remain in the hands of their former residents and owners. Logging in these areas is often difficult to detect or prevent some people from claiming that Costa Rica’s natural resources are only protected on paper “(Dulude, 2000). There are extreme shortfalls in the amount of money needed to support the park’s proper management, infrastructure and programming. Lack of funding in this regard has led to problems such as trail deterioration, habitat disruption, pollution and more and more common waste. [13]

Effects on the economy


Costa Rica has turned to ecotourism as a key to economic development. [3] Since 1984, international tourism receipts have increased from $ 117 million to $ 136 million in 1987 and $ 577 million in 1993. [4] 83. This phenomenal growth has made tourism the main source of foreign exchange in Costa Rica. . [4]: 83

The potential for growth linkages in ecotourism development has, therefore, had significant effects on other sectors of the economy. For example, “a visit to the Carara Biological Reserve involves not only a $ 15 entry fee and an additional donation possible, but also a flight to San Jose International Airport, a bus ride to the park , stay at a local hotel restaurants in the city, and buy souvenirs from street vendors “(TED). To this extent, the ecotourism industry has had a knock-on effect, bringing additional revenue to rural areas and previously disadvantaged areas. [17]

Less obvious growth links to ecotourism can affect everything from the communications industry to agriculture. The success of Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry has also helped to breathe life into the country’s coffee market. [18] Tourists consume an average of two cups of gourmet coffee per day, which is about 22 million cups of coffee a year, which represents, at 75 cents a cup, about $ 16.5 million. As a result, as many Latin American countries are losing jobs and incomes because of lower coffee prices caused by cheaper Asian brands entering the market, Costa Rica has managed to stay afloat with this. increase in domestic consumption. [18]

With the growth of ecotourism and the benefits for other industries, locals were relocated and forest industries closed and Costa Ricans turned to the tourism industry for employment. This would not have been possible if Costa Rica had adhered to old protectionist measures that tended to isolate the public from protected areas. [19]

Ecotourism in Costa Rica has also contributed to “diversifying the national economy, which previously depended on the export of some agricultural products, namely coffee, bananas, meat and sugar, for 65% of its exports” . Costa Rica’s small domestic market and the scarcity of commodities make industrialization a slow and difficult process with little room for expansion. [20]


Ecotourism can be a source of economic development at the local level; however, this has often resulted in the disruption of local economic activities. As history has shown, ecotourism has not only disrupted local economic activity, but often the economic benefits of ecotourism in a given area do not accrue to the local community. Instead of being compensated for the transition to tourism professions, locals often receive low-paying jobs (much better paid than agriculture) and limited in their potential for upward mobility because management positions go to foreigners or to urban elites. [4]: 54

Profit-leakage and exploitation are other factors that could significantly affect Costa Rica’s economic viability in the future. Many developing countries do not have the resources to build the infrastructure for tourism development, leading them to foreign companies and international donors (Hicks, 2001). The widespread involvement of foreign investors can lead to a leakage problem in which profits made by the tourism sector do not remain in the country (Hicks, 2001). This case was seen in Costa Rica, where investment is low but new infrastructure is needed, leaving the government with no choice but to resort to foreign aid.

Potential Solutions

The key to a successful ecotourism industry in Costa Rica, which must prevail in all its individual facets, boils down to better implementation, monitoring and evaluation in the region. [3] In detail, “we need to put in place a system that considers all aspects of ecotourism from biophysics to social”. [3] The complexities surrounding a successful ecotourism industry can not be understood or solved overnight because there are many stakeholders involved and various opinions to consider; There must be mutual understanding between all parties as to what a successful ecotourism industry looks like. That said, other scientific studies related to park biodiversity, habitat and disturbance, park carrying capacity, pollution, visits and other similar issues will need to be addressed. [3]

There are no standard guidelines for ecotourism; It is essential that the Government of Costa Rica work with certification programs to ensure a prosperous environment and a prosperous economy for the future of the nation. [21] To illustrate, “lack of certification is a significant problem because it means that ecolodges and other institutions are not responsible for the scale and success of their environmental efforts. Recycling programs, promoting low-impact tourism activities and supporting conservation efforts are fully voluntary once minimum environmental standards have been met. ” [21]