By Kristin Danks of Tiny Footsteps Travel
Looking for ways to visit Costa Rica sustainably? You’re in the right place. Although Costa Rica is a small territory, it makes up about 6% of all the biodiversity on Earth.
Costa Rica’s efforts to conserve biodiversity means that nearly ⅓ of the country is covered in protected, lush rainforest, which is a big part of what makes Costa Rica a fantastic destination for ecotourism and outdoor adventure travel.
However, it goes without saying that the Costa Rican rainforest is not only important for tourism, but for providing oxygen, fighting global warming by lowering greenhouse emissions, and providing natural resources to local communities.
While it’s fantastic that millions of tourists visit and appreciate Costa Rica’s rainforests year after year, it’s important to recognize the impact that mass tourism has on a small country like Costa Rica, which received 2.4 million tourists in 2022. If you’re a tourist who enjoys the natural beauty of Costa Rica, then you may want to consider how you can minimize your impact on the natural environment as a tourist in Costa Rica.
We’re going to highlight the best ways you can be a responsible tourist and visit Costa Rica sustainably so that Costa Rica’s wilderness can remain for years to come.
So, let’s jump in!
9 Ways to Visit Costa Rica Sustainably
1. Don’t feed the wildlife
Feeding wild animals is generally not a good idea anywhere, partially because it causes the animals to rely on being fed by humans which makes them lose their natural hunting or scavaging abilities. Feeding monkeys in Costa Rica though in particular is very common, and is something that many tourists don’t realize is harmful to the monkeys.
It can be tempting to feed the monkeys in Costa Rica, as you will see them hanging around in human areas, actively trying to look for food. You will likely see other tourists feeding them, as they try to take pictures. However, feeding monkeys, while entertaining for humans, is bad for the monkey’s health and their survival in the wild.
Contrary to the popular stereotype, bananas are junk food for monkeys, and monkeys do not normally seek bananas out for food in the wild. For a monkey, eating a banana is like eating ice cream sundae -multiply that by the dozens of tourists who feed the monkeys every day, and you can see how this can lead to some serious health problems down the line for these animals.
Bananas are very sugar and calorie-dense compared to food that monkeys would normally eat in the wild (seeds, nuts, flowers, and insects.) Excessive consumption of bananas can cause tooth decay or diabetes.
If you want to see wildlife in Costa Rica up close, the best way is to take a guided tour of the rainforest with a certified guide who knows where the animals are, and can point them out to you, as well as educate you about the animals and what they eat.
2. Stay eco-lodges and hotels
An eco-hotel or lodge is an accommodation that practices environmental sustainability by minimizing its carbon footprint and empowering the local community.
Eco-accommodations do their best to use only renewable, earth-friendly resources. They often serve sustainable food produced through sustainable farming and use renewable energy to control the temperature throughout the hotel. They also tend to hire local staff, which helps local economies and families thrive.
The best part? Staying at an eco-lodge doesn’t mean that you have to give up the comforts and amenities that you may be used to while traveling. Eco-lodges often have superior products and methods that can make your stay a relaxing getaway.
Eco-lodges are not a downgrade from a luxury resort – in fact, you can find dozens of luxury eco-resorts in Costa Rica. Lapa Rios is one of the most luxurious eco-resorts, and fit for a honeymoon. A quick Google search will draw up hundreds of other eco-lodges in Costa Rica that are committed to sustainability, as well as their guests’ comfort and enjoyment.
By staying at an eco-accommodation in Costa Rica, you’re supporting a greener future, and helping fight global warming. You’re also helping the local community and economy.
3. Take a sustainable farm tour
Agriculture is an important part of Costa Rica’s economy, and most of Costa Rica’s farms are family-owned and use sustainable farming methods.
Sustainable agriculture uses traditional farming practices that have worked for thousands of years, like crop rotation, natural fertilizers, and biological pest control, as well as space for animals to move around and graze on the field.
Sustainable farms in Costa Rica produce products like coffee, chocolate, tropical fruits, and animal products- sometimes a mix of all of them. Many of these farms offer tours in for locals and tourists alike to learn about the crop, and how they farm it sustainably.
Some examples of great sustainable family-owned farms to visit in Costa Rica are Don Olivo Chocolate Farm in La Fortuna and Monteverde Coffee Farm in Monteverde.
By visiting these farms, you’re not only learning about sustainable farming techniques and supporting a small business, but you’re also helping promote sustainable farming as a practice.
4. Head to the rainforest
Costa Rica wasn’t always a leader in sustainability – in fact, half of its original rainforests were deforested by 1987. However, a shift occurred in the 1990s that made Costa Rican politicians realize that change was needed for a sustainable future. Today, Costa Rica is 98% free of deforestation and has been recognized by the United Nations for its efforts in combatting climate change.
Forests have been re-grown in Costa Rica since the 1990s, and today are bursting with native animals, birds, lizards, and insects. There are landowners that have purchased land specifically to grow forests on them, such as the Bogarin Trail in La Fortuna, or Selvatura Park in Monteverde.
One way to support Costa Rica’s commitment to forest preservation is to visit and support these forests with your dollars. You can visit a national park or a rainforest that is privately owned. By visiting a rainforest, you are supporting Costa Rica’s commitment to biodiversity.
Visiting the rainforest gives you a rich appreciation for nature and for wild animals in their natural habitat. Visiting the rainforest is a particularly exciting, and important thing to do in Costa Rica with kids because it helps the younger generation gain a first-hand understanding of nature and wildlife, and a stronger incentive to protect it for years to come.
Monteverde and La Fortuna in the Central Valley are excellent places to visit if you want to visit the rainforest. Both of them are known for having forests with tall hanging suspension bridges that give you a bird’s eye view of the jungle valleys.
Monteverde is home to the most famous cloud forest (a threatened ecosystem) on Earth, called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as well as dozens of other rainforests – both government and privately owned.
In La Fortuna, you can find the Arenal Volcano National Park, as well as Mistico Arenal National Park.
5. Support businesses that are sustainable-certified
Costa Rica has a database that allows you to look up accommodations and tour providers to see how “sustainable” they are. If you look up any business, you can find out if they’ve been certified for sustainable tourism practices.
This sustainability database can be found at www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr. You can browse specific businesses, including accommodations, hot springs, tour operators, restaurants, and even car rental companies, or look up businesses.
Businesses must meet specific ‘green’ requirements in order to be certified and listed on this database.
By supporting accommodations and activity providers that have committed to green practices, you’re voting with your wallet for a sustainable future, in Costa Rica and worldwide.
6. Avoid eating turtle eggs
Sea turtle eggs (huevos de Tortuga) have been consumed for decades in Costa Rica and recently, it has become a trendy local delicacy for tourists to eat them too.
Harvesting of sea turtle eggs is controversial because many believe that there are both benefits but also negatives associated with the harvesting and consumption of these eggs. Usually, harvesting wild turtle eggs is done legally under the supervision of rangers and biologists.
However, the selling of sea turtle eggs has inevitably led to illegal poaching of sea turtle eggs. With the declining sea turtle populations, it’s important to do everything we can to protect these ancient marine creatures from over-exploitation.
It can take 20-30 years for a sea turtle to reach sexual maturity and be ready to reproduce and lay eggs. For this reason, to care for their populations and ensure the survival of their species, please don’t buy sea turtle eggs; especially if you’re not 100% sure where they came from.
A better egg (protein) option in Costa Rica would be chicken eggs that have come from a sustainable family farm.
7. Don’t buy plastic water bottles
You can help the environment by avoiding single-use plastics whenever possible is beneficial to the environment; this includes plastic water bottles.
In Costa Rica where the temperature is often over 80°F or 26°C, you’ll need to be drinking water frequently throughout the day, especially if you’re spending time outdoors.
The best, most sustainable way to stay hydrated is to bring your favorite refillable water bottle from home to your hotel, and when you’re out on excursions. Costa Rica’s tap water is safe to drink so you can refill your water bottle anywhere with a sink or a tap.
In addition, if you’re looking for snacks to bring on a hike or excursion, consider packing a fruit with ‘natural’ packaging, like banana, orange, kiwi, or passion fruit to minimize garbage and waste.
8. Leave the insects alone
Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability means that there are a lot of protected forests, which inevitably means more bugs. Costa Rica is home to thousands of species of creepy crawlers; over 2,000 species of spiders, 1,500 species of butterflies, and 14 species of scorpions.
There are some insects in Costa Rica, such as crickets, that can grow much larger than what we’d be used to seeing in North America or Europe – up to 2 inches long.
Remember that all bugs in Costa Rica serve some purpose for the ecosystem; in fact, even mosquitos in Costa Rica are responsible for pollination that helps produce chocolate.
With the exception of mosquitos, most bugs in Costa Rica are harmless and will not harm humans unless provoked. Unless an insect is directly harming you, leave it alone.
If you see an insect that looks scary, leave it be. Alert a staff member or ranger nearby if you are concerned or unsure about an insect.
9. Use shared transportation and bus tours to sightsee
Opting for shared transportation whenever possible reduces the need for gasoline, which is a non-renewable resource reliant on fossil fuels.
Millions of tourists in Costa Rica each year add up to a lot of extra cars on the road. Electric cars are becoming more popular in Costa Rica, but many car rental companies have not caught up yet and the majority of rental cars are still currently gasoline cars.
To help minimize the need for car fuel, take bus tours. A quick search on Viator will show you hundreds, upon thousands of private tours offered through a coach bus or vehicle that will carry multiple individuals, couples, and families to exciting places to see and things to do in Costa Rica.
These shared transportation options reduce the need for extra cars on the road, and help combat climate change.
Bonus Tip: When you’re back from Costa Rica – avoid palm oil!
You may see areas in Costa Rica, especially in the Manuel Antonio region, that have been deforested in order to produce palm oil. These areas look not like natural forests, but rows and rows of palm trees that have been hand-planted.
Previously, they were forests that had been eliminated so that palm trees could be planted there for the production of palm oil.
Luckily, deforestation does not typically happen in Costa Rica anymore, ever since Costa Rica switched to a more green agenda. However, it continues to be a problem in other parts of the world, such as Brazil and Indonesia.
Avoiding products made with palm oil will help promote an end to the need for deforestation for palm oil.
How to Visit Costa Rica Sustainably: Conclusion
Costa Rica is bursting with rich natural ecosystems that can’t be found in the northern hemisphere. Tourists come to Costa Rica from worldwide with their families, romantic partners, or solo to get outside and soak up the local culture and the stunning natural beauty. From the tropical rainforest, beaches, volcanoes, hot springs, and exotic wildlife, there are unlimited things to do in Costa Rica to marvel at the serene natural beauty and spend time outdoors.
The best way to protect this biodiversity is to pay attention to what we support with our dollars- both in Costa Rica and at home. We hope that this article has given you lots of ideas that you can apply to your trip to Costa Rica, and at home.
Costa Rica’s commitment to biodiversity and sustainability is admirable and they set an excellent example for the rest of the world to aspire to. Let’s do our part to help protect Costa Rica’s natural ecosystems, the cloud forest, and its wildlife so that they’re with us for generations to come.