Sustainability in Costa Rica

Sustainable travel is beyond a trendy fashion in the environmentalists’ agenda. It is a way of life that may save this planet and the humans that live in it. Keep on reading to find out the good news!

sustainable travel

Sustainable travel is a leader in a movement that may save millions of lives and thousands of endangered species in flora and fauna. Let us tell you why!

The travel industry is not only clean and participative, but as times go, the World is getting is smaller, and learning is passing the word to mouth without any other power than human connection. 

Probably the strongest and more definitory trend that is moving in this human connection that traveling means is sustainability. Creating consciousness of what is happening on our planet and how to cope and thrive in the situation. 

Traveling for the new generations is part of life, and sustainability ideas are spreading fast. 

sustainable travel

The idea of sustainability has been around for as long as humans have been concerned about their resources. 

The idea of animals and plants we depended upon could disappear marks the first efforts to rationally use them, even before agriculture arrived. 

 The term itself, however, has newer sources. Issued in German, the initial term was Nachhaltigkeit, meaning “sustained yield.” It first developed in a book of forestry printed in 1713 and involved never harvesting more than the forest can restore. The translated name surfaced in English starting in the mid-19th century.

And as ecology became a discipline, the notion of sustainability grew more comprehensive, referring to all biological systems. 

sustainable travel

Ecological sustainability, then, is the capacity of an ecosystem to support its primary functions retaining its biodiversity through time.

Sustainability is, without a doubt, one of the most important transformations resulting in travel today. Decades ago, talks about “sustainable tourism” rotated around nature-based travel – at first in African safari lodges and camps, with a few little tour operators. From there, it spread to the Americas, mainly, Costa Rica and Belize.

And when the United Nations hosted the first World Ecotourism Summit in Québec City, it was clear that the ideas protecting the environment and assuring economic benefits had to go through the entire travel industry all throughout all the suppliers, from airlines to small lodges in secluded regions. 

sustainable travel
Costas Christ (Picture from

In 2005, the United Nations Foundation asked Costas Christ to support in a new definition of the sustainable-tourism model. 

Together with about a dozen other experts, he worked to create the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria. Nowadays, the criteria fall under three bases: 

  • Environmentally friendly practices
  • Protecting natural and cultural heritage
  • Social and economic benefits to local people.

When finally, the luxury travel industry, including Virtuoso and the World Travel & Tourism Council, also welcomed these postulates, it inspired a trend that went beyond what was ever done before. 

sustainable travelVirtuoso began the Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards in 2011 and now entertains an annual Sustainability Summit with travel industry executives and advisors helping map the way ahead. 

Virtuoso Life was one of the first travel magazines that emphasized a regular scope of sustainable tourism to explain to passengers how to have the vacation of a lifetime with low impact and protecting resources for the future.

“Today, success is measured not by commitments, but by on-the-ground actions and impact.”(3)

At first, the drive was a commitment from travel operators to protecting an ecosystem, recycling, or using local success was a travel company committing to preserve habitat, recycle, or build with local supplies. 

Now, the achievement is estimated not by engagements, but by field-based actions and results. From small steps like using biodegradable water bottles to providing micro-enterprise funds to empower employees to be business owners.  

In twenty years, big environmental offenders like cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts have developed ways to lead the sustainable movement creating environmentally friendly solutions and a connection between their guests and the visited communities. 

Together with organic agriculture and the Slow Food movement, the travel business has become the primary support for large groups of humans to travel in sustainable ways. 

sustainable travel

Nowadays, the sustainable drive in the industry is eliminating single-use plastics. And probably next is the biodiversity conservation to put a stop to the infamous reduction of flora and fauna species worldwide. 

 What will be next? Maybe a planet and society where renewable energy is the rule and not the exception.

The case of Costa Rica sustainable travel industry: 

sustainable travel

Costa Rica has been talking about ecotourism since the early nineties, as our biological richness is the main product for our thriving tourism industry. 

At first, a few, however, definitory companies used the terms ecotravel to teach our passengers the importance of keeping the rainforest and supporting its natural flow visiting with as little impact as possible. 

Tour Guides were taught in natural history, and the main subject in all activities was, of course, the magnificent biodiversity of our small yet, big country. 

The government and the National Park System began a more aggressive campaign to support the natural resources, and rainforests started to come back with an impressive recovery of a significant percentage of our natural forests. 

The story goes back in time to the 1950s when Costa Rica decided that progress was a priority, and to create resources, forests had to go, and farming and livestock was the drive. 

Among 1950 and 1960, the rate of forest cover decreased by almost 20%. B the year 1977, half of the Costa Rican rainforest forest land that existed 30 years before was gone. By 1983 only 26% of Costa Rica had forest cover. The deforestation rate had risen once again.

In fact, in 1987, Costa Rica had the lowest percentage ever, Only 21% of surviving forest cover. 

As a consequence of this dramatic rainforest decrease new income sources and programs started. 

And probably the most remarkable of these new economic activities was tourism. 

Coincidentally in this same period, Central America as a whole entered a period of peace that lasts until now, and the region began to flourish, especially Costa Rica that, not having a preceding war could thrive and succeed. 

In the early nineties, there were less than 200,000 visitors per year. A number that has grown exponentially to 3 million visitors in 2019. (Data from ICT)

And more than 80% of these passengers visited a National Park or Forest Reserve. 

And in this way, the rainforests become sustainable sources of income for entire communities that depend entirely on nature and biodiversity. 

Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) 

sustainable travelIn 1997, the ICT (Costa Rica Tourism Board) began to measure and certify Costa Rican travel companies for the way they manage their natural and social resources.

The Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST) consists of grades – titled “Leaves” – that go from one leaf (minimum) to five leaves. (Five being “exceptional in sustainability terms.”)


The evaluation method is extensive and involves regular testing and inspections.

The CST level is usually visible in the travel businesses and quite easy to recognize in hotels and tour operators. 

Costa Rica’s Blue Flag Ecological Program

As with the CST, Costa Rica’s Blue Flag Ecological Program is given for coastal and river bordered towns and their relations with their waterways and beaches. 

Rural Tourism (R.T.) and Community-Based Rural Tourism (C.R.T.) are rapidly growing in Costa Rica.

Various programs offer an authentic Costa Rican experience with local attention that facilitates travelers to understand the essence of Costa Rica.

People from all over come to work as volunteers in conservation programs, from trail building to turtle watching and marking. Tourism allows communities to remain where they are without having to migrate to more prominent population centers. 

Travelers will see how sustainability is already a state of mind in Costa Rica just by witnessing all or some of the following bulleted list. 

  • Usually, in the hotels, you will find containers (Shampoo, conditioner, or bath soap) that are refilled as visitors change instead of the usual miniature bottles.
  • In some luxury hotels, there are small containers created from biodegradable elements.
  • Bamboo and grass straws are used in restaurants and hotels. 
  • Cooking gas is produced by the biodigester.
  • Compost systems are used to reuse natural waste.
  • Solar panels to heat the water of the showers and electricity in the rooms. 
  • The golf courses use grass that can be watered with seawater instead of taking the drinkable community water to keep them green. 
  • Recycling everything: plastic, paper, aluminum, glass, and other products.
  • Dry laundry in the sun. Even in the rainiest areas, you will find patios with transparent roofs to dry the sheets and towels. 
  • Biodegradable cleaning products. 
  • Soap dispensers in the bathrooms of hotels, tour operators, and restaurants.
  • Organic fungicides or insecticides, if needed. 
  • In many hotels, a current, free, and encouraging activity is a tour to observe and absorb sustainable systems. 
  • Wildlife feeding is not supported but condemned. 
  • Selfies with animals are wholly discouraged. 
  • Local artisans are supported by souvenir shops. 

Sustainable travel

To wrap it up

Sustainability goes beyond a conservation movement or a trendy fashion. It is the only way humanity has to go now. 

Costa Rica is already a lifestyle embraced by Costa Ricans as peace is. It is part of our culture and our inheritance to future generations. 

It is a profound general principle already. 

Are you also into sustainability? Let us know, and we will create a fantastic sustainable trip for you! 


(1)A Brief History of Sustainability – The World Energy ….


(2) How Sustainability Became the Biggest Luxury Travel Trend.

(3) N.a. “.” 20 Dec. 2019. Web. 23 Jan. 2020. <;


(4) N.a. “.” 18 Dec. 2019. Web. 23 Jan. 2020. <;

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