Costa Rica has so much to offer the wildlife enthusiast that it is no wonder that eco-tourism is growing in the country. Mote than 70% of foreign travellers visit one or more nature destinations, and half of these visitors come specifically to see Costa Rica's wildlife.
During the past few years, the natural wonders of Costa Rica have been discovered. From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s the annual number of visitors doubled, and now around a million foreign tourists visit every year. Tourism recently surpassed bananas and coffee as the nations biggest industry, and prices for the traveller risen substantially.
The financial bonanza generated by the tourism boom means that new operation are starting up all the time - many are good, some are not. The big word in Costa Rica is 'eco-tourism' - every-one wants to jump on the green bandwagon. There are 'ecological' car rental agencies and 'ecological' menus in restaurants.
Taking advantage of Costa Rica's green image, some developers are promoting mass tourism and are building large hotels with accompanying environmental problems. Apart from immediate impacts, such as cutting down vegetation, diverting or damming rivers, and driving away wildlife, there are secondary impacts like erosion, lack of adequate waste treatment facilities for a hug hotel in an area away from sewerage lines, and the building of socially, environmentally, and economically inadequate 'shanty towns' to house the maids, waiters, cooks, cleaners, and many other employees needed. We recommend to stay in smaller hotels that have a positive attitude about the environment rather than the large mass-tourism destinations.
At first the growth in tourism took the nation by surprise - there was no overall development plan and growth was poorly controlled. Some people wanted to cash in on the short term with little thought for the future. Many developers are foreigners - they say that they are giving the local people jobs, but locals don't want to spend their lives being waiters and maids while watching the big money going out of the country.
Traditionally, tourism in Costa Rica has been on a small and intimate scale. the great majority of the country's hotels are small (fewer than 50 rooms), and friendly local people have worked closely with tourists, to the benefit of both. this intimacy and friendliness was a hallmark of a visit to Costa Rica, but this is changing.
The developers of a project to build a 400-room hotel (the first of a chain) on a remote Pacific beach were sued for causing environmental damage and treating employees unfairly. Although the government agreed that laws were broken, the foreign owned hotel opened in 1992 and sparked off a spirited controversy with Costa Rica.
The big question is whether future tourism developments should continue to focus on the traditional small hotel, eco-tourism approach, or turn to mass tourism, with planeloads of visitors accommodated in 'mega-resorts' like the ones in Cancún, Mexico. From the top levels government on down, the debate has been fierce. Local and international tour operators and travel agents, journalists, developers, airline operators, hotel owners, writers, environmentalists, and politicians have all been vocal in their support of either eco-tourism or mass tourism. Many believe that the country is too small to handle both forms of tourism properly.
Text by Lonely Planet.
Pictures by Jörn Malek. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink and Costa-Rica-Information-Mobile wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
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