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Section E - Costa Rica case study

Page history last edited by K J Hutchinson 11 years, 2 months ago

Lesson 1 - Where is Costa Rica and what is the physical environment like?


Learning objectives:

- to be able to locate Costa Rica

- to be able to describe at least 3 different physical environments in Costa Rica

- to be able to explain why these environments attract tourists


Costa Rica is a small country in Central America. There is a coastline on both the east (Caribbean Sea) and the west (Pacific Ocean) side of the country. You can travel from east to west coast in about 3 hours by car or 45 minutes by plane.


To the north, Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua. To the south, it is bordered by Panama. It is a tropical country, lying in the Northern Hemisphere between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer. 




A series of volcanic mountain chains run from the Nicaraguan border in the north-west to the Panamanian border in the south-east, splitting the country in two. In the centre of these ranges is a high-altitude plain. There are coastal lowlands on either side.


The Caribbean coast is 131 miles long and has many mangroves, swamps and sandy beaches. The Pacific coast is much more rugged and rocky and is 630 miles long with many gulfs and peninsulas.


Costa Rica's environment is very diverse - this region of the world is considered one of the most biodiverse. The country's biodiversity attracts nature lovers from all over the world. The primary attraction for many visitors is the 850 recorded bird species, which include the quetzal, indigo-capped hummingbirds, macaws and toucans. Costa Rica's tropical forests have over 1400 tree species and provide a variety of habitats for the country's fauna including four types of monkey, sloths, armadillos, jaguars and tapirs. There are also a number of dazzling butterflies. National parks cover almost 12% of the country, and forest reserves and Indian reservations boost the protected land area to 27%.




According to the official Costa Rica tourism website - www.visitcostarica.com 


"Costa Rica's beaches are surrounded by forests, and have great natural diversity. In many of them there are beautiful coral reefs, where you may dive and explore. In addition, depending on the place visited, you have a series of complementary activities, such as: hikes to mangroves, diving, surfing, sport fishing, hiking on trails or horseback rides. Thanks to the easy access to many beaches, you can make the most out of both coasts. Most of them have warm water throughout the year, so you may come and enjoy the country any season you prefer. If it's diversity you're interested in, each coast offers different shades and textures of sand, white, yellow, gray and black, products of the constant crashing of seashells on coral reefs."






The rainforests of Costa Rica are teeming with life. Many tourists visit the rainforest areas and combine this with some adventure tourism. White water rafting along the rivers that run through the forests is very popular, as is rappel - a rope challenge going from the highest trees or the top of a waterfall down to the ground. Nature lovers will be able to see a huge variety of flora and fauna within the reserves.




Cloud Forests


The Cloud Forest at Monteverde is particularly well known. National Geographic has called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve "the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves". Newsweek has declared Monteverde "the world's #14 Place to Remember Before it Disappears." By popular vote in Costa Rica, Monteverde was enshrined as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica.


This description of the attraction of Monteverde is taken from their official website:


"One of the main attractions of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is its 13-kilometer network of trails. While walking the trails, visitors are presented with a number of options. One alternative is the walk up to the "La Ventana" scenic overlook, where they may witness the contrasting panoramas exhibited naturally by the continental divide, a geographical feature that traces the principal mountain ranges of Costa Rica. At this location, visitors can experience the force of the moisture-laden trade winds blowing in from the Atlantic coast, and witness how they descend at high velocity toward the Central Pacific and Northern coastal plains of Costa Rica. Immerse yourself in the exotic cloud forest and experience a world full of biodiversity. Look at the top of the huge trees where over 500 bird species live, a paradise where the main stars are the majestic quetzal and the three-wattle bellbird. Besides, admire more than 3000 plants 500 of them are orchids, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and with a little luck one of the 130 mammals."




Volcanoes and Mountains

Costa Rica has nine active volcanoes. At Poás mammoth crater, you can see the boiling, sulphurous lake. Arenal is the most active and no doubt the most studied of all Costa Rica's volcanoes. It booms and rumbles with an unnerving consistency and often produces spectacular night shows. On the lower slopes of Rincón de la Vieja, the power is vented in boiling mud pots, hissing fumaroles and thermal streams. 




Useful weblinks:

Official Costa Rica website

Information about the character and quality of different beaches throughout Costa Rica - http://www.visitcostarica.com/ict/paginas/playas.asp#

Monteverde information


Lesson 2 - Ecotourism in Costa Rica


Learning objectives:

- to be able to define ecotourism and sustainable tourism

- to develop a case study of ecotourism in Costa Rica

- to consider what is being done in Costa Rica to encourage sustainable tourism


Ecotourism is tourism that minimises negative and maximises positive effects of tourism on the environment. It is closely linked to sustainable tourism - which is tourism that allows development today without damaging the environmental and cultural  heritage of a place for the future. It improves the quality of life among the local communities, and the economic success of the tourism industry, which also contributes to national development.



Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST)


The CST label was developed by the Costa Rica Tourism Institute. The aim was to make the idea of sustainable tourism a reality. Businesses who meet the criteria are awarded a certificate. Their contact details are then listed on the official online list of sustainable tourism providers. 




Environmental benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica


Over time, ecotourism has come to be seen as a way to preserve natural areas throughout Costa Rica. The rapid expansion of Costa Rica's National Park in the 1970s and its expansion to include 70 protected areas covering 21% of the country has been an important strategy. With nearly ½ million acres of land designated as protected areas, tourism in Costa Rica has grown, with scientific and nature tourists from around the world visiting the country. Logging has reduced as a result, and rates of deforestation (which were once some of the highest on the planet) are now under control.



Ecotourism in Costa Rica also encourages individual conservation efforts based on the individual ecotourist. Ecotourism is meant to both educate and entertain travellers. The hope is that, by experiencing first hand the beauty of the Monteverde Cloud Forest or the majesty of a Red Macaw, tourists may return home wanting to do more to help protect the environment. Informed tour guides and educational pamphlets can persuade tourists to become environmentalists, and this can help promote conservation efforts worldwide.



Environmental costs of ecotourism in Costa Rica


Too many visitors is one of the biggest threats to Costa Rica’s natural environments. Although policies in Costa Rica direct ecotourists into areas zoned specifically for ecotourism, thereby reducing the pressure on other more fragile environments, the fact is that even the ecotourism zone environments are becoming more and more fragile.


Economic benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica


Ecotourism is the key strategy for economic development in Costa Rica. Since 1984, international tourism receipts have grown from $117 million to $136 million in 1987, and $577 million in 1993.




With a rise in ecotourism and benefits to other industries, locals were relocated and logging industries shut down and Costa Ricans were able to turn to the tourism industry for employment. Ecotourism has helped many other sectors of the economy to grow. For example, a visit to the Carara Biological Reserve costs not only a $15 entrance fee and possible additional donation, but also a flight into San José's International Airport, a bus ride to the park, a stay in a local hotel, dining in the town's restaurants, and the purchase of souvenirs from street vendors. Less obvious growth linkages of ecotourism can affect everything from the communications industry to agriculture. The successes of Costa Rica's ecotourism industry have also helped support the coffee industry. Tourists drink an average of two cups of the nation's gourmet coffee a day adding up to approximately 22 million cups of coffee a year, which, at 75 cents per cup, brings in about $16.5 million.




Economic problems associated with ecotourism in Costa Rica


Ecotourism can be source of generating economic development at a local level; however, quite often, it has also resulted in the disruption of local economic activities. Sometimes the economic benefits of ecotourism in a particular area do not go to the local community. Instead of locals being compensated for switching to professions in the tourism industry, they may end up working in jobs that are low paying (although better paying that farming) and limited in their potential for promotion. Often, managerial positions go to foreigners or people from urban areas who have been educated.


Profit leakage is also a problem. Costa Rica, like many LEDCs, does not have all the resources it needs to construct the infrastructure required for tourism development. This has lead them to turn to foreign companies and international donors to pay for projects. The profits from tourism will then leak out of the local economy and will not stay in the country.



Ecotourism in Monteverde Cloud Forest


Monteverde has proved that ecotourism can work for conservation. Through a series of private nature reserves, the community has saved part of the cloud forest that might have been cleared for dairy cattle and coffee farm, like those on the lower lands.


The 26,000-acre Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve supports itself through donations and an entrance fee. Down the hill, the 42,500-acre Children's Eternal Rainforest was purchased with money contributed by schoolchildren and adults from 44 countries. Even the local high school runs its own 775-acre refuge: the Santa Elena High School Cloud Forest Reserve, whose income helps support the school, and whose biodiversity teaches students about the environment.




Biologists say the heavy volume of visitors – which is estimated to hover around 250,000 a year – has a surprisingly low impact on the fragile environment. "Most people are willing to stay on trails," says Bob Carlson, a biologist and director of the Cloud Forest Preserve. "They don't throw their garbage away, they keep it in their bags. If you tell them not to make a lot of noise, they're normally quite quiet."


For-profit reserves are also paying for themselves. A good example is Ecological Farm.


Up until a few years ago, Jorge Rodriguez oversaw a farm whose climate was too wet for vegetables and whose terrain was so steep that the cattle kept falling into ravines and breaking their necks. But he noticed how close he was to Monteverde's hotels and wondered if tourists might pay to visit his farm and see its abundant wildlife, such as the endangered bellbird, with its clang-like call that can be heard for over half a mile.

Rodriguez put in trails and a parking lot, and renamed it the Ecological Farm.


"Now, for the first time, the farm is making a little profit, just enough to maintain the paths and sustain my family. Before, it wasn't even doing that," says Rodriguez, sitting at a picnic table, "For me, it's better to conserve. Because if all the world wants to have cattle, we'll never have forest anywhere. It will all disappear."


Nature tourism in Monteverde has also generated a whole range of related businesses: hotels, restaurants, snack shops, gift shops, horse stables and art galleries. An artisans cooperative employs 150 women who sew speciality clothing to sell to tourists.




"We have learned a little bit how to do tourism," says Carlos Vargas, past president of the artisans’ co-op. "The people who run the restaurants, the stables, the hotels and the nature guides are all local people. I would say maybe 80% of the income that tourism generates stays in the community."


Jim Wolfe, a biologist and dairy farmer who runs a popular butterfly garden in town, says that, "Years ago, people would say, 'Oh that reserve up there is so foreigners can go see their birds.' Now, so many of locals depend on the forest for their livelihood that the attitude has changed considerably."


Useful weblinks:

Monteverde Reserve

Explanation of the multiplier effect

Responsible Travel holiday - Costa Rica's beaches and wildlife - outline of the 13 day tour


Lesson 3 - Fair Trade tourism in Costa Rica


Learning objectives:

- to be able to define fair trade tourism and responsible tourism

- to develop a case study of fair trade tourism in Costa Rica


Fair trade tourism is tourism that makes sure that the benefits of tourism go directly to those whose land, natural resources, work, knowledge and culture are being used. It supports development by ensuring that the benefits of tourism stay within the local area rather than profits going to transnational companies whose shareholders do not live in the local area.



There are relatively few Fair Trade holidays available at the moment, and those that area available are very expensive. The tour operator Skedaddle operates a fair trade coffee tour of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It is a 15 day trip, costing from £1875 plus flights. It is advertised through the Responsible Travel website.




The information below has been extracted from the tour brochure. You can download additional information about the tour here.


"On this two week trip we explore Costa Rica and Nicaragua whilst visiting the coffee farmers who supply the Cafédirect coffee we know and love. We take part in the coffee process from picking the beans right through to sitting back and enjoying a cup of coffee on the farm where it was grown. Throughout the process we can chat to the farmers and other representatives of the cooperatives who will be able to share with us the benefits that producing fair trade coffee have brought to their community.


After relaxing from our flights and getting our bearings in San Jose, we leave the city and begin our exploration of beautiful Costa Rica. During our time in Costa Rica we will enjoy visits to see some Fairtrade pineapples being grown, meet Fairtrade sugar farmers and visit Santa Elena in the Monteverde coffee producing region to meet producers who supply Cafédirect. Continuing on our way north we visit volcanoes and the stunning Pacific coast before heading over the border into Nicaragua. After visiting Nicaragua’s two most important cities, Managua and Granada for a taste of history and culture we head further north and back up into the mountains. Here we come towards the end of our tour with the coffee farmers of San Ramon enjoying the coffee of the region as well as its birds and butterflies."


How this holiday makes a difference


The holiday focuses on creating the most enjoyable holiday for the travellers while benefiting the local people and economy and respecting the environment. With the focus on fair trade, tourists learn about the production of fair trade coffee and also visit farms producing fair trade sugar and pineapples. These projects give the travellers a great introduction to the concepts of fair trade. Spending time in carefully selected accommodation and restaurants makes sure that the local communities benefit directly. The range of accommodation on this trip is designed to give a sense of the history and culture of the area as well as the modern way of life. By collaborating with locally based people when visiting different areas, the company is able to contribute to the regional economy. Visitors also enjoy some meal times with the farmer’s they visit. The company provide guests with Travellers’ Codes to encourage the reduction of water usage, systems for collecting, recycling or safe disposal of litter and relevant suggestions to minimise damage to the environment, wildlife and marine ecosystems. All the holidays have a maximum group size of 12 to 14 people minimizing both the social and environmental impact. There is also the option to carbon-offset your flights.





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