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Costa Rica is renowned for its ecotourism, but how does one enjoy it in luxury?

‘No artificial ingredients’ goes the slogan of Costa Rica’s tourism campaign. Since the 1990s the Central American country has promoted sustainable tourism and invited travellers to its exotic terrain. It has worked. Ecotourism is now one of its fiscal cornerstones.

The strategy is logical. Costa Rica cannot sacrifice natural resources in order to develop its society, because nature is the only resource available. And what nature. There are active volcanoes, grand mountain ranges, pristine beaches. Kayakers and rafters swoosh down riverstreams while explorers negotiate rich rainforests. Wooden huts and lodges are nestled in jungle close to the coastline.

Costa Rica is not stupid. It knows that protecting its assets pays off. One-fourth of the entire country has been made national park. Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica contains five per cent of the world’s biodiversity. In addition, the government aims to go carbon neutral by 2021; the same year Costa Rica celebrates its 200-year anniversary as an independent nation.

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Where to enjoy this in comfort? The country’s tourism sector is so developed that luxury lodges are everywhere. However, tour specialists say the best places are around the north-west and central Pacific coasts. “Resorts invest lots of money in luxury sites that rely on the environment,” says Dave Tucker, of Beyond Tourism, a sustainable tourism operator.Once they have everything set up, they don’t want to ruin it by acting irresponsibly. Therefore there tends to be a lot of places that are very sound ecologically and socially – but that are also luxury.”

There are ways to certify resorts’ credibility. In 1997 Costa Rica created the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST) to accredit sustainable tour and catering operators. It is still in action. Certificated businesses are handed advantages, such as complete or partial exemptions from registration fees to international fairs. Behind the award lie criteria such as carbon limitation, recycling, water conservation and educative staff training. According to the CST website, more than 200 hotels and some 60 travel agencies are accredited.

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Classic luxury lodges are typically wooden huts located close to the beach. They encourage visitors to behave responsibly. For instance, they can request them to keep the same towel for a few days to save water. There are other mechanisms too. “Once you close the door and the air condition or light is on and there’s nobody in the room, it will automatically go out,” says Yuliana Rodriguez, of Anywhere Costa Rica.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica extends not only to environmental factors. “One thing they also specialise in is community-based tourism,” says Tucker. “You can stay in luxury lodges that are near community-owned protected reserves. That gives you access to a different side of Costa Rica as well.”

And so by visiting, travellers do not only support a responsible business. They can help local residents and villages through direct contribution. “They’ve got that basic level of ecotourism which is now being called nature tourism,” says Tucker. “It’s about going out in the jungle and seeing birds and wildlife. Ecotourism is a bit wider than that. It implies actually preserving the environment but also social aspects such as working with communities and ensuring that local people also benefit. That’s kind of part of it.”

Recommended lodges

Punta Islita (www.hotelpuntaislita.com), Pacuare Lodge (www.pacuarelodge.com), Tortuga Lodge (www.tortugalodge.com), Dantica Hotel (www.dantica.com), Casa Corcovado (www.casacorcovado.com), Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge (www.nicuesalodge.com).

Photos: Dirk Ercken, N K, Vilainecrevette [all via Shutterstock.com].

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