Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

How Much Of Costa Rica’s Economy Is Ecotourism?


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Eolanda Sherman



Welcome to the lush and vibrant country of Costa Rica, where the concept of sustainability intertwines with its remarkable tourism industry. Nestled in Central America, Costa Rica is renowned for its breathtaking natural landscapes, diverse wildlife, and commitment to environmental conservation. At the heart of this commitment lies the thriving sector of ecotourism.


Ecotourism, a concept that has gained significant traction in recent years, refers to responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local communities, and educates visitors about the importance of preserving biodiversity. It goes beyond traditional tourism by emphasizing the protection of natural resources and cultural heritage, providing sustainable livelihoods for local communities, and fostering greater environmental awareness.


In Costa Rica, ecotourism plays a pivotal role in both the tourism sector and the overall economy. With its abundant biodiversity and commitment to sustainable practices, the country has become a prime destination for eco-conscious travelers seeking authentic and nature-based experiences.


In this article, we will explore the extent of Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry and its impact on the country’s economy. We will delve into the economic contribution of ecotourism, discuss the challenges and benefits it brings, and shed light on the sustainability measures in place to ensure the long-term viability of this industry.


So, join us as we embark on a journey to uncover the remarkable world of Costa Rica’s ecotourism and discover how this small nation has become a global leader in sustainable travel.


Definition of Ecotourism

Before we delve further into the ecotourism industry in Costa Rica, let’s take a moment to understand what ecotourism truly means. Ecotourism is a form of tourism that focuses on visiting natural areas and engaging in activities that promote environmental conservation and cultural preservation. It is characterized by its commitment to sustainability and responsible travel practices.


Unlike traditional mass tourism, which often has negative impacts on the environment and local communities, ecotourism aims to minimize these adverse effects while providing a meaningful and immersive experience for visitors. It encourages activities such as wildlife observation, nature walks, and cultural interactions, all with a strong emphasis on environmental education and conservation.


One of the fundamental principles of ecotourism is the concept of leaving no trace. This means that tourists are encouraged to minimize their impact on the environment by practicing sustainable behaviors, such as staying on designated trails, respecting wildlife habitats, and disposing of waste responsibly.


Moreover, ecotourism emphasizes the importance of community involvement and empowerment. It seeks to create opportunities for local communities to benefit economically from tourism activities, ensuring that the revenue generated stays within the region and contributes to sustainable development.


In essence, ecotourism seeks to strike a delicate balance between the economic benefits of tourism and the preservation of natural and cultural assets. It promotes sustainable practices, fosters environmental stewardship, and seeks to enhance the well-being of local communities.


Now that we have a clear understanding of what defines ecotourism, let us explore how Costa Rica has embraced this concept and transformed it into a thriving industry that is both economically fruitful and environmentally responsible.


Overview of Costa Rica’s Economy

Costa Rica, a small country in Central America, boasts a vibrant and diverse economy. Historically, agriculture, particularly the export of coffee, bananas, and pineapples, dominated the country’s economic landscape. However, in recent decades, Costa Rica has experienced a significant shift towards a more service-oriented economy, with tourism emerging as a key driver of growth.


Aside from its stunning natural beauty, Costa Rica’s strategic location and political stability have made it an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and business outsourcing. The country has established itself as a hub for technology and research-based industries, attracting multinational corporations seeking a favorable business climate and a highly educated workforce.


But it is the tourism sector, and specifically the thriving ecotourism industry, that has captured the attention of visitors from around the world. Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability and conservation, coupled with its breathtaking biodiversity and well-preserved natural heritage, have made it a global leader in ecotourism.


The tourism industry in Costa Rica has experienced exponential growth in recent years. Visitors flock to the country to explore its lush rainforests, hike its volcanoes, relax on its stunning beaches, and encounter its diverse wildlife. According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board, the country welcomed over 3 million tourists in 2019, contributing nearly $4 billion to the nation’s economy.


In addition to its natural attractions, Costa Rica has also invested in infrastructure development to support the growing tourism industry. The country offers a range of accommodations, from eco-lodges nestled in remote rainforest locations to luxurious resorts along the coastline. Additionally, the availability of adventure and eco-tourism activities, such as zip-lining, surfing, and nature tours, further enhances the appeal for tourists seeking unique and sustainable experiences.


As we delve further into Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry, let’s explore the significant role it plays in the country’s economy and its contribution to sustainable development.


Importance of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Ecotourism has become a vital component of Costa Rica’s tourism industry, contributing significantly to the country’s economy and promoting sustainable development. Here are the key reasons why ecotourism is of utmost importance in Costa Rica:

1. Preservation of Biodiversity: Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, home to a wide range of ecosystems, including rainforests, cloud forests, coastal mangroves, and coral reefs. Ecotourism plays a crucial role in promoting the preservation and conservation of these natural habitats. By providing incentives for protecting these areas, ecotourism helps safeguard the rich biodiversity that makes Costa Rica a unique destination. 2. Sustainable Economic Growth: Ecotourism provides a sustainable source of income for local communities, contributing to poverty alleviation and reducing dependence on traditional industries like agriculture. By creating job opportunities in eco-lodges, nature reserves, tour guiding, and sustainable agriculture, ecotourism helps distribute the benefits of tourism more equitably among the population. 3. Cultural Preservation: Costa Rica is not just blessed with natural wonders but also has a rich cultural heritage, with indigenous communities and Afro-Costa Rican populations preserving their traditions and way of life. Ecotourism promotes cultural preservation by encouraging travelers to engage respectfully and learn from local communities. This leads to a greater appreciation and understanding of the unique cultural diversity of Costa Rica. 4. Education and Awareness: Ecotourism provides a platform for environmental education and raising awareness about the importance of conservation. Visitors are exposed to firsthand experiences of the natural wonders and learn about sustainable practices, wildlife protection, and the delicate balance of ecosystems. This knowledge can be taken back to their home countries, allowing for the spread of environmental consciousness. 5. Conservation Funding: The revenue generated from ecotourism activities often goes directly into funding environmental conservation projects. This financial support helps to maintain protected areas, conduct scientific research, and implement sustainable practices. In essence, ecotourism serves as a crucial source of funding for initiatives aimed at preserving Costa Rica’s natural resources. 6. Brand Image and Competitive Advantage: Costa Rica has successfully positioned itself as a leader in sustainable tourism, attracting environmentally conscious travelers seeking authentic and responsible travel experiences. By embracing ecotourism, the country has gained a competitive edge in the global tourism market and has built a positive brand image that aligns with the growing demand for sustainable tourism options. The importance of ecotourism cannot be overstated in Costa Rica as it contributes to the country’s economic growth, environmental conservation, cultural preservation, and education. In the next section, we will explore the significant economic contribution of ecotourism to Costa Rica’s economy.


Economic Contribution of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Ecotourism has emerged as a major contributor to Costa Rica’s economy, generating substantial revenue and employment opportunities. Let’s delve into the significant economic contributions of ecotourism in the country:

1. Foreign Exchange Earnings: The revenue generated from ecotourism significantly contributes to foreign exchange earnings in Costa Rica. According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board, tourism accounted for nearly 8% of the country’s GDP in 2019. Ecotourism, in particular, played a vital role in attracting high-spending international visitors who prioritize sustainable and nature-based experiences. 2. Job Creation: The ecotourism industry provides employment opportunities for a wide range of sectors, including accommodation, food services, transportation, and adventure activities. Locals benefit from jobs as tour guides, park rangers, lodge staff, and conservation specialists. These opportunities not only generate income but also help build skills and empower local communities. 3. Supplier linkages: Ecotourism stimulates economic linkages by creating demand for locally produced goods and services. This includes organic farming, handicrafts, and traditional cultural experiences offered by indigenous communities. The growth of the ecotourism sector has opened up avenues for small businesses and entrepreneurs to prosper, contributing to the overall economic development of the country. 4. Infrastructure Development: The steady influx of visitors has prompted investments in infrastructure development, including improved roads, airports, and accommodations. These public and private investments not only enhance the tourism experience but also benefit the overall infrastructure of Costa Rica, supporting other sectors of the economy. 5. Sustainable Small and Medium Enterprises: Ecotourism encourages the growth of sustainable small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that prioritize environmental and social responsibility. These businesses often have a lower environmental footprint and contribute to sustainable development by adhering to eco-friendly practices. They play a significant role in fostering economic diversification and spreading the benefits of tourism to rural and remote areas. 6. Community Development: Ecotourism contributes to community development by supporting community-based tourism initiatives. Local communities are actively involved in creating and delivering unique experiences, allowing them to participate in the decision-making process while preserving their cultural heritage. Revenues generated from community-based tourism initiatives often go back into community development projects, such as schools, health facilities, and conservation efforts. The economic contribution of ecotourism in Costa Rica has been instrumental in driving sustainable economic growth, creating employment opportunities, and supporting local businesses. However, with its growth come challenges that need to be carefully addressed. In the next section, we will explore the challenges and benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica.


Challenges and Benefits of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

While ecotourism has brought numerous benefits to Costa Rica’s economy and environment, it also presents certain challenges. Let’s examine both the challenges and benefits of ecotourism in Costa Rica:

Challenges: 1. Environmental Impact: The influx of tourists can place pressure on fragile ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Activities such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and water sports must be carefully managed to avoid causing disturbance or degradation to the natural environment. 2. Infrastructure Development: Meeting the demands of increasing tourist numbers requires infrastructure development, which can sometimes come at the expense of natural areas. Balancing the need for infrastructure with the preservation of ecosystems is a continuous challenge. 3. Overtourism: Popular destinations and attractions may experience overcrowding, leading to negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Managing visitor numbers and implementing sustainable tourism practices are crucial to prevent overtourism. 4. Seasonal Fluctuations: The tourism industry in Costa Rica experiences seasonal fluctuations. During peak tourist seasons, there may be overcrowding, higher prices, and increased pressure on resources, while off-peak seasons can lead to reduced income for businesses and communities. Benefits: 1. Conservation and Preservation: Ecotourism promotes the conservation and preservation of natural areas. National parks and protected areas are established and maintained due to the economic incentives provided by tourism, ensuring the long-term protection of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. 2. Community Empowerment: Ecotourism provides opportunities for local communities to participate in tourism activities, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment. This involvement allows communities to benefit economically and culturally from tourism and encourages the preservation of local traditions and heritage. 3. Education and Awareness: Ecotourism promotes environmental education and raises awareness among visitors about the importance of conservation. By showcasing the natural beauty and unique ecosystems of Costa Rica, ecotourism inspires visitors to become advocates for sustainability in their own lives and communities. 4. Economic Growth: Ecotourism has contributed significantly to the country’s economic growth, creating employment opportunities and stimulating the local economy. The revenue generated from ecotourism activities helps fund conservation efforts and supports sustainable development initiatives. 5. Diversification of Economy: The growth of ecotourism has diversified Costa Rica’s economy, reducing dependency on traditional industries such as agriculture. This increased diversification provides a more stable and sustainable economic foundation for the country. By addressing the challenges and maximizing the benefits, Costa Rica can continue to leverage its thriving ecotourism industry to drive sustainable development and preserve its unique natural and cultural heritage. In the next section, we will explore the sustainability measures implemented in Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry.


Sustainability Measures in Costa Rica’s Ecotourism Industry

Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability in its ecotourism industry sets an exemplary standard for other nations. The country has implemented a range of measures to ensure the long-term viability of its natural resources and foster sustainable practices. Let’s explore some of the key sustainability measures in Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry:

1. Protected Areas and National Parks: Costa Rica has established an extensive network of protected areas and national parks, covering approximately 25% of its land. These areas are strictly regulated to conserve biodiversity and provide opportunities for visitors to engage in sustainable activities while minimizing their impact on the environment. 2. Certification Programs: Various certification programs have been introduced to ensure that accommodations, tour operators, and other tourism-related businesses adhere to sustainable practices. Certifications such as the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) and the Blue Flag Ecological Program recognize and promote businesses that meet specific environmental, social, and cultural criteria. 3. Community-Based Tourism: Costa Rica encourages community-based tourism initiatives, where local communities play an active role in managing and benefiting from tourism activities. This approach ensures that the revenue generated from tourism stays within the community and contributes to their sustainable development. 4. Environmental Education: Environmental education and awareness play a vital role in Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry. Educational programs are implemented in schools, nature reserves, and visitor centers to promote understanding and foster a culture of environmental conservation among both locals and visitors. 5. Sustainable Transportation: Efforts have been made to promote sustainable transportation options for tourists, such as electric shuttles, bicycles, and walking trails. This reduces carbon emissions and minimizes the ecological footprint associated with transportation. 6. Waste Management and Recycling: The proper management of waste is a priority in Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry. Eco-lodges, national parks, and other tourism establishments adhere to waste management protocols, including recycling and composting, to minimize the environmental impact of tourism activities. 7. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Practices: Many eco-lodges and restaurants in Costa Rica prioritize sourcing local, organic, and sustainably produced food for their guests. This promotes sustainable agriculture, supports local farmers, and reduces the carbon footprint associated with food production and transportation. 8. Conservation and Research Programs: Costa Rica actively supports scientific research and conservation initiatives. Many eco-lodges collaborate with research organizations and universities to participate in monitoring, data collection, and conservation efforts, contributing to the scientific understanding and protection of the country’s biodiversity. These sustainability measures demonstrate Costa Rica’s dedication to balancing economic growth with environmental protection and community well-being. By prioritizing sustainability, Costa Rica has created a model for responsible and successful ecotourism. In the concluding section, we will reflect on the significance of Costa Rica’s accomplishments in the field of ecotourism and sustainability.



Costa Rica’s success in developing a thriving ecotourism industry has positioned the country as a global leader in sustainable travel. Enveloped by its breathtaking natural beauty, Costa Rica has harnessed the power of ecotourism to drive economic growth, preserve its unique biodiversity, and empower local communities.


Through responsible tourism practices and a commitment to sustainability, Costa Rica has managed to strike a delicate balance between conserving its natural resources and providing awe-inspiring experiences for visitors. The country’s extensive network of protected areas, certification programs, and community-based tourism initiatives serve as a foundation for preserving its natural and cultural heritage.


Ecotourism has not only brought economic benefits to Costa Rica but has also fostered environmental education and raised awareness about the importance of conservation. Visitors leave Costa Rica with a deep appreciation for its natural wonders and a commitment to sustainable practices in their own lives, creating a ripple effect that extends beyond the borders of the country.


However, Costa Rica’s journey towards sustainable tourism is not without its challenges. The country must navigate the fine line between promoting tourism and protecting the environment, ensuring that infrastructure development is balanced with ecosystem preservation and managing visitor numbers to prevent overtourism.


As the world continues to recognize the value of sustainable travel, Costa Rica serves as an inspiration and a model for other nations seeking to develop their own ecotourism industries. The country’s success in integrating sustainability into its tourism practices demonstrates that economic growth and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand.


Costa Rica’s achievements in ecotourism and sustainability serve as a reminder that through responsible travel, we can contribute to the preservation of our planet’s biodiversity, empower local communities, and create a positive impact on the world around us. By choosing to support destinations that prioritize sustainability, we can all become active participants in the global movement towards a greener and more responsible tourism industry.