How Costa Rica Is Paving the Way for Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable travel may sound like an oxymoron, but if your travels lead you to Costa Rica, the experience can be greener than you’d think. According to Essential Costa Rica, “Sustainability is not a practice in Costa Rica, it’s a way of life.”

Costa Rica is a global leader in sustainable tourism. Photo: Courtesy of Atana Malamo/Unsplash

Costa Rica has an ever-growing laundry list of green initiatives. The land of “Pura Vida” produces 93 percent of its energy using renewable resources, and in 2017 it broke its own record by running for 300 days solely on energy from renewable sources.

Despite being small in size, Costa Rica accounts for five percent of Earth’s biodiversity, and luckily 25 percent of its territory is protected by the National System of Conservation Areas.

The country is forward thinking, and by 2021 it hopes to be the first carbon neutral country in the world while simultaneously eliminating single-use plastics from its vocabulary.

At ASN, we’re big fans of traveling the world while protecting and nourishing the places we love to play and explore. We did some digging to figure out just what the “Ticos” do to promote sustainability throughout their beautiful country. Here’s what we found.

Certification for Sustainable Tourism

The CST helps ensure that companies operate their businesses sustainably. Photo: Courtesy of Perry Grone/Unsplash

The Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) was originally developed by the Sustainability Programs Department of the Costa Rican Tourism Board and the Costa Rica National Accreditation Commission to ensure tourism sector businesses follow the sustainable model of natural, cultural, and communal reserve management.

According to the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, “The main purpose of the CST is to turn the concept of sustainability into something real, practical, and necessary in the context of tourism competitiveness in the country, trying to improve the way in which natural and social resources are used, promote an active participation of local communities, and provide a new support for the competitiveness of the entrepreneurial sector.”

The CST was first implemented four years ago and has since been used to measure the sustainability of businesses, improve business environmental and social practices, and motivate businesses (and their clients) to choose more sustainable practices.

The certification was designed in such a way that it can easily be implemented in other countries and can continue to be used to promote sustainability in tourism.


Ecolodges, like the Harmony Hotel in Nosara, are paving the wave for sustainable tourism. Photo: Courtesy of the Harmony Hotel

If you’re from the U.S., you may not have heard of an ecolodge before, but in Costa Rica they come in spades. Ecolodges are essentially accommodations that are constructed and/or operated in a way that minimizes the impact on the natural environment in which they reside.

Each lodge is unique, but some of the focuses are supporting local projects that promote sustainable development, composting, using environmentally friendly pesticides, using solar panels to provide energy, providing all-natural bath products in guest rooms, offering bamboo straws, including native plants in the landscaping, and participating in a “Plant a Tree” program to offset carbon emissions.

Renewable Energy

The majority of Costa Rica’s power comes from renewable energy sources. Photo: Courtesy of American Public Power Association/Unsplash

Since 2014, Costa Rica has been a global leader in renewable energy use. The 19,730 square-mile country is almost exclusively powered by renewable sources such as rivers, volcanoes, wind, and solar power.

From June 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018 only 1.47 percent of the country’s electricity was generated from fossil fuels while 1,197 of those days were run exclusively on renewable energy. In the past few years the country has installed seven wind turbine plants, six hydroelectric plants, a solar plant, and a geothermal plant will be completed in 2019.

“Basing [electricity] generation on renewable resources allows the country to achieve one of the lowest ratios of greenhouse gas emissions to electrical consumption on the planet,” said the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) in a statement. By 2021, the country aims to achieve carbon neutrality.

Plastic-Free Pledge

In effort to keep its beaches clean, Costa Rica pledges to ban all single-use plastics by 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Dustan Woodhouse/Unsplash

While the U.S. is slowly working to ban plastic bags and straws, Costa Rica is upping the ante by pledging to ban all single-use plastic products by 2021 – disposable bags, cutlery, straws, cups, coffee lids, stirrers, and bottles are all on the hit list.

Currently, Costa Rica produces 4,000 tons of waste daily, 11 percent of which is single-use plastics that (more often than not) wind up in rivers and the ocean. If Costa Rica succeeds in its initiative, it will become the first single-use-plastic-free country in the world.

“We are a small country with big goals. Our pioneer spirit is part of what sets us apart,” said the Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez in September 2016. “Historically, the country has established and achieved goals that have set an example to the world. We are the first country without army, the first tropical country that has reverted the process of deforestation and we are taking actions towards becoming the first carbon neutral country.”

Costa Rica is among the top five energy efficient countries in the world—Iceland, Sweden, Nicaragua, and the United Kingdom are also highly ranked. As Costa Rica works to achieve carbon neutrality, it continues to rely on its people, its government, and its tourists to aid its efforts and spread the word in hopes that other countries will follow suit.

If your travels bring you to Costa Rica, try staying in an ecolodge, take a rideshare from the airport, or volunteer in a local sustainability project. Every small bit helps.

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