I’ve never spent much time contemplating ketchup packets – they’re practical, insignificant, and disposed of without another thought. It’s easy to go through several of these in a single serving of french fries, especially when you have kids. Though as I sat on my accommodation’s private beach with my local guide in Costa Rica, I began to understand how these small conveniences we take for granted have a cumulative effect on our pristine environments.
“What happens to that little piece of plastic you tear off? It’s shiny, small, and easily lost in the sand. It gets washed out with the tide then sea turtles eat them.” says Soledad Naranjo, founder of Unique Adventures Costa Rica. Instead, she politely asks the staff if they can bring the ketchup bottle from the kitchen.
Spending a week in Costa Rica, I began to perceive the world through the local lens of sustainability; a mindset and identity that is central to Costa Rican residents, known affectionately as “Ticos.” This small Central American country has big goals for reducing its impact on the natural environment. Reshaping tourism in this image is an essential part of that equation.
Everywhere we went, there were locally owned hotels and restaurants making positive shifts in their routines, from waste reduction and recycling to water use practices. In many hotels, you can separate recycling from trash and even organic waste for local composting. Equal effort is happening behind the scenes as establishments opt to clean with biodegradable products, invest in renewable energy, and source locally grown food.
It’s encouraging to see the abundance of eco-friendly initiatives. My local guide was enthusiastic to share with me a program called DonaTapa which collects plastic bottle caps and converts them into ramps to improve beach accessibility for wheelchairs. Children in local classrooms collect candy wrappers and compress them into “ecobricks” which are then used in construction. The many ways Costa Ricans are playfully tapping into creative solutions to handle modern waste challenges is inspiring, especially at such early ages!
The government is also doing its part by embracing renewable energy. Wind turbines on ridgetops and solar panels on rooftops are popping up like mushrooms across this sun-drenched landscape. These installations add to an already impressive lineup of hydroelectric and geothermal technologies currently powering the country.
Costa Rica has embraced ambitious targets for carbon neutrality, aiming for 100% carbon-free energy across the country by 2021. This commitment extends even beyond these impressive efforts – the country’s own NASA space hero, Franklin Chang Diaz, is advocating a research program that aims to create a more sustainable public transit system with hydrogen-powered buses. Using solar panels, the research team at Ad Astra Company is experimenting with technologies that may help the country reach its goal of complete carbon neutrality by 2050.
Choosing to visit Costa Rica in this spirit of sustainability and conservation is essential to the success of this grand endeavor. Elevate’s ground partners are eager to share their approach with our travelers and guide them to make enhanced choices. Simple steps such as refilling your water bottle, purchasing carbon offsets for your international flights, and supporting local communities through ecotourism projects make a big difference.
Costa Rica receives over 1.7 million visitors each year. This tourism income is vital to power the economy. If each visitor embraces these habits and other green choices, it will add momentum and incentive for Ticos to continue thinking creatively about sustainability, further teaching us in the process.
At Elevate Destinations, we love to see these shifts in the countries we send our travelers! Being a responsible traveler means selecting partners who consider these big questions and commit to continual improvements in best practices. We are honored to partner with our local Tico team in this mission to protect the natural wonders that make Costa Rica so enchanting, and we invite you to join us!