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Ecotourism in Costa Rica reaches out to local community

Ecotourism in Costa Rica [1]

Set in a private nature reserve spread over 900 acres of Central America's last remaining lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge overlooks the pristine point where the Golfo Dulce meets the wild Pacific Ocean.

But, Lapa Rios is more than just a beautiful rainforest hotel or an eco resort near the beach. Lapa Rios is a model ecotourism project, demonstrating owners John and Karen Lewis’ belief that no matter how you cut it, a rain forest left standing is worth more. Lapa Rios has won worldwide awards for social and environmental excellence, and is a featured sustainable tourism pioneer in many international publications and research projects. It has been recognised and recommended by the Rainforest Alliance, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Forbes, National Geographic Traveler and Trip Advisor.

By staying at Lapa Rios, guests support the conservation of the rainforest and provide direct employment and income to more than 45 families in the area. The ecolodge employs only community members, is committed to environmentally sound practices and has been awarded Costa Rica’s highest sustainable tourism certification (CST).

The Lapa Rios Wildlife Reserve was initially established to conserve and restore a significant area of lowland tropical rainforest in the Osa Peninsula, the most bio-diverse region of Costa Rica. It also hoped to provide livelihood opportunities to the local communities; improving awareness about conservation and sustainable environmental management, offering  basic education in local schools and providing job opportunities and training.

This important conservation initiative happened at a time when the Osa Peninsula’s forests were being gradually degraded as a result of human population pressure and unsustainable land use practices, which resulted in loss of forest connectivity, especially with the nearby Corcovado National Park. The preservation of the Lapa Rios Wildlife Reserve therefore not only protected a significant area of primary rainforest (approximately 80% of the reserve is primary forest) but also began the process of restoration of degraded areas, which had previously been converted to cattle pastures. Today, there has been a dramatic recovery of the forest, and vigorous secondary forest growth now covers most previously degraded areas.

Alongside and complementary to its role in rainforest conservation, Lapa Rios has also been a leader in demonstrating best environmental management practices for its ecotourism operation. It has subsequently received the highest grading (five leaves) in the Costa Rican national sustainable tourism programme “Certification for Sustainable Tourism” (CST), putting Lapa Rios in the forefront of environmentally responsible tourism in the country.

Since the start of Lapa Rios´s operations, the team have made extensive efforts to support the local community and to identify ways to maximize their benefits, which is why they have developed a range of social and community projects.

As part of these initiatives, Lapa Rios organises the “Lapathon”, an 18km race from Carbonera School to the closest town Puerto Jiménez, on an annual basis, to promote sports, recreation and healthy lifestyles among the members of the neighbouring communities. At the same time, this race seeks to fund raise for a social cause, chosen every year depending on the needs identified by the communities and social organisations close to Lapa Rios.

When the event was launched in 2009 and the race took off for the first time on the Osa Peninsula, funds generated were used to help the Red Cross with the necessary equipment like oxygen tanks, training of medical staff, and medical supplies for the only ambulance of the Peninsula.

Over the years there have been a steady growth in participants and funds raised, which have gone towards furnishing a classroom for speech therapy in the public school of Puerto Jimenez, constructing a new dining room for the school and improving the only sports ground available in Puerto Jimenez. Over the next two years the organisation plans to restore and equip the sports ground with materials to transform the field into a suitable place for sports and leisure.

The event has not only proven valuable from a fundraising perspective but has also proven to be a great opportunity to grow ties with the community, encourage people from other regions to visit the area, motivate people to exercise and promote team building between staff and communities.

Lapa Rios is part of The Long Run Initiative, which was launched in 2009 as the flagship initiative of the Zeitz Foundation. It is built around Long Run Supporters; Long Run Alliance Members; and Long Run Destinations - Global Ecosphere Retreats ® (GER) certified. All members of The Long Run Initiative sign The Long Run Charter and adhere to its principles. The Long Run Charter is a declaration of intent and commitment to promoting more sustainable lifestyle choices. It is about building a sustainable future. The Long Run Charter advocates actions in the areas of Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce (the 4Cs), and supports the shared ethical foundation of being Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative.

For more information go to www.thelongrun.com [2]or www.laparios.com [3]