Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Heritage for Wealthy Travelers?

As a Nature lover, I really appreciated Costa Rica, resting alone on isolated grey sand beaches in the Guanacaste (Sta Rosa National park), hiking in the dry tropical forest trying to avoid poisonous snake meeting, watching the sunset from a hill-top in Manuel Antonio National park, or finding a path in the moisture of the rainforest of the Corcovado National park trying to photo hunt some of its rarest and colourful animals.
But I have to confess that I was very upset, especially after my visit of the Corcovado National park, after making notable efforts to reach with my bicycle the bottom of the Osa Peninsula.
As a Nature lover, I consider that everybody should be able to enjoy the wonders of Nature, whatever wealth conditions. And from what I have heard about and visited in Costa Rica, it seems to be hard to experience this human right!

Plage à maraie basse, Corvovado, Costa Rica

Plage à maraie basse, Corvovado, Costa Rica

Costa Rica, a world renown country for its wildlife and ecosystems, has developed and is still concentrating its tourism and national development strategy on eco-friendly-like tourism infrastructures and projects (not all of them, far from me this statement). The Costa Rica’s protected area system is fairly supporting this development, by producing relevant income from park entrance fees, accommodation fees and research activities. Income from protected areas is mainly re-invested in conservation operations. Although I support this strategy where tourist fees support ecosystems and species conservation, I really do not agree with the extreme of the approach. Indeed, as a Nature lover and low-income traveler (like backpacker), it is hardly possible to fully enjoy its protected areas system because of discriminating multiple fees. The Corcovado national park was the best example. I came there to enjoy the rainforest, see several animals. I did it, with better luck this time, compared to what I had experienced in Belize or El Salvador. But I had to pay more than US$ 180 for three-days hike in the park, including entrance fee, camping service, (compulsory) guide. Then you have to add extras for food for the hike, for accommodation and food in Puerto Jimenez waiting for your tour (expensive as well), etc… In general, quality of services was not good, especially from the tourism office of the Corcovado National park and the Osa Conservation Area in Puerto Jimenez. I had the feeling to be here only to pay. The same with the many tour operators in the city that sell you expensive tours and guides with indecent fares. I tried to negotiate, as you can imagine, but it did not work. All the operators have similar expensive prices. And this is not about to change. For example the park entrance fee will increase from US$ 10 to US$ 15 per day from August 2014…

Will you be able to see improved services at that time? I guess no! Can the national inflation explain this increase? I am sure it can’t! Will this increase support better living conditions for locals? In this case above-mentioned, not at all because it is gathered in the Costa Rican National Parks Foundation. It is just that the Costa Rican government and private companies want to make more money from « ecotourism » and maybe specialize on high-income Nature lovers… Maybe they do think that all tourists are wealthy tourists? Nooooooop, we are not, even if we are white and blond-haired people! Even if fares for national tourists is lower in absolute value, I assume that it is still relatively expensive for them to access this national heritage. At least this experience showed me that ecotourism can make a very good business, very little associated with local sustainable development. Being a guide in the Corcovado national park is a great and comfortable job position! Can I apply for?
I could develop further my point of view by talking about some fake ecotourism projects and campaigns in Costa Rica, but I think that this is enough so far! In a summary, I was upset about my experience of the natural Costa Rica, so do many of my backpacker traveler friends…

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