Worldwide, there’s a new ingredient in the recipe for a successful vacation—call it ecotourism or responsible travel or sustainable tourism, the bottom line is Costa Rica is a primetime destination for a guilt-free travel experience, one of the world’s best places to enjoy the tropics naturally and with minimal impact on the environment. Proof in the pudding lies in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), a program created by the Costa Rica Tourism Board, in cooperation with the Rainforest Alliance, in 1999, and recognized by the World Tourism Organization as the model for sustainable tourism practices in Latin America. Luckily today, environmentally and socially conscious vacationers get lots of help in planning eco-friendly vacations with a low-carbon footprint from CST’s environmentally based classification system. Some 108 business establishments, ranging from hotels and tour operators to airlines and car rental companies, have worked hard to earn 1 to 5 “green leafs” that rank their compliance with the stringent requirements of the CST program (turismo-sostenible.co.cr).
Travelers looking to support fair, honest and, above all, truly sustainable business practices, don’t have to look far for CST-rated, green leaf-decorated accommodations, for throughout the country there is a wide selection of choice lodgings. From city B&Bs, country inns and rainforest lodges, to deluxe resorts both large and small in the mountains and on the beach, you’re going to find that “going green” does not mean roughing it. You will also find a wide community of tour operators and destination management companies that strive to tread lightly on their country’s landscape, as well as a special crop of green entrepreneurs among car rental companies. CST certification does not yet extend to airlines, but locally owned Nature Air (natureair.com), which operates in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, is the first and only airline to completely compensate for its carbon emissions by sponsored conservation of rainforest acreage in the Osa Peninsula.