Costa Rica Eco Tourism – Visit Tirimbina Rainforest Center and See Scientists at Work

Eco tourism in Costa Rica can take many forms, is enjoyed or experienced in different ways, affects visitors in various ways, and produces different societal consequences-some obvious, some not.

And, indeed, the very word “eco tourism” brings different images to mind in different people.

For some, Costa Rica eco tourism brings to mind enjoying the country’s extraordinary biological diversity. Hence, it’s appropriate to label the kinds of ecotourists traveling this country.

Only about as big as little West Virginia, comprising about 1/10,000 of the globe’s land surface, nearly one of every twenty species of plant and animal in the world is found in Costa Rica.

There are actually more kinds of butterflies in tiny Costa Rica than on the whole continent of Africa. And,almost as many types of birds have been observed in its forests and lands as in the continental United States.

The world’s largest Green Sea Turtle preserve is off the Caribbean Coast at Tortuguero Park. Sometimes tens of thousands of female turtles come ashore to nest on the deserted beaches.

35% of the world’s species of cetaceans (porpoises and whales) are found in its offshore waters—and humpback whales from Antarctica travel north to Costa Rica while humpback whales from the Arctic travel south to the same waters.

Remote Corcovado Park, just 20 miles long and 8 miles wide, has been called “the most biologically intense place” on the planet by National Geographic.

Folks who pay a visit to Costa Rica for any of these things are best described as “vacation eco tourists.”

However, eco tourism in this tropical land is more diverse than bird watching, taking a photography tour, or hiking jungle trails to lovely waterfalls-which brings us to an internationally acknowledged but little known and relatively little visited place known as the Tirimbina Rainforest Center.

The Tirimbina Rainforest Center sits on about 345 hectares (850 acres) of primary rainforest. “Primary rainforest” is the original, never logged, jungle that blanketed 99% of Central America when Christopher Columbus visited its Caribbean shoreline and discovered (and named) Costa Rica in 1503.

In the following centuries, widespread logging and burning to make more agricultural areas decimated primary forests and only only a small portion of this valuable resource still exists.

The Center’s history goes back to 1960 when an American, Robert Hunter, traveled to Costa Rica to work for the Inter-American Institute for Science and Agriculture and bought the land now occupied by the Center. He invited American researchers to the property, one of whom was Dr. Allen Young of the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Public Museum, and an internationally identified expert on cacao cultivation and rain forests.

Dr. Young, and others like him who’ve worked from the Center over the last 50 years, are “research eco tourists.” Their professional curiosity and work on rain forests have proved invaluable to understanding the ecosystems of tropical climes.

Tirimbina proved fascinating not merely to Dr. Young but to the Milwaukee Public Museum itself which, in 1986, designed a permanent exhibit on the tropical rainforest, called “Exploring Life on Earth.” Over the following years hundreds of thousands of museum visitors have viewed the Tirimbina exhibit as “virtual eco tourists” whose awareness of the importance–and fragility-of rain forests have contributed to conservation efforts.

Indeed, the Museum eventually bought the Tirimbina Rainforest Center and maintained it until 2006 when it was sold to a Milwaukee nonprofit called the Pura Vida Foundation. More recently, the Center was transferred to a Costa Rica nonprofit organization, the Asociacion Tirimbina Para La Conservacion, Investigacion y Educacion.

If you are an eco tourist or interested in real-deal Costa Rica ecotourism, we recommend going to the Tirimbina Rainforest Center if you’re:

(a) A “research eco tourist.” This is a working rain forest research center and for 30 years has been used for doctorate research, graduate studies, and museum related work;

(b) An undergraduate looking for a one-of-a kind study abroad opportunity.

Ball State University of Indianapolis recently announced a new Study Abroad in Costa Rica program at Tirimbina Rainforest Center, starting Spring Semester 2010. This program is modeled after two very popular study abroad programs in Australia and England. If this is for you, you will be a “student eco tourist”; or

(c) Simply curious about visiting a working tropical forest research center that also hosts family things to do and educational projects like hiking through primary rain forest on several miles of trails; a bird tour; a frog tour; a bat tour; even a chocolate tour.

Additionally there is an aerial tram tour, boat tour, and a truly remarkable number of optional activities. Visit the Tirimbina web page for a list of the activities and become “family eco tourists.”

There’s a restaurant and accommodations on site for people who wish to stay overnight or for several days.

Though it has been known by the scientific community for more than five decades, Tirimbina Rainforest Center is visited by only about 8,000 Costa Rica eco tourists annually. Until now, its existence has been virtually unknown as a tourist destination, but no more. If you are planning a Costa Rica vacation, give this place serious consideration.

An Eco Tour of Puerto Rico Designed for Student Travel Groups

The island of Puerto Rico is an excellent choice for student groups who want to travel to a destination with well-preserved ecological features. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, students, teachers and chaperones can travel there without a passport.

Puerto Rico is rich in Colonial and native history. It is also a spectacular destination for an eco tour. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. and well worth the visit. The island is peppered with small fishing villages, offering unique hands on learning experiences for students studying marine science as well.

While student groups are touring Puerto Rico, they can also visit the historic cities of Ponce and Old San Juan, eat authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, take Salsa lessons, and learn about the local culture.

Following is an overview of some of the main sites student groups can visit while taking an eco tour of Puerto Rico.

La Parguera – A Fishing Village with Unique Learning Opportunities
Students will visit La Parguera, a small fishing village in Western Puerto Rico. There the group will be able to feed Iguanas, identify birds, and even catch starfish. A local fisherman will speak to the group about everyday life in his profession, and students will interact with marine life up close. After enjoying a meal prepared by the locals, the group will embark on a bioluminescent night bay tour. The bay tour is a supervised swim where students will see dinoflagelates (plankton) that glow in the dark and fish that light up underwater.

The Tropical Rainforest El Yunque
Protected by the Federal Forest Reserve for over one hundred years, El Yunque is truly a treasure, since it is a well- preserved rainforest. Like many rainforests, El Yunque has a complex eco system with a wide variety of flora and fauna, animals, insects, reptiles and birds. Exotic scenery includes large cascading waterfalls, views of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and a canopy of age-old trees. Student tour groups will take a guided hike of El Yunque that includes swimming under the waterfalls. Afterwards, students will have a lunch of Pinchos and spend time on Luquillo beach.

Ponce: Once Spain’s Capital City
Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico and was named after Juan Ponce de Leon’s great-grandson, Loiza Ponce de Leon, who founded it in 1692. Student travel groups may opt to take a walking or trolley tour of this historic city, where they will explore old and new farmers markets, and see neoclassical buildings and facades, colonial homes, cathedrals and fountains from the 17th Century. Groups will also visit El Parque de Bombas, a Spanish and Moorish inspired architectural treasure that served first as a main exhibit pavilion for the 1882 Exhibition Trade Fair and later as a fire station.

Old San Juan: A Spanish Colonial City
Founded in 1521 and also known as ‘the walled city,” San Juan is the present day capital city of Puerto Rico. It sits on one of the largest and most accessible harbors in the Caribbean. Student groups will visit the old Spanish fort, explore the cobblestone streets of San Juan and view 16th and 17th Century Spanish colonial buildings.

Puerto Rico has a rich Spanish colonial heritage that has been well preserved. El Yunque rainforest is one of the 28 finalists in the World’s Seven Wonders competition and is a spectacular opportunity for learning about the ecological importance of preserving rainforests – right in this hemisphere.

On tour, there are also numerous opportunities for students to immerse themselves in Puerto Rican culture, cuisine, and lifestyles. The experience of visiting Puerto Rico is rich and varied. Guides are bilingual, so there is no need to be fluent in Spanish. However, for Spanish classes the guides will speak totally in Spanish (if desired) for total Spanish immersion.

Colombia: Now Safe to Travel

Up until a few years ago, Colombia was widely regarded as basically unsafe to travel by backpackers and world travelers. Around 2008 the country had finally gained ground on cleaning up street crime and implemented an impressive ad campaign promoting international tourism. The past several years tourism has grown and continues to grow exponentially as word spreads of this country’s amazing beauty, friendly people, and huge list of sites to see. There are still some potential hazards traveling in Colombia however with a good guide you can travel safely and have the trip of a lifetime.

The most important aspect of traveling in Colombia is knowing where you are safe and where you are not. Unfortunately there is really no way to know this without hiring a professional guide. With a guide and appropriate research you can travel safely and experience the country the way the people want you to see it. As a general rule, Colombians are extremely outgoing and proud of their country. They are known for great hospitality and cheerfulness while entertaining their foreign guests. It is very common to have people you have never met or seen before watching out for your safety while exploring in Colombia. Most of the time you are not even aware you are being protected. The reason is simple. Colombians love their country and strongly desire to change the country’s image. They are fully aware the benefits foreign tourists bring to the economy as well as their way of life. As a result, despite what most people think, these days Colombia is one of the best countries on the continent for a foreign adventure vacation.

The word from today’s travelers in Colombia is shining. Most travelers leave Colombia utterly amazed at the treatment they received during their journey. The country has one of the best transportation systems in the world with modern buses and mini-buses going virtually everywhere. There is rarely any need to worry while navigating bus stations and airports as there is generally more security present than in the United States. There are various airports around the country providing several options when looking for reasonable airfare. Flights into Colombia are actually some of the most reasonable on the continent as well.

While in Colombia there is no shortage of things to do and sites to see. Many of Colombias greatest treasures are still basically unknown to the world….. for now! The country has it’s own personal and unique history of indigenous cultures and lost civilizations in addition to being one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Colombia has several distinct regions to explore including beautiful islands and beaches, Andes Mountain coffee country, high mountain plains, and the Amazon region. From the Amazon region it is possible to travel to Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru by boat and small plane. For those wishing the ultimate explorative trip, well, these passages are simply amazing.

Colombia has an almost unlimited number of things to do during your stay. One of the most popular and rapidly growing areas is coffee country. In Colombia coffee country visitors can embark on coffee tours, visit and stay on coffee plantations, and visit the official national coffee park. While staying on a plantation guests learn all about coffee cultivation, harvesting, and roasting coffee. In this region there are distinct colonial towns preserved almost as they were one hundred and fifty years ago surrounded by gorgeous mountain terrain filled with rainforest fauna, countless waterfalls, and mountain streams.

Another rapidly growing area of exploration in Colombia are the lost indigenous cultures. These cultures left little to know them by other than enormous stone statues carved periodically over several thousand years up until a few hundred years ago. There is still much to learn about these cultures attracting archeologists from around the world to visit. One popular place to visit is San Agustin, a small town about eight hours from Bogota. The area is amazingly beautiful with enough to do to keep a traveler busy for a week. Many travelers end up staying several weeks just enjoying the balmy climate and serenity of the area. This is one of the best areas to visit for those having only a week or two to travel.

Another aspect of Colombia is an abundance of original and highly creative artists. For the artist or want to be artist, it is possible to find Colombian artists in virtually every area from working with bamboo to watercolor painting. As well classes can be found in natural materials jewelry making. While taking art classes guests can study Spanish and a variety of Latin dances including Salsa and Merengue. The Colombian teachers of these arts are renowned for their eagerness and attention to detail during classes. For the traveler looking to immerse in the culture and make new friends, this is the ticket!

One of the best adventures of all in Colombia is exploring the mountain rainforest. There are guides to take guests up in the mountains with only a machete where they learn to make an emergency shelter, find things to eat, and survive with only their machete! For those wishing to experience the real art of survival while learning about the rainforest this can’t be passed up.

All in all Colombia has evolved into one of the best, yet relatively unknown destinations for the adventure traveler. For those who have been pondering the idea of visiting Colombia, now is the time. Just be sure to hire a professional guide. It is well worth the extra money to guarantee your safety and assure a fun, well rounded trip.