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.