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HOW DID COSTA RICA BECOME THE GREENEST, HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD?

How did Costa Rica become the greenest, happiest country in the world?

Costa Rica has stopped and even reverse deforestation over the last few decades.   –   Copyright  Perry Grone/Unsplash

Rosie Frost

By Rosie Frostlast updated: 18/11/2020In the 1940s more than three-quarters of Costa Rica was covered with trees.

From lush tropical rainforests, home to hundreds of rare species, to cloud forests at the top of the world a total of six different ecosystems could be found across the tiny Central American nation.

But the decades that followed devastated the country’s forests as logging companies turned this irreplaceable natural resource into profit. Land was cleared to be used for crops and livestock, changing it forever. An all-too-familiar story in tropical regions where an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch is thought to be lost every 6 seconds.

By the 1980s, only a third of the woodland that used to blanket the Central American nation remained. It had one of the highest rates of deforestation in all of Latin America.

Reading its history, you might not expect Costa Rica to be world-leading in its conservation efforts. In a remarkably short space of time, however, the country has managed to dramatically turn things around.

It has become one of the first tropical countries to all but end deforestation and reverse its loss of nature. Today, around 75 per cent of its land is once again covered in forest. Making up just 0.03 per cent of global landmass, Costa Rica now protects 5 per cent of the world’s rapidly shrinking biodiversity.

So how did they do it?

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Pura Vida, or pure life is the unofficial motto of Costa Rica.Pixabay

HELPING PEOPLE TO HELP THE NATURAL WORLD

To avert ecological disaster Costa Rica made a series of bold decisions that have resulted in it repeatedly being named the happiest, greenest place on earth.

Usually, escaping hunger and poverty means a country’s environmental impact soars. The process is called, ‘structural transformation’ by economists and it involves a series of societal changes. Farming becomes less common, people move to cities to find work and industrialisation leads to pollution. Eventually, the economy ideally modernises to the point where it starts to clean up.

But countries can stay stuck in the dirty, industrial phase for a long time if economic gains don’t filter down to ordinary people. Costa Rica avoided this by giving land, money and education to people as a way of empowering communities.

After a brief but violent civil war, it abolished its army in the late 1940s. Instead of spending money on guns and military supplies, resources were channelled into the development of education and culture. There is still work to be done on income inequality in the country but its overarching approach has allowed it to modernise without a heavy environmental footprint.

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Costa Rica lies between two oceans creating a wealth of different habitats.Unsplash

The government also discovered that the quickest way to persuade people to care about the environment was to incentivise them. In 1997, Costa Rica developed something called Payment for Environmental Services (PES), a tool for fighting poverty and deforestation at the same time.

PES gives money to landowners who preserve the environment through actions like the conservation of biodiversity, protecting sources of clean water or the storage of carbon.

This programme is now funded using taxes from fossil fuels. It has provided landowners in some of the poorest parts of the country with over €420 million in the last 20 years. More than one million hectares of forests are now protected by the PES programme.

HOW TO FUND A CONTINUING ENVIRONMENTAL REVOLUTION

The country’s respect for the environment is also being reinforced by its successful ecotourism industry. Nearly two-thirds of the three million people that visit Costa Rica every year do so because of its nature, according to the tourism board.

Tourism makes up 8.2 per cent of the country’s GDP and around 10 per cent of citizens are employed in the sector. Unlike some other destinations that rely on visitors to keep their economy afloat, the industry is helping to protect the environment that draws people in rather than destroying it.

Had we chosen a model of aggressive growth in mass tourism, then there would have been no conservation of nature.

 Gustavo Segura Sancho Minister for Tourism, Costa Rica

“We made a decision as a country that tourism would become a tool for social progress, not just an industry that produces jobs,” says Gustavo Segura Sancho, the country’s minister for tourism.

“Had we chosen a model of aggressive growth in mass tourism, then there would have been no conservation of nature.”

He explains that the small rural and coastal areas, likely to attract the most visitors, are also those most in need of social progress. In the last 30 years or so a healthy number of tourists has allowed the building of multiple new schools, hospitals and health clinics to strengthen these communities.

It has led to a 97 per cent literacy rate which makes sharing all kinds of information among the population a lot easier. Segura Sancho says that tourism now helps to directly fund this combined approach to education, health and conservation.

“What that has really meant is we have now 26 per cent of our territory in some form of conservation and the main source of financing for those efforts of conservation, is tourism,” he adds.

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People come to Costa Rica to see its natural beauty.Pixabay

A WAY OF LIFE AT RISK FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD

Although Costa Rica can regulate conservation within its own borders, the threat of global climate change is still proving an urgent problem. The IPCC has identified the country as one of the global hotspots where weather conditions could drastically transform the landscape in the next 50 years.

Increasing numbers of fierce tropical storms and hurricanes have led to torrential rain across Central America in recent weeks. Tropical storm Eta hit the region not long ago and the indirect effects of this extreme weather have led to widespread flooding in Costa Rica.

This year has seen a record-breaking hurricane season and climate scientists say that unusually high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean could be to blame. The warmer our waters become, the more energy is available in the planet’s weather systems. Storms then have the potential to get bigger and more damaging.

Costa Rica is sadly feeling these effects of the rest of the world’s inability to meet emissions targets – despite using nearly 100 per cent renewable energy and being on track to reach carbon neutrality by next year.

It certainly isn’t perfect. The country still has a long way to go when it comes to making sure its successes can continue, but conserving the environment by supporting its people represents a step in the right direction.

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Tropical Paradise Revisited

I am always so happy when I return to our town of Tamarindo.  Amidst all the tourist traffic – sunburnt North Americans parading up and down the main street (just like any destination tourist town right?) – there’s an underlying vibe and joy among the residents here.  Even after being “gone” for weeks, months, years; I find myself greeting friends on the street with embrace and kisses.   Introductions to new friends take place the same way.  Just so appropriate to build new relationships.

I find the growth in our town continues on a positive note, though there’s so much redundancy I wonder how every business owner survives.  AutoMercado, our quality supermarket – and by the way, a flag in the sand that our town has a strong future, much like Whole Foods coming to your neighbourhood – has opened a sparkling new ‘convenience’ concept in the center of town.  Super2001 stepped up with a new sign, appropriately concerned after allowing its storefront to languish for over a decade!  I wonder what all the 6 or so other markets (within walking distance) are thinking?  Lindsey at one of the surf shops suggested there are now 37 surf shops in town.  At least there are only a few t-shirt shops!  I did enjoy interacting with a few of the town legends today, including Denis the Pipas guy.   While roads remain a bit rough, many of the buildings are getting facelifts or wholesale replacements, and there’s clearly more activity in the works.  New residential construction also reflecting quality and optimism for times ahead.

The ocean is till stunning, warm, appreciated!  I tingled with joy yesterday upon seeing it for the first time on this visit.   Might even have to get on a surf board tomorrow, with a lesson.  New adventures in the wonderful outdoors.

Costa Rica budget savings tips

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Heck, these ideas apply to travel and residency.  We’ve found hitchhiking around our area pretty easy.  Just use common sense.

1.- Use the Colón, the local currency

You can pay anywhere in Costa Rica with American dollars, and there are many who live daily with this currency. However, I recommend using the Colón, (the local currency) because with it you are much less likely to be taken or treated as a tourist anymore. In addition, the dollar has more value so the rounding is always upward. However, with the Colón you can make much more controlled and accurate payments. With this trick, you will not save much money, but everything helps in a country with such high prices.

2.- Pay cash better than with a card

If, something caught my attention about Costa Rica is that almost anywhere can one can pay by card. However, if you carry a visa from another country it is very likely that with each payment you make you will incur a commission and in the end, you end up leaving a bit of money in commissions. That is why I recommend running with cash. Important, whenever you are going to withdraw money, look for a cashier where a commission is not charged and use a credit card for the trip that does not charge you fees for using it abroad. For example, the Evo Bank card.

3.- Buy a local SIM card for your phone

If something is cheap in Costa Rica it’s cell phone service and having a SIM (chip) with local number can get you out of many troubles. When I arrived in Costa Rica, I bought a prepaid mobile card (from the Kolbi company) and I put in 3 Euros, of which I did not spend even half after a month of travel. In addition, I thought I sent many messages and made more than one call. As footnote…make sure you bring and unlocked cell phone.

4.- Soda, the cheapest option to eat

Fundamental. Eating in sodas is a lot cheaper than doing it in restaurants. For us to understand, the soda is a type of restaurant in a basic plan, without too many luxuries but home cooked and freshly made. It is a good place to eat dishes of the day (the equivalent of the Spanish menu) or the Casado, which is a dish, composed of rice, beans, banana and other ingredients to choose from. It’s ideal to fill the stomach with a lot for little money. I never spent more than 5 Euros eating on a soda and I always came out perfectly satisfied. Eating in sodas is a great way support the local community.

5.- Shopping in supermarkets

This rule is useful for Costa Rica or for any other country in the world. The cheapest option to eat is always to buy your food in a supermarket and prepare it yourself. Generally, hostels have kitchens at the disposal of the tenant. Now, I can also tell you that the savings of eating via supermarkets in Costa Rica are minimal (the shopping cart is expensive) so many times it makes up or works out to eat in a soda and save you the effort of cooking. Buying in supermarket is a very good option if you travel in large groups since you can cook for more people for less price.

6.- Sleep in hostels and cabins

If you want to travel cheaply through Costa Rica, the best lodging option is to use hostels or cabins instead of hotels. For those of you who have never been in this country, I would say that cabins are a type of accommodation often found in Costa Rica that can be a simple room, with its own bathroom and a few more luxuries. I mean do not expect room service, hot tub and that sort of thing. However, despite its simplicity, it is easy to find cabins with a lot of charm. The difference between the hostel – youth hostel and the cabin is the one that usually includes common spaces, rooms of several beds and other elements that favor the interaction between the members. The cabins usually have more privacy. The average prices in both types of hotels are usually similar but the hostel you can usually find rooms with many beds which are always the cheapest option.

7.- Stay in Tico houses

Of course, there is nothing cheaper than free, so of course I invite you to look for accommodation in local houses. For me it is still the best way to travel and there are websites that facilitate this search as Couch surfing. If it is true that in Costa Rica, despite traveling alone, I found it particularly difficult to find a bed in this way. Moreover, it is distant or beyond San José and other cities, the community of Couch surfing is small, inactive and dispersed. However, this is not the only way to open the doors and that sometimes honesty, sympathy and a good attitude is the best key.

8.- Buses for locals, the cheapest transportation in Costa Rica

As tourists, we usually seek the most comfortable way to the sites and we find it much easier than a private minibus, a taxi or a car that takes us from one destination to another. However, in Costa Rica the difference in prices between private and public transport is enormous, so if you are encouraged as much as possible to abandon the comfort and bet for savings. The public bus in Costa Rica is very cheap. In this sense, I encourage you to read my blog post on bus transportation in Costa Rica, with all the keys to travel by bus in this country and save a lot of money on transportation.

9.- Hitchhiking in Costa Rica

In fact, hitchhiking is not a common practice in Costa Rica, let alone in the main cities. However, the lifestyle of some coastal towns such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Montezuma and Santa Teresa share much with this practice so you will not spend more than 5 minutes with your finger raised before someone picks you up. To optimize your results “pulling your finger”, I recommend you read our guide to hitchhiking.

10.- Be nice and mix

This advice applies to Costa Rica, to any country in the world … and to life. If you remove the tourist layer, you get your best face and try to mix with the local people for the maximum, prepare for many good things to happen. I did my entire trip and I never missed anything. Ticos are wonderful people.

If you apply all these tips, it is easy to travel cheap in Costa Rica. Now, as I have explained, Costa Rica is a very expensive country for the tourist so, avoid travel with a loose budget. Of course, do not forget that, no matter what, Costa Rica is a wonderful country and every euro, dollar or Colón that you invest will be worth it.

Costa Rica Administrative Court bans dry law during holidaysThe Tico Times

Good news if you on vacation or visiting during one of the big holidays.  No more having to “stock up”.

 

Costa Rica municipalities can no longer ban the sale of alcohol during religious and other holidays except for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, a court ruled.

Source: Costa Rica Administrative Court bans dry law during holidaysThe Tico Times

Economists: “exchange rate will remain near 565 colones per day by the end of 2016″

This is good news for our USA visitors, as the US$ will remain strong!  You are best to change your money at a CR bank when you arrive (not the airport).  Certainly, most all restaurants and activities will still accept your dollars; though if you can pay in colones you’ll enjoy a huge benefit.

 

Economists from Acobo Financial Group, anticipate that the exchange rate will remain near 565 colones per day by the end of 2016. Among the main factors are a lower dollar surplus and the increase in the demand for foreign exchange to meet the requirements of the non-bank public sector and the private sector (credits and imports). The…

Source: Economists: “exchange rate will remain near 565 colones per day by the end of 2016″