Quagmires and mountain peaks: Rekindling the ethics of ecotourism in Central America

The world is a beautiful place and we as people lust for it but at what cost? The rise of ecotourism began as an attempt to conserve habitats but took off with the shimmer of economic opportunity. While the dream was to interweave conservation with economic stimulation, ecotourism has often created a dichotomy out of the two, but with grassroots endeavors there’s still hope.

Ecotourism centers on preserving areas and creating a sustainable economic opportunity through introduction rather than exploitation of natural resources. Central America, with its lush rain forests and awe-inspiring bio-diversity, is not only ideal for ecotourism but has been a great leader of it as well.

With muddy feet and happy hearts people have been hiking pristine waterfalls, snorkeling crystal waters and traversing the thick verdure in good conscience. Eco-friendly accommodations have sprung up like wild mushrooms giving people the opportunity to enjoy the natural wonders through adventure activities, cultural tours and to conduct academic and scientific research of the unique flora and fauna.

The situation looks bright for Central American ecotourism, but where there is money made greed and deception follow. “Greenwashing” is the practice of slapping an eco-friendly sticker onto a place or tour without any real commitment to the habitat or people. Luxury resorts have been able to assume an eco-friendly façade by using biodegradable detergent. The dollar sign of ecotourism has at times trumped the ethics, and sometimes the construction of a business brings about destruction of the very place it means to protect or champion. And the infamous case of Juan a tour-guide at Arenal volcano in Costa Rica breaking into a reptile park and harassing the animals for tourists showed the lack of genuine concern for the wildlife and nature that some claim to be supporting.

The local people and villages are often left to their own devices as well stripped of the lands they once inhabited or used to make a living.  It’s also not uncommon for luxury resorts to hire foreigners in higher positions and drain the economic prosperity out of the country.

While deception and difficulties in the green tourism industry may seem disheartening, there are some businesses that maintain integrity and restore our faith in the ecotourism movement. “There’s a difference between big hotels and places like us that have composting toilets,” says Alana Bliss co-founder of Finca Fruición in Costa Rica.

P4040100-1024x768

“We’re not only supporting the environment (through permaculture and natural building techniques) but remembering that people are a part of it as well-so we’re supporting the pueblos.” The four-year-old permaculture and land cooperative strives to create a holistic approach to living and to embody the phrase ‘be the change’. Getting started through eco-centered work stays and courses, Finca Fruición has provided free classes to locals in the community and has big ideas for the future.

“We’re trying to get people to switch to sustainable ways of making money.” Instead of working on the big banana farms, they can use their own skill to create goods and services and work in harmony with the area. “What they can provide depends on the opportunities and needs of the people and places,” says Bliss. The mountain and coastal areas will yield very different opportunities for the people so it’s important to use the natural resources respectfully. From hand carvings to organic chocolate bars or even bigger ideas like having an organic farm-there are numerous ways to get the community involved and prosperous, but it can take some convincing.

“We need to show people that they can make a living in other ways and get them on board slowly. I have a lot of plans, but I want to develop them first-I don’t want to promise something and have it not work out.” The co-op has also been hosting festivals to gain awareness for eco-friendly living. Combining ecotourism’s true principles of conservation of ecosystems and support of local communities, Finca Fruición gives hope to ecotourism gone astray.

“What we do isn’t an original idea but it’s important and we want to be an example of what we can do to nourish the planet, and a model for healthy culture and community.”

To learn more about Finca Fruición take a look at their website here