For my trip to Costa Rica, we stayed at a hotel that has worked with the Rainforest Alliance to put good environmental and social practices in place. Hotel Sueno Azul felt like an oasis within the rainforest in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, about two hours across the continental divide from San Jose. To reach its remote location, our tour bus lumbered down a dusty road through farms and dropped us at a footbridge to cross onto the hotel property. However, the hotel was not as rustic as I expected - we enjoyed a full-service open air restaurant and bar looking out onto a pool and lagoon, and each room had air conditioning and private bathrooms, demonstrating that ecotourism doesn't always mean roughing it as much as my past experience.
The air conditioning had my skeptical about the hotel's level of sustainability, until the owner started explaining all of their efforts. For example, they employ mostly workers from the local town and contribute to the local elementary school. They started a women's association that tends a botanical garden and creates natural soaps and products used in the hotel spa as well as jewelry sold in the hotel store, offering these women an independent source of income and improving their self-confidence. A solar dryer for laundry, which looks like a greenhouse from the outside, cuts down on energy usage. They've also begun monitoring their electricity usage so they can improve upon it.
Most importantly, the hotel property includes more than 700 acres of protected forestland. Together with several sustainable lodges in the area, they are conserving important forests to create a buffer zone adjacent to the Braulio Corillo National Park and extending biological corridors where wildlife can roam. As an added plus of the local biodiversity - a healthy bat population mostly kept the mosquitos at bay.
While tourism may not jump to mind as a path to environmental conservation, in fact, these small actions add up. Tourism operations offer a great way to provide jobs and income in small communities without having to clear forestland. Something to think about on your next trip... If you're planning to travel to Latin America, a good starting place for eco-friendly options is here.