John Quam Editor in Chief Howler Magazine Costa Rica

Eco is a prefix that is sometimes misused in a deceptive or imprecise manner, even while drawing worthy attention to legitimate environmental protection concerns.

As humans, we cannot help but make an impact on the environments we invade day in and day out, from the moment we wake up. Just as it’s impossible to have no impact, it is challenging to make our impact less obtrusive through mindfully responsible choices and actions. What I have said before about being stewards of the environment bears repeating.

Trailblazers of ecotourism
in Costa Rica have set a high bar

Our duty to be eco-conscious in traversing through each day goes deeper and wider than the footprints we leave. It extends to our interactions with others and their own ecological impact on the shared wider world. It encompasses our willingness to dig deeper and hold others accountable when eco-promises prove false or fall short. I’ve cited examples previously of property buyers in Costa Rica being duped by seemingly reputable developers touting their green-friendly building initiatives in slick marketing brochures. Whether it was a future project phase that failed to materialize or fabricated claims about an existing installation, unsuspecting clients had no reason to doubt the printed word until it was too late.

The language of ecotourism may have more subtleties and leave more open to interpretation. There’s no question Costa Rica has done a wonderful job portraying to the world its greenness. Airplanes arrive full of tourists eager to see the wonders and be a part of something truly special. In large measure, as portrayed in this Howler issue, there can be sustainable win-win propositions for travelers, tour providers and local Costa Ricans alike, as well as the country’s flora, fauna and natural resources.

Trailblazers of sustainable ecotourism in Costa Rica have set the bar high when it comes to the settings and styles in which naturally and culturally authentic experiences can be enjoyed from coast to coast. I have explored many of these places and seen how proud the people are to be involved on a local, regional or national scale. Visiting Monteverde, for example, I was so amazed listening to our guide explain the elements of nature in our midst and its importance to our lives and our planet.

Yes, certain aspects of Costa Rica’s self-proclaimed greenness are not deserved, and the changes needed cannot happen overnight. But on the whole, this is offset by the level of awareness and commitment to walking the talk. Costa Rica’s new president has emphasized the importance of environmental responsibility, including moving towards the goal of being a zero-carbon nation. It will be interesting to see over the next many months how much progress will be made.

Some ecotourists are adventure seekers who ultimately decide to move here for their experience to last longer, maybe even for a lifetime. Education is the way we can all impart to the world what puts Costa Rica in an eco-league of its own. We also have a voice when eco-realities fall short of that ideal. We have a responsibility to give credit when it’s due while seeking answers when it’s not.

On both counts, awareness and curiosity give power to our message. If hints of being greenwashed crop up midway into your so-called eco-adventure, no one is suggesting you jump off the raft or clip the zipline cable right then and there. By all means, finish your experience, ask more questions and give feedback on what was done well or could be done better. Then use your social media voice to praise and encourage, as well as convey disappointment. Spread the word in a way that promotes positive change and takes the conversation among like-minded ecotourists to new levels.