SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Costa Rica, the world’s foremost leader in sustainable tourism practices, has begun to reap the rewards for its commitment to social and environmental preservation alike. The country’s philosophy to being at peace with humanity and nature have now set the stage for a country that is recognized internationally as one of the most stable, most ethical, one of the cleanest, and consequently, one of the happiest places on Earth.
A recent Gallup Poll named Costa Rica one of the Happiest Places on Earth citing its people’s health, prosperity, and overall satisfaction with life. So, what has this small nation done right to create this type of society and, more importantly, what kind of changes can other countries make to achieve a little more happiness in everyday lives?
When Costa Rica made the decision to eliminate its army in 1948, it seemed like an unlikely and naïve choice, at best. Then, in 1978, Costa Rica took it a step further and declared 25 percent of its territory as protected land in an effort to preserve the rich biodiversity that today has made the country one of the most sought after ecological destinations in the world.
While these decisions were highly criticized in their time, Costa Rica, today, has come full circle and proven that a life focused on the well-being of the people and the planet is the best recipe to living a long and happy life. Their zest for life shows because while many initially come here for the country’s natural beauty and an endless choice of activities, ultimately, the longest lasting impression they leave with is the kindness and joy that the Costa Rican people offer.
All of these choices have enabled Costa Rica to be a society that can count on accessible education for all and a nationwide healthcare system that even provides for tourists in the country. Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, enjoy a literacy rate that is comparable to any other well-developed nation, equal rights for all, a political system which allows for strong participation from its citizens, and an almost complete elimination of fossil fuels for electric production.
As a destination that offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty of the Earth and its people, Costa Rica began to see a growth in its tourism industry. In order to mitigate the negative effects of tourism development in the country, Costa Rica quickly took action, and in 1996, it established the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST), which outlines four main pillars for developing a property or operation that would reduce the impact that it would on the environment, its population, and its culture as well.
Over the past year, Costa Rica, as a country, and its tourism sector alike, have received an unprecedented amount of recognition for its staggering achievements at the environmental and social level. Organizations like the World Economic Index Forum and the Environmental Performance Indicator developed by Yale University and Columbia University have ranked Costa Rica as the best place to do business and the cleanest destination in the Americas, respectively.
The CST program has not only been well received by the industry, with over 150 hotels and tour operators certified, but it has also been regarded by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as the model for sustainable tourism in Latin America. Additionally, the CST program was recognized by the III Virtual Congress on Latin American Tourism Industry and Destination Competitiveness with the “Tourism for All” award in the category of “Innovation in Tourism and Hotels.”
All of these efforts have positioned its tourism industry as one of the most sustainable in the world and it has no shortage of awards either. In the past year alone, establishments such as Green Hotels of Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Rios Tropicales, Hotel Punta Islita, El Silencio Lodge, Nature Air, among many others, have been recipients of sustainable tourism awards and recognitions from prestigious organizations such as National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Rainforest Alliance, and the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The key to happiness, as Costa Rica has proven, isn’t necessarily limited to the act of consuming less. Rather, it is the philosophy that when people take the time to take care of and appreciate the things around them that aren’t replaceable, such as the environment, their people, and their culture, then they begin to create a society that finds happiness in the simple things that the world has to offer.