Looking to get environmentally involved on your next vacation? Escape the touristy crowds and experience the real Costa Rica that many visitors often miss. Check out these truly fascinating places and experiences.
At Maderas Rainforest Conservancy on the Caribbean Coast, La Suerte Biological Field Station Lodge has 10 kilometers (6 miles) of rainforest trails open to ecotourists, along with ecology workshops.
Finca Luna Nueva Lodge is an organic, biodynamic herbal farm in the Northern Zone that welcomes visitors for hikes, tours, and classes on sustainable living.
The Santa Juana Mountain Tour offers a chance to interact with a Central Pacific mountain community, integrated into an ecotourism project that is a model for how things should be done.
Part of the Punta Río Claro National Wildlife Refuge in the Golfo Dulce region, the Punta Marenco Lodge welcomes ecotourists and serves as a center for scientific research.
A resurgence of cultural pride, assisted by tourism efforts, is opening the indigenous reserves to respectful visitation and an interest in traditional crafts.
In the Central Highlands, visit the Beneficio Coopedota, which handles the coffee beans for 700 local producers. The visit includes a plantation tour, a video, and tasting. At the Albergue Hacienda Moravia de Chirripó, local indigenous people perform traditional shows.
The Reserva Indígena Kèköldi, on the Caribbean Coast, is home to some 200 Bribrí and Cabecar people. Reforestation and other conservation projects are ongoing; visitors are educated on indigenous history and traditions. Reserva Indígena Talamanca-Bribrí protect the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous people. The “capital” of the Talamanca-Bribrí reserve is the hamlet of Shiroles, setting for Finca Educativa Indígena (tel. 506/8373-4181), an administrative center for the Bribrí people. Reserva Indígena Yorkin (tel. 506/8375-3372) welcomes visitors and leads hikes.
The three indigenous communities of the Malekú Reserva Indígena, in the Northern Zone, provide traditional music and dance performances, cultural presentations, and a museum on indigenous culture. A volunteer and study program at Rustic Pathways contributes to and learns from the Malekú culture. Centro Neotrópico Sarapiquís is a scientific research and educational center with a Museum of Indigenous Culture, an archaeological dig, and a reconstruction of an Indian village. Reserva Indígena Boruca, in South-Central Costa Rica, welcomes visitors keen to see traditional balsa masks being made.
On the Caribbean Coast, ANAI works to protect the forest and to evolve a sustainable livelihood through reforestation and other earth-friendly methods; sign up for one of its Talamanca Field Adventures trips.
Hacienda Lodge Guachipelín, a century-old working cattle ranch, offers activities on more than 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in Guanacaste, plus a 1,200-hectare (3,000-acre) tree-reforestation project.
From Buenos Aires in South-Central Costa Rica, you can take a Jeep-taxi to Durika Biological Reserve, a well-run commune deep in the mountains on the edge of La Amistad International Park. The rugged drive is not for the faint-hearted, but once there you can participate in a reforestation project, and even help milk the goats.
Sea Turtle Conservation needs volunteers to assist in research, including during its twice-yearly turtle tagging and monitoring programs. Volunteers are also needed on the Caribbean Coast for the Marine Turtle Conservation Project, which conducts research and protects the turtles from predators and poachers. Pacuare is now the most important leatherback site in Costa Rica; the Pacuare Nature Reserve protects the eggs of leatherback turtles during nesting season. The Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Ostional, on the Nicoya Peninsula, oversees turtle welfare and accepts volunteers to assist with turtle programs. And the Programa and Reserva Indígena Talamanca-Cabecar Restauración de Tortugas Marinas has freed more than 100,000 turtle hatchlings to the sea. Volunteers are needed.
Rancho Mastatal Environmental Learning Center and Lodge, in the Central Highlands, welcomes volunteers. This 89-hectare (219-acre) farm and private wildlife refuge offers environmental workshops and language courses.
Spend the day at Aiko-Logi-Tours, a 135-hectare (330-acre) sustainable farm and rainforest on the Caribbean coast. Volunteers are welcome to work on various eco-oriented projects. Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living and Education, a communal organic farm and environmental center, accepts volunteers and internships. It teaches traditional and sustainable farming techniques and other environmentally sound practices.
Also on the Caribbean, volunteers are needed at the Jaguar Rescue Center for animals. It focuses on education as well as rehabilitation of animals on a rainforest plot linked to the Reserva Indígena Kèköldi.
Travel to South-Central Costa Rica and volunteer at Finca Ipe, a self-supporting commune and five-hectare (12-acre) farm. La Gran Vista Agro-ecological Farm teaches sustainable agricultural practices and relies on volunteer labor. At Finca Tres Semillas Mountain Inn, volunteers teach English to local children while learning about organic farming and sustainable living practices.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.