In Costa Rica, This Team Make Sure Your Travel Money Goes To Real Locals

NSosta Rica is what travel dreams are made of. You can walk along bubbling volcanic mud pits with monkeys prowling overhead, watch brave surfers navigate towering waves while lying under coconut palms, or hug a 200-year-old Ceiba tree in the middle of the mountains. The country has stunning visuals, making it a social media favorite especially during quarantine. It also attracts visitors looking for adventures like ziplining and whitewater rafting, or those looking for physical and mental healing practices like yoga or botanicals. Even as tourism rates fell in Costa Rica because of the pandemic, it has become an especially popular travel destination for many North Americans to leave their homes and soak up nature.

However, the travel romance between Costa Rica and North America is not new. Over the past 30 years, it has emerged as a special hotspot for visitors and expats from the United States and Canada. 80% of tourism involves ecotourism and this theme is always present in the international marketing of the country. While the Pacific coast remains the most visited, those looking for more flavor have turned to the southern Caribbean coast, particularly the county (“state”) of Talamanca. It is unique in that it is inhabited by the indigenous Bribri community and Afro Costa Ricans, and it is the only part of Costa Rica that has not been colonized by the Spaniards. Talamanca includes Puerto Viejo, Cahuita (known for its lush national park), Manzanillo, and the indigenous territory of Kéköldii and other coastal and mountain communities. Eighty-eight percent of Talamanca is protected land because of its biodiversity, and it is also the most culturally diverse. It boasts a distinctly Caribbean feel, from the prevalence of reggae, rice and beans to the interplay of locals with nature.

Honestly, for decades, people didn’t want to visit Talamanca because of racism. Domestic and international visitors believe it is very dangerous because it is inhabited by Black people. While this is not unique to Costa Rica, it is steeped in the history of the country. The Costa Rican government has had policies since the 1860s that forbid certain nationalities and ethnicities from entering the country (i.e. people of African or Chinese descent). When they allowed Jamaicans to emigrate to help build the railroads in the late 1800s, they were essentially barred from moving to other parts of the country when the project ended 20 years later. The Afro Costa Ricans (Afrodescendientes) built Puerto Viejo which is a swamp land.

Also in the early mid-1900s, Talamanca was (and still is) an ideal place to grow cocoa, Costa Rica’s main cash crop at the time. But for indigenous communities and Afro descendants, it’s more than just a moneymaker. It is a spiritual plant and also incredibly healthy, packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. When a fungus completely destroyed all cocoa factories in the late 1970s, it also took a toll on the economy. Jobs disappear and young people may flock to the city in search of new opportunities, or embark on construction. The United Fruit Company has taken over many of these farms, creating huge banana plantations, using pesticides that have a major impact on public health, and eliminating many native species of spiritual plants.

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Meanwhile, tourism is growing into a multi-million dollar global industry, and surfers are starting to flock to Puerto Viejo to ride the unique “Salsa Brava” waves that can only be experienced experience in a small coastal town. Realizing the cultural and environmental changes exacerbated by tourism, concerned locals banded together in the late 1980s to create ATEC, Asociación Talamanqueña de Ecoturismo y Conservacion. The multicultural group saw what was happening in places like Mexico and wondered if they as a community could shape the type of tourism they wanted while preserving the land and culture. . ATEC officially became a non-profit organization in 1990, focused on helping locals earn money through tours along with conservation efforts around the area. They pioneered the field of ecotourism in Talamanca.

Veronica’s Place has become a “must visit” in Puerto Viejo.

polite ATEC

Waltraud Bethel, known locally as Kiana, one of the original co-founders of ATEC, asserts: “We believe that ‘compatible with tal vez de Competition’. This phrase means “to share instead of compete”. Kiana was one of the first foreigners to visit and stay in Puerto Viejo while traveling through Central America 40 years ago. Soon after arriving, she connected with a local indigenous man named Mauricio and learned how to grow, harvest, recognize animal tracks, plant medicine and more about the indigenous traditions of the country. local.

“Everybody is on horseback and the farm is the supermarket!” she remembers. She sees tourism becoming a sustainable economic alternative as more European tourists start to visit and helps Mauricio create the opportunity for a cultural tour of his farm to share his knowledge of this land, becoming the first guide in the area. Kiana knows the mindset of visiting backpackers — they want to know more about the things he considers to be fundamental parts of life. It became a medium of intercultural communication; Mauricio is also curious about tourists and their way of life. Kiana shares that some locals attribute his success to being with a foreign woman, but she and Mauricio have helped other local farmers educate international visitors. . Together with families of Afro descent and local artisans, ATEC has become a community resource in Puerto Viejo and all of Talamanca. Although they lost their brick and mortar home on the main road due to the pandemic, ATEC is now a government-recognized “cultural institute”. They serve tourists and people who want to book tours through their website, and continues to operate at the local, regional and national levels.


Kiana will tell you quite clearly that ATEC is not a travel agency, it is a non-profit organization. “ATEC is a platform to help local guides get better income.” She shares with pride that their former office was the area’s first “internet cafe” (remember those?) and “we were the post office before there was a post office”. While their overall focus is on preserving the land and culture, the foundation of ATEC is to ensure that local tour guides are paid fairly for their time, work and knowledge. . ATEC guides are experts in birds, mammals, medicinal plants and the sea. Unlike many other tour companies operating around Puerto Viejo, ATEC works only with government-licensed and certified guides and helps individuals navigate the long and expensive process of getting certified. take. Many tour companies based in the capital city of San Jose will charge tourists high prices for tours by unlicensed guides, who earn only a small percentage. It’s both greedy and dangerous as many excursions include slippery hikes to waterfalls or snorkeling in the sometimes rough Caribbean waters. Instead, ATEC acts as an intermediary for tourists to pay guides directly. Furthermore, visitors can experience Talamanca through local indigenous peoples and Afro descendants, who know the land intimately. Carlos, a guide who has worked with ATEC for many years, shared how important ATEC is for guides to make a solid living from their work. “ATEC pays the tour guides very fairly, they don’t try to cheat us like most companies do,” he explains. “They (tour companies) make the product more expensive but they don’t want to pay good guides,”

In addition to supporting the local economy, ATEC is at the forefront of the conservation movement. “We know tourism is going up and down, we know it’s something that can go away,” admits Kiana. “We want a sustainable economy, at least for Talamanca on a regional level.” She shared that Talamanca is considered the “rebellious child” of the country because of the strong movements against developers coming from the region. Local activists have been successful in combating proposed oil drilling and marina projects over the past 40 years that could completely destroy the coastline and the communities that live there.


“Talamanca always resisted. We have never been conquered by the Spaniards,” said the newly named executive, Lauren Mora Rodriquez, who joined ATEC as an activist. She first visited Talamanca as a teenager working with indigenous youth around sexual and reproductive health and domestic violence. When she was young, she moved to San Jose for college and found a stable job in the company after graduating. Four years ago, while recovering from a motorcycle accident, she recalled her time in Talamanca and felt called back to reconnect with the healing powers of nature and the indigenous community. Lauren eventually returned to Puerto Viejo volunteering with ATEC and using her learning and working experience with government and corporate contracts to help local advocates combat abusive developers. . Now, she is the chief executive officer helping to strengthen the organization as it grows with the local tourism industry and overseas developments.

Currently, they are still on a mission to support cultural ecotourism and conservation projects. ATEC was involved in kicking off the salamander sanctuary that opened in December, building the Bribri cultural school to preserve the language and culture for future generations, and helping to design the area for humans. recommended walk in the center of Puerto Viejo to eliminate traffic. In the midst of all this activity, visitors, educators, documentaries and others from all over the world contact ATEC every day to book tours or get historical or scientific information about Talamanca. ATEC continues their original mission, attracting travelers who want to connect deeply with the unique blend of cultures and natural beauty that characterizes the land.

As more and more North Americans add Talamanca to their travel lists, Kiana and Lauren hope that they will disconnect from the over-consumption and hustle mentality once they arrive. “I want visitors to recall in your mind — as baggage — the values ​​you learned here and what connects us as people around the world,” says Kiana. advise. She also wants people to ask themselves what they can do when they return to their home country to help preserve this space, such as buying organic bananas. Lauren encourages tourists to come and connect with the healing energy of nature and the people who love this land. She feels compassion for those who live in “concrete realities.”

“They feel day-to-day it may be tiring, it may be lonely, it may feel heavy, they may be asking ‘What is my life and what do I need to do?’ Every human being knows there is something more to it,” she said with deep concern and care. “Rivers, flowers, birds, nature are calling… Don’t resist.” In Costa Rica, This Team Make Sure Your Travel Money Goes To Real Locals


ClareFora is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. ClareFora joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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