In celebration of Earth Day, I thought it appropriate to make a few recommendations on ways you, dear traveler, can plan a green vacation in Costa Rica that will leave a lesser footprint and make a polar bear proud.
1) Rent a hybrid or electric car. Not many Costa Rican car rental companies have hybrid cars. An exception is Budget .
2) Dine outside your hotel and eat with locals in community restaurants.
3) Take green tours with local cooperatives and community organizations rather than the big tour companies. For example, the grassroots Talamanca Association of Ecotourism & Conservation , in Puerto Viejo (on the Caribbean) trains local indigenous community members as guides and sponsors environmental and cultural tours of the Talamanca coast.
4) Volunteer at an ecotourism project, such as marine turtle protection programs run by Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA).
5) Stay at albergues (lodges) run by rural cooperatives, or at eco-friendly hotels that implement water conservation and recycling programs, and otherwise follow sustainable practices. Here are the seven small eco-friendly hotels in Costa Rica that have earned the highest five-leaf Certificate for Sustainable Tourism  rating:
Hotel Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort . This relative newcomer is a sister property to Finca Rosa Blanca and blends a stunning location overlooking Manuel Antonio Beach (it is the only hotel in the region with direct beach access) with both deluxe comforts and the highest levels of sustainability.
Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge . Its remote location on the northern fringe of Corcovado National Park necessitates a one-with-the-environment approach to things. Thus, this deluxe ecolodge uses a solar electric system, a micro-hydroelectric "Pelton Wheel" turbine, plus both a hybrid solar convection and propane gas heater system.
Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn . The website says it all: "Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn, the first certified sustainable hotel in Costa Rica, has evolved over the last 20 years to become the highest ranking member of the prestigious Sustainable Tourism Certification program (CST) and the only hotel that has achieved a perfect score of 100%."
Harmony Hotel. You'd expect a hotel named "Harmony" to get things right. This beach resort, at Nosara, implements organic gardening (it's a gorgeous garden, too!). Get this: "The biodegradable soapy water from a guest shower filters through a gray water system where it purifies and then travels to nourish the banana trees that will one day provide breakfast for howler monkeys and other jungle friends." Cool!
Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge . The original deluxe ecolodge in Costa Rica still sets a high standard to beat. Located close to the edge of Corcovado National Park, it also has its own private nature reserve; Visitors may even contribute to the sustainable development in the Lapa Rios reforestation program by transplanting a primary seedling to an area of second growth.
Hotel Si Como No . Not only is this hotel a leader among Manuel Antonio hotels with its ecological sensitive practices, it's a trendsetter for the respectful way it interacts with the local community and employees. The owner, Jim Damalas, operates according to the logic that well-treated employees equate to well-treated hotel guests.
Villablanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve. This sister property to Hotel Si Como No nestles atop the continental divide and adjoins its own cloud forest preserve. Not only is it a gorgeous hotel, it implements a fantastic program of both loyalty to the local community and to every conceivable sound ecological practice.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker