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Student Voices: Learning About Sustainable Travel in Costa Rica

Carlmont High School student Daniel Wang chronicles his trip to Costa Rica this summer and the travel industry's new focus on sustainability and ecotourism.

Student Voices: Learning About Sustainable Travel in Costa Rica
[Editor's note: The following is a travel blog by Carlmont High School journalist Daniel Wang.]

Written by Daniel Wang

You wake up to the cows mooing and the roosters crowing. Once you climb out of your cozy hand-knit blankets and walk to the dining table, you see a warm homemade breakfast waiting for you.

Once you finish your meal, you prepare yourself for the busy day ahead of you. In the morning, a long hike through the forest awaits you. For the afternoon, you’ve scheduled a spear-making class for you and your family.

If this sounds interesting to you, it may be time you explore a new tourism attraction- community-based sustainable tourism (CBST).

Sustainable tourism, in short, is a type of tourism that leaves a relatively smaller impact on the environment.

As the tourism industry continues to grow in poorer countries, a larger strain is put on the resources that support tourism. Therefore, sustainable tourism addresses those issues and provides a way for tourists to visit certain rural areas with fewer resources, while still helping preserve local resources and cultures for the people who live there. 

One major difference between CBST and other types of sustainable tourism is that locals run the CBST business. Since the locals know how much resources are available, they are able to implement certain conservation techniques whenever they feel necessary to protect the resources.

Rather than relaxing at the resorts all day, sustainable tourism revolves around the notion that visitors will experience the local culture of the place they're visiting, such as through staying at homestays or eco lodges and participating in local activities.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), sustainable tourism has become more and more popular in recent years. As the industry continues to grow, more and more communities are switching to CBST; otherwise, certain resources will soon become gone for locals.

I recently experienced what sustainable tourism was like first-hand, as a group of 15 students and I embarked on a service trip to Costa Rica for two weeks.

During the first few days of a trip, we learned about sustainable tourism. Once we gained an understanding of that, we ventured to Cedral, a small village in Southern Costa Rica with a population of 325 people.

There, our task began. While staying at homestays, our main job was to promote and develop their sustainable tourism industry by making videos encouraging tourists of all backgrounds to come to Cedral.

In addition to promoting their tourism industry, the 16 of us realized what sustainable tourism is like. We interacted with the locals, took dance and bread-making classes, ate authentic Costa Rican food, and embarked on tours of the coffee farms and fields during our stay there.

Thus, we opened our eyes to a new way of life in Cedral- a completely different lifestyle than we have here in the United States. 

I found that the main difference between the village of Cedral and a larger city like San Carlos or Belmont is that people are a lot closer in Cedral. All 325 people know one another and each of them trusts one another.

Therefore, you’ll always see little kids running around on the street unattended and dogs wandering from property to property. People know each other and everybody’s just like one giant family of 325 people.

Another, more notable thing I noticed in Cedral is that the people are very cut off from the modern world yet are so content living their current life.

One night during dinner in Cedral with our homestay families, the mother, who has lived there her whole life, remarked that she has only been outside Cedral four times.

However, this didn’t seem to bother her one bit. With a smile, she said that everything she needed is in Cedral, so she has no intent to leave.

In addition to that, most families there don’t have a T.V. nor internet connection. As a result, the locals rely on a newspaper that’s delivered to the village every week to catch up with the latest news.

This past trip to Costa Rica allowed me to open my eyes to a completely different lifestyle from my own. Due to sustainable tourism, my group and I were completely immersed in Cedral’s unique culture. As a result, we learned a lot about Cedral’s society and traditions.

Although sustainable tourism does lack many commodities we take for granted, the experience is definitely worth it. You will be exposed to a new culture and lifestyle, in addition to forming deep relationships with the locals during your stay.

Best of all, once you get back, you’ll feel a sense of fulfillment owing to the fact that over your break, you chose to enlighten yourself by gaining your insight of a different way of life. Oh, and coming back to Wi-Fi and warm water feels great too.

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