Ox cart at Santa Juana
Community-based tourism is all the rage in Costa Rica. In rural areas such as the Osa Peninsula, it seems almost everyone you meet has a micro-project. Horseback riding, chocolate tours, evening bug tours… the list goes on. But what is community-based tourism all about? And why should we be supporting it?
In many rural and indigenous regions of Costa Rica, job opportunities are few and far between and many families turn to illegal practices such as hunting and logging to survive. Community-based tourism is a model which incentivizes the protection rather than the destruction of the natural environment- creating jobs and locally-owned businesses in disadvantaged areas.
One such community is Santa Juana. Located at the end of a bumpy dirt track, outside of Quepos on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Santa Juana has a population of approximately 10 families. Jim Damalas, originally from the US, came to the area in 1974 with his then girlfriend. At the time he couldn’t have even pointed to Costa Rica on a map.
After falling in love with the country (and, incidentally, out of love with his girlfriend) he bought a plot of land and began running one of the very first hotels in Manual Antonio. He also bought a plot of land in Santa Juana, with a view to build his home there. At the time, the mountainous region was gradually being deforested for monoculture crops of corn, potatoes and cassava. There were virtually no employment opportunities and the local school only had 2 students.
Jim realized that in order to make his land sustainable, he would have to reforest the paddocks and encourage adventurous tourists to visit it. He reached out to the community and tried to make them understand that deforestation and hunting were not the way to go.
He began to send tourists from his hotel on day trips to Santa Juana, using local guides to conduct hiking, horseback riding and sugar cane tours. Local women made traditional lunches (casados) for the guests.
Over the years, the project has expanded to include the reforestation of the area with important native species such as Manu, Cristobal and Chirraca. Visitors and donors can sponsor a tree of their choice which comes with a cute little plaque and a certificate. Adventurous travelers can even stay in Santa Juana in one of six rustic cabins, nestled in the hills.
The community (and many others like it around the country) is now dedicated to protecting their natural resources for generations to come. By supporting community-based projects such as this, you are not only contributing to the conservation of Costa Rican wildlife. You are helping small communities to thrive- providing job opportunities for young people and fostering a sense of pride in their local culture.
In Santa Juana, a portion of the profits from all tourism initiatives goes towards improving community infrastructure. Including the school, which now has seven students! Visit our website to discover more community –based tourism projects in Costa Rica or get involved today by donating via the tab on the right.
Santa Juana's School