Santa Juana Community-Based Rural Tourism Program

by Corcovado Foundation
Ox cart at Santa Juana
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
Santa Juana's School
Girls at the Sta Juana School
Girls at the Sta Juana School

These are times in which many institutions and organizations are striving to transform the world in order to correct world problems as hunger, poverty and climate change.  The United Nations Development Program has established a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity and turns out “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the main goals of the program.   And there is a good reason for that:  The money received by a woman is almost always immediately invested on direct family needs.   Women often lead their families by example with such matters as healthy diets, recycling and many other important issues. 


March 8 was International Women's Day and we celebrated it in Santa Juana, in order to create awareness about the importance of social, economic, cultural and political improvements for women, as well as their achievements and contributions. 

 At the village of Santa Juana we celebrate and encourage women because we believe in their power, their importance as mothers, as workers, and leaders. Every day in our rural community, where our Guided Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour and Lodge operate, we see the power and the commitment of women.  These women are local leaders, who participate in their community development by supporting the local development association, the school board and other local committees.   They are also income providers in their homes.  But they don’t only provide income; they also provide love, support, and care to their families.

 As part of the Santa Juana Community Support Fund, donations from several resources, including GlobalGiving, Pack for a Purpose, Travel Cents, and cash donations made by guests at the project, has invested also in women’s development by providing funding for materials, equipment and training for new economic activities.   For example, thanks to contributions from people like you, we are soon opening a computer lab, where women and the rest of the community can learn a new skill that will open new doors for their future.  

Santa Juana Horseback Riding
Santa Juana Horseback Riding

According to Peter Utting the term social and solidarity economy (SSE) is increasingly being used to refer to a broad range of organizations that are distinguished from conventional for-profit enterprise, entrepreneurship and informal economy by two core features. First, they have explicit economic AND social (and often environmental) objectives.

Santa Juana Community Project is a great example: In the last year alone revenues from the tours and the new lodge, both operated by members of the community, have made possible repairs to the roof and windows of the school and improved the water delivery to the village. In October, donations from Globalgiving and other sources made possible the construction of the cage needed to re-introduce the Scarlett Macaws (ara macaw) back into the local area in a 90 day transition program with the Ministry of natural Resources.

We continue to be amazed about the reviews and personal commitments by guest’s experiences at the new lodge, especially one particular family that decided to rent 20 movies to watch in their cabin. So, when I heard that a guest had rented 20 movies out of the library I had to wonder. It turned out when they realized that the $2.00 movie rental went to the local primary school scholarship program, they decided to pay for 20 movie rentals, but only took one back to their cabin.  That says a lot for the clientele of Greentique Hotels, where you can Travel Right & Travel Well by supporting “sustainable hospitality”, a travel choice that includes Santa Juana Mountain Lodge:

Both the Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure and Lodge together have created more employment opportunities, enhanced both the value of rural culture and protection of biodiversity, providing “Exceptional Costa Rica Experiences”.

We invite you to come enjoy the Magic of Nature and Good-natured hospitality while making a difference.

Local ladies from Santa Juana preparing dinner
Local ladies from Santa Juana preparing dinner

Each year, on the 15th of September, the entire community of Santa Juana is invited to participate in presentations of student speeches, folklore dances and other festivities marking the day of independence at La Escuela Virgen de Santa Juana (The Virgin of Santa Juana Elementary School). This celebration happens all over Costa Rica were the processions of hand made lanterns symbolize the action taken by their Costa Rican war hero, Juan Santamaria, who torched the enemy compound that ended the war in 1856. What makes this so special in Santa Juana is that the entire student body is made up of just 8 students, and all 11 invited families that represent the total community of Santa Juana. So each year the celebration has 100% community participation, and the procession of handmade painted lanterns are judged for the most original, most patriotic, and most colorful lanterns.


What makes this so special is how much work goes into the lanterns and how much pride the community, like so many across Costa Rica’s countryside, from the border of Panama to Nicaragua, celebrate the freedom their nation enjoys as the oldest democracy in Latin America.


Greentique Tours and Santa Juana Lodge are fortunate to have this same community spirit and values shared with all the guests from around the world who experience the Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour and the exceptional rural hospitality at the new Santa Juana Lodge. The very same parents, whose children make up the student body, share the culture and conserve the Magic of Nature, operate both the tours and lodge here in the Central Pacific Mountains of Quepos, Costa Rica.

A Unique Adventure Experience: Rural Hospitality

Santa Juanas biodiversity was under threat from a variety of human-related factors, including illegal logging and poaching, unsustainable methods of farming and fishing, the spread of the agricultural frontier, and pollution.


With little access to infrastructure and markets, local communities often engage in the activities listed above as a matter of survival. However, these activities have devastating effects on ecosystems; the decline in local populations of wild animals is increasing and dramatic. With no other options, even communities that are aware of the importance of their surroundings ecosystems may not have other options for food or earning income. For this reason, ecotourism is an important tool for providing the basic human needs without destroying the local environment.

Once a dormant community, Santa Juana is now a vibrant little town.  The community was disappearing, young people were migrating looking for economic opportunities and the school barely had any students.   That is no longer the case. 

The creation of the Santa Juana Rural Tourism Program is now changing everything.   We are amazed at the incredible response so far to the new Santa Juana Lodge, represented by Greentqiue Hotels and operated by members of the local community of Santa Juana. So far we have hosted travel agents and customers from around the world at the lodge and Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour. Their comments through forums, including Trip Advisor, convey the enjoyment and authenticity of rural hospitality, truly connecting with and about the rural culture of Costa Rica. Known as a popular vacation destination, Costa Rica offers its visitors both natural beauty and cultural experiences, and now the lodge of Santa Juana can participate and generate more awareness to support our conservation programs and employment opportunities.

The rural mountain vacation is a window back in time, off the beaten path for the true adventurist…including specialized groups.  It’s an enlightening travel experience that also benefits Greentique Hotels Carbon Offset initiatives, offering Tree Adoption Certificates to all our guests. So for travelers interested in nature in a serene and authentic farm village setting, without the external distractions of mass tourism, we offer the ideal balance of comfort in harmony with nature, and the good nature of your hosts. It means enhancing the guest immersion into the people and rural culture discovering reasons for the “Pura Vida” positive attitude of Ticos. Guest reviews highlight the traditional meals, prepared with local ingredients and family recipes, served in the rancho El Mirador, overlooking the panoramic Pacific coastline of Manuel Antonio National Park…describing it all as, ” heaven on earth”!

We look forward to sharing more of our programs of exceptional Costa Rica experiences while respecting the very nature we are committed to help protect and enhancing with the community while still respecting the way of life of Santa Juana, Costa Rica.


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Organization Information

Corcovado Foundation

Location: Moravia,, San Jose - Costa Rica
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alejandra Monge
Moravia,, San Jose Costa Rica

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