Posts Tagged ‘ecotourism’

Highlights of Costa Rica

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader James Karr is the Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Washington. He specializes in tropical ecology, ornithology, and environmental policy and has done extensive field work in Central and South America. Here, he shares some thoughts on his recent travel through Costa Rica with Smithsonian travelers.

Costa Rica's pristine beach

Costa Rica’s pristine beach

As study leader on two trips to Costa Rica with Smithsonian Journeys in March-April of this year, I spent time in one of the most delightful and easily accessible parts of the tropical world. At the end of each trip, I asked each member of the group to name three of the trip’s most memorable experiences. Whenever I do this I am impressed by the common themes that emerge, as well as each person’s unique perspectives.

Everyone’s highlights centered on Costa Rica’s well-deserved reputation as a nature tourism destination. People recalled walking in the “awesome diversity” of cloud forest, especially the hanging bridges that take one into and above the forest canopy. They talked about peering into the fuming crater of the Poas Volcano or seeing the smoking cone of the Arenal Volcano at sunrise and sunset. Others were delighted to see legendary birds such as the jewel-like resplendent quetzal, scarlet macaws, and magnificent frigatebirds. During a boat trip along the Tempisque River, we saw herons, egrets, crocodiles, monkeys, and even a large boa in a tree. Daily nature walks on the grounds of our hotels allowed us to see numerous orchids and other flowers as well as tropical butterflies and birds. On top of everything, we feasted on a wide diversity of tropical fruits and delicious local dishes.

The violet sabrewing hummingbird.

The violet sabrewing hummingbird.

Many in our groups appreciated the warmth of the Costa Rican people and the chance to learn about growing and processing coffee before it reaches our coffee cups. Others were delighted to learn about the connections among sugar cane, molasses, and rum; the cultivation of pineapple; vanilla from an orchid; and the odd fruit that provides cashews. We learned about making (and also tasted) a wine from palms and visited a factory that makes delicate, beautiful wood products. We also visited the shop of a local artisan where he creates unique masks and bigger than life-size costumes for local parades and other celebrations.

Others were struck by the geological and topographic diversity of Costa Rica from high mountains to the Pacific Ocean beaches. Some took the opportunity to sit and read in the tropical garden outside their room while others delighted in the Pacific coastline, where they walked the beach or swam or snorkeled in warm ocean waters. Still others had the thrill of a lifetime gliding on ziplines in the cloud forest at Monteverde.

People join Smithsonian Journeys expeditions with their own unique blend of expectations and even fears about what they will encounter. Many have personal bucket lists. But all seemed to find revisiting the trip by recalling their top three memorable events a refreshing reminder of trip experiences. Some even noted that they would change their list as a result of our discussion, because it reminded them of things that hadn’t come to mind as they wrote their top three.

Click here for more on James Karr and traveling with him, and here for more on travel to Costa Rica.

What do you love about travel? Please share.

Q&A on Costa Rica

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Dr. Suzann Murray is the Chief Veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She oversees the health care of the zoo’s entire animal collection, as well as conservation, research, and training programs. Here, she takes a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about the biodiversity of Costa Rica, where she leads our Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage tours.


A tree frog in Costa Rica

Q. As Chief Veterinarian at the National Zoo, how do you integrate your diverse knowledge of animals to create a memorable learning experience on Smithsonian Journeys tours?

A. I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of species, from fish to mammals and birds to reptiles. Each species, and in some cases, each animal, has its own adaptations to its natural environment. I enjoy using my medical knowledge of animals as a way to provide some “inside” knowledge to tour members. To me, the diversity of animal life is just fascinating. Having the opportunity to share my knowledge of animal adaptations is a great joy.

Q. Costa Rica  is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. How does this geographic location contribute to the rich biodiversity found in Costa Rica?

A. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely due to its two coasts and mountainous ranges that provide a wide range of topography and microclimates for a huge variety of species. From flatlands close to sea level up to the cloud forests of the volcanoes, the varying habitats are suitable for incredible animal diversity. The abundance of rivers and the access to the ocean and the Caribbean Sea also make it possible for endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles  to call Costa Rica home. Finally, by being so close to the equator, the temperature is in an ideal range to support almost any kind of plant or animal life.


The Arenal Volcano. Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Bureau

Q. Our trip will visit the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano, which is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. How has the Arenal’s presence impacted the surrounding environment?

A. Arenal produces frequent and moderate eruptions. The course of the lava flow has also changed over the years. In areas of previous eruptions, we will be able to observe the re-growth of secondary forest and compare that terrain to the more lava-covered areas of recent eruptions. The south side of the Volcano is known for its unique cloud forest, and it is also known as a region in which world-class coffee is grown.

Q. What types of animals can Smithsonian travelers look forward to seeing in the rainforest: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects? Are there any endemic species that participants may encounter on this trip?

A. If you are a bird enthusiast, Costa Rica is the place to go. If you are not yet interested in birds, be prepared to join the growing ranks of birders! The sheer numbers and types of birds we will see are truly astounding–from colorful smaller birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, and toucans, to larger birds of prey and storks. Some of these birds are found only in Costa Rica. For those who are truly wild about mammals or reptiles, we will look for the impressive howler and spider monkeys, unique sloths, sea turtles, caiman crocodiles, and possibly even the rare dolphin. Whether we are searching in the land, sea, or air–we will be seeing an abundance of wildlife.

What’s your favorite tropical animal? Share below.

Click here for educational travel opportunities in Costa Rica for you and your family.


Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010


The red-eyed tree frog makes its home in Costa Rica’s protected jungles. Photo: Lauren Wentz-Middleton

Costa Rica is growing more popular as a travel destination for it’s beaches, wildlife, and eco-tourism opportunities. Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land. In fact, there are about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica. It’s the greenest country in the world, with the number one spot on the Happy Planet Index. One reason for this is that Costa Rica’s government and its people have made environmental stewardship a top priority. In fact, 25% of the country’s land is protected in national parks and conservation areas.

Our new Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage tour embraces this environmental spirit by treating travelers to eco-friendly accommodations designed to blend into Costa Rica’s beautiful setting and embrace its native cuisine while making less of an impact on natural resources. Our adventure also includes visits to Poas and Arenal volcanoes and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a chance to visit with children at a local elementary school, and much, much  more.

What are you doing to help the environment? Please share.

Morning in Costa Rica

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s  biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land. In fact, fully 25% of Costa Rica’s land is in protected areas, like national parks and conservation areas. With about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica, it’s a bird-watcher’s paradise and any nature lover’s dream getaway. Start your week right with this video of early morning in Costa Rica, which showcases the incredible beauty of the country’s coastline.

Packed yet? Travel to Costa Rica with Smithsonian Journeys on any of these educational tours.

What’s your favorite way to spend a free morning alone? Please share.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Costa Rica

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Costa Rica is growing more popular as a travel destination for its beaches, biodiversity, and ecotourism opportunities. Before you go, it’s always good to do a little research. Here are five things we bet you didn’t know about Costa Rica.The Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird is one of many bird species found in Costa Rica.

1) Costa Rica has a 97% literacy rate. Children are constitutionally  guaranteed a free education through the 12th grade.

2) It’s the greenest country in the world, with the number one spot on the Happy Planet Index.

3) Twenty-five percent of Costa Rica’s land is in protected areas, like national parks and conservation areas. Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land.

4) Ticos (Costa Rican people) often refer to their spouses, or “other half” as their “media naranja“— the other half of their orange.

5) There are about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica—every birdwatchers paradise! Click here for more information from the Smithsonian National Zoo on bird friendly coffee.

Now that you know more about the country, why not find out more about traveling there? Smithsonian Journeys offers several adventures in Costa Rica—including this unique family adventure. Get ready to hop on that zipline and go!

Why do you want to go to Costa Rica?