San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rural Tourism Provides New Opportunities

WATCHING a goat be milked is noteverybody’s idea of a great vacation. In fact,only about 3% of tourists would find themselvescaptivated by such activity, accordingto the World Tourism Organization.But four government ministries inCosta Rica, the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme and the LibertarianMovement Party are each tossing an egginto the rural tourism basket that says this3% will bring needed economic resourcesto the country’s rural poor and help environmentalconservation efforts.The idea behind rural tourism is thatcampesinos can supplement incomes infarming or small-scale production by offeringforeigners a glimpse or a taste of theirway of life.In a somewhat voyeuristic way, touristscan watch coffee be made by hand – fromthe tree to the cup, visit natural paper-producingsites and fish for dinner with residents.Rural tourism also incorporates ecotourismby offering hikes through nearbyforests, horseback rides along area rivers,and birdwatching.RURAL tourism has existed in CostaRica since the 1990s, according to theCosta Rican Association of Rural CommunityTourism (ACTUAR). The countryhas at least 70 rural tourism projects operatedby 1,500 Costa Rican families.ACTUAR says it is ready to take it tothe next level.The organization was recently successfulin getting the ministers of tourism, agricultureand environment, as well as thevice-minister of labor, members of theUnited Nations and various non-governmentalorganizations to sit down at thesame picnic table in a level of cooperationnot often seen in Costa Rican government.In the hills outside of Palmichal, 43kilometers southwest of San José, withexamples of rural tourism all around, theofficials at the table agreed to create theCommission for the Promotion of RuralCommunity Tourism.“Rural Tourism is not somethingnew… but what has happened is that theforces have been fragmented. This alliancewill support vehicles of communicationand cooperation between the differentexamples and creators of the product,” saidTourism Minister Rodrigo Castro.This will create additional jobs forfarmers, as well as inspire rural inhabitantsto protect the environment as a source ofrevenue, ACTUAR president HernánRamírez said.INITIATIVES supported by ACTUAR,Mesa Campesina – which works to supportthe interests of rural families – and the NationalCooperative Consortium of Ecotourism(COOPRENA) have lead to the protectionof approximately 25,000 hectares offorest. This not only contributes to biologicalcorridors, but often provides a buffer zonearound national parks, according to Ramírez.“We can’t just ask people to protect theenvironment, we have to give them economicincentive to do so,” saidEnvironment Minister Carlos Rodríguez.This type of incentive is particularlyimportant in areas such as Palmichal, wherethe drop of coffee prices has prompted theexodus of many community members.“Everybody here used to work in coffee,but most of the young people haveleft,” said 72-year-old resident RosalinaValverde.RURAL tourism has providedValverde and others in Palmichal opportunitiesfor entrepreneurship. Valverde isusing what she calls a natural talent withglass to create stained glass pieces and sellthem out of her home and at area markets.Although she has been working withglass for years, the National TrainingInstitute (INA) has helped Valverde andothers learn the latest techniques in variousarts. ACTUAR is working with INA toexpand classes in small business developmentas well, particularly for rural women.The Environment and Agriculturalministries also have programs for smallbusinesses that help facilitate access to creditand international aid in developing touristservices, particularly around protected areas.The ultimate goal is to reduce migrationout of rural areas, to prevent the separationof rural families and the disintegrationof the rural identity and traditional values,Ramírez said.Minister Castro agreed.“TOURISM is not meant to replacetraditional activities – that would takeaway from the authenticity of it – butinstead act as a supplement,” he said.Nor is rural tourism meant to replaceother kinds of tourism, which broughtmore than 500,000 visitors to the countryfrom January to May this year. Rather, itcan supplement other kinds of tourism.Tourists who come to visit Guanacaste’sbeaches may also wish to stay witha family on a rural farm for a few days,said José Manuel Hermidas, resident coordinatorfor the United Nations.This allows foreign visitors to get aneducative glimpse into Costa Rica, beyondwhat they will find in a luxury hotel on aPacific Beach, Hermidas said.ACTUAR and COOPRENA are alsohoping the rural tourism industry willattract national tourists who want to rediscovertheir history or tap into a past theymay have never known.The Libertarian Movement is promotinga bill that aims to provide incentivesfor rural tourism: the Law to PromoteNational and Rural Community Tourism.Among other things, it proposes movingnational holidays to Fridays or the last workday so that people can have longer weekendsto enjoy the country’s tourist destinations.The bill was unanimously supported in commissionthis month and the party expects itto be discussed on the Legislative Assemblyfloor within three months.Unlike many other tourism options, theprice of rural tourism is often accessiblefor Tico budgets, according to COOPRENA.The group offers overnight stays withfamilies or in rural lodges for $12-25 fordouble occupancy, on its Web (, 228-5695) also promotes packagetrips. For example, July 31 to Aug. 2, it isoffering a three-day, two-night trip to aBribrí indigenous reserve on the YorkínRiver in Talamanca, including meals,transportation, guides, hiking to waterfallsand a boat trip to the community, for $86per person.

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