Ecotourism Taking Root Here

May 9, 2008

Xavier Largaespada doesn’t want Nicaragua to become “the next Costa Rica” – a title the international media has given this tropical country in reference to its up-andcoming ecotourism potential.

“Nicaraguans can’t accept being a second Costa Rica,” said Largaespada, manager of the $350 million Marina de Guacalito resort being designed on the southern Pacific coast.

The resort, which is being funded by Grupo Pellas, will be built on nearly seven kilometers of pristine, white-sand beachfront on the cloverleaf-shaped GuacalitoBay, south of San Juan del Sur.

Expected to rival “eco-luxurious” resorts that have become the mark of Costa Rica’s bountiful tourism industry, the resort is one of a handful in Nicaragua that is giving this country a name for doing ecotourism right.

“In Costa Rica, there’s something that you can’t deny – they really do good marketing,” Largaespada conceded. “But I don’t think it’s as ecological as they say (it is).”

One of the advantages Nicaragua’s ecotourism sector has is that it can learn from its neighbor Costa Rica, where overdevelopment and so-called “Americanization” is beginning to take away from the experience for some travelers.

Largaespada pointed out a recent article in  USA Today that highlighted Costa Rica’s battle with rampant development in the northern province of Guanacaste as something that Nicaragua can avoid.

With more protected area than Costa Rica, and the largest swath of primary rainforest north of the Amazon – home to some 7 percent of the world’s biodiversity – Nicaragua is set to give its neighbor to the south a run for its tourism money, of which Costa Rica nets $1.6 billion a year, or more than six times what Nicaragua grosses.

“What I know is everywhere I go, I’m seeing more and more visitors (in Nicaragua) from foreign countries. It has potential. If being green can make money, it can make money for a lot of people here,” said Susan  Kinne, who directs the alternative energies program at the National Engineering University (UNI).

In a country with spotty infrastructure and rising energy costs, green business practices also make good business sense.

One of the hottest items for alternative energy company ECAMI is solar-powered water heaters for hotels – Los Mercedes in Managua heats the showers in 180 rooms using solar heaters. The famous eco-resort Morgan’s Rock and Hotel Las Estrellas are also clients.

The company also sells solar-powered pumps and refrigerators, popular with Nicaraguan hotels. Many foreign investors on the Pacific have bought into the company’s wind system or hybrid systems, according to ECAMI engineer Henry Ruiz.

In a country with abundant natural resources, low-impact development is a must, says Largaespada.

“It forms part of the Mesoamerican biological corridor.We have to do tourism that doesn’t affect the environment,” he said.

Grupo Pellas has contracted Kevin Whiteman, a former environmental aide for the renowned Pelican Eyes resort near San Juan del Sur, to manage the development’s agro-forestry practices. The development, which has secured a $9 million loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), is considering building a desalinization plant, among other sustainable projects.

“The best is to not touch nature, but then you don’t have development,” Largaespada said. “The tourism sector should protect the environment.We’re doing it and we’re going to do it.”

 

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