San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Why was Costa Rica removed from the list of the world's most ethical travel destinations?

It’s been a tough few months for Costa Rica’s global image. The country has seen its scores drop in everything from press freedom to environmental performance, and it is likely knocked out of the running to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country.

The latest blow is the country’s exclusion from 2014’s World’s Best Ethical Travel Destinations List. Costa Rica had held a spot on the list since 2010.

The U.S.-based nonprofit group Ethical Traveler released the list last week. Ghana and Samoa also dropped off the list this year, while the Bahamas, Chile and Dominica were added.

“We want to stress that Costa Rica should see this as an encouragement to continue improving in all areas,” Natalie Lefevre and Jeff Greenwald, two of the report’s researchers, wrote to The Tico Times. “Costa Rica has been a regular on the list and if these issues are addressed, there is a good chance it will make next year’s list again.”

To create the list, Ethical Traveler first surveys all countries to pinpoint the best tourism destinations. From there the organization analyzes each one based on efforts to protect the environment, promote social welfare and defend human rights.

That criteria is used to create a shortlist. Costa Rica made the shortlist this year, but recent shortcomings prevented the country from making the final cut.

Human rights 

According to researchers, violations against LGBT and indigenous groups were the first red flag.

They cited the results from the 2013 International Observation Mission on Human Rights and Indigenous Autonomy, when observers noted signs of “persecution, threats and violent repression” against indigenous people. The researchers cited a Tico Times article as the source for the information.

For LGBT discrimination, researchers pointed to a decision by the municipality of San José to pull funding for a 2013 gay pride festival as well as a Costa Rican court’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage following a loophole in the law that could have legally allowed it.

Costa Rica’s Diversity March went ahead as planned on June 30, 2013, despite the last-minute pulling of funding for a two-day event prior to the parade by the administration of then San José Mayor Johnny Araya, the ruling National Liberation Party’s current presidential candidate.

Héctor Retamal/AFP

Also on the list of negatives was Costa Rica’s 3.2 percent increase in the number of chronically malnourished people in the country. The backslide made Costa Rica one of only two countries in the region to see an increase in that area this year.

Environmental protection

Ethical Traveler also noted recent failings in Costa Rica’s environmental protection. Costa Rica’s drop from fifth to 54th in the Environmental Performance Index played a big role in decreasing the country’s environmental score.

The EPI drop can be attributed to the newly included categories of wastewater treatment and fisheries management on the index. While on paper Costa Rica took a huge tumble, environmentalists say the problems have always existed.

“What happened to Costa Rica in the EPI 2014 is similar to what happened to Lance Armstrong,” said Mónica Araya, a founder at Costa Rica Limpia, an environmental group that focuses on political advocacy. “New and better tests challenged the official story.”

Mass turtle deaths due to longline fishing also played a role in the decision, but the deciding factor was the treatment of environmentalists in the country.

“Costa Rica is gaining a reputation as a place where criminals can brazenly threaten to kill, or actually murder, non-violent activists while the government turns a blind eye,” Lefevre and Greenwald wrote, citing the 2013 murder of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, among other attacks.

Costa Rica’s response

After learning of Costa Rica’s exclusion from the list, Communications Minister Carlos Roverssi told the Spanish-language news site that the exclusion was part of a “smear campaign by leftist groups against the good name of Costa Rica.”

The minister also blamed conservationists such as Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson for tarnishing the country’s reputation.

The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) also was disappointed by the country’s exclusion from the list, saying in an email to The Tico Times that they believe Costa Rica still is an ethical country.

“Costa Rica does not live for awards or recognitions, and always humbly receives the critiques we are given,” wrote Juan Carlos Borbón, the ICT’s general manager.


Contact Lindsay Fendt at

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Ken Morris

OMG. we’ve got a tourism industry premised upon the prostitution of thousands of women (and a few hundred men) yet Ethical Traveler is worried about a lack of a municipal permit for a gay pride parade and the killing of one turtle watcher (who for all we know was not killed because of his affection for turtles)? This is political correctness gone mad. Go to Jacó, count the number of gays denied a parade permit and turtle-watchers killed, then count the number of prostitutes who live off the tourists and who the tourists come to see. After the count, tell me again what ethical tourism is about.

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John John

Costa Rica is one of the most corrupt countries on the plane the government is, everything about the country is fake and phony

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<> HAHAHA What is the minister, a child? Please..!

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Hmmm….. Why does the comment about ‘smear campaigns by leftist groups’ made by CR’s Communications Minister as quoted above in this article strike me as being very like something Venezuela’s President would say?

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Matthew Frederick

BEN , i actually recall Paul left Green Peace because it was becoming nothing that it originally stood for, and to this day, it often does more harm than good, it became the extreme tree hugging side that is as bad as the extreme political side.

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I didn’t realize the Ostrich was endemic to Costa Rica. These reports bring out the fauna.

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Angie Montes

En vez de progresar, vamos para atrás :(

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Justin Riddle

You know, I agree with Paul on most of his actions & especially what he stands for BUT there is something about him that screams DOUCHE BAG!

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Blazer Blaze

The murder of conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval – He was bound, shot through the head and dumped on the Costa Rican beach that he regularly patrolled in his bid to protect leatherback turtle nests from poachers. Jairo was considered a nuisance by the narco-poachers. They hated him and they had threatened him. He then reported these threats and shortly afterwards he was killed. Why were the Coast Guard ordered to not patrol off Moins Beach a year before? The place is a known drop-off point for drugs from Panama and Colombia. One would think that the government would be increasing patrols not eliminating them. The beach is now unprotected and the turtles fair game for the poachers. The drug traffickers get to land their drugs at night. The real killers are most likely smiling and the politicians now have their “usual suspects” and everyone is happy, everyone that is except the conservation community, the turtles and the family and friends of Jairo. After two months, eight “suspects” have been arrested and coincidently on the very morning of the day that international protests had been scheduled to bring attention to the fact that nothing had been done. Six men and two women were detained and the six men will be held for up to six months while the investigation continues. That should give sufficient time for Chinchilla’s government to wind down their affairs and to leave the mess in the hands of her successor. The entire Jairo Mora Sandoval affair is now on the back burner and will remain there until Laura Chinchilla retires from office. -excerpts

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Excellent analysis Blazer, you speak the truth. Unfortunately I forsee the PLN acting just like the GOP (USA) in upcoming years. Because of the relationship they have with big business, I predict obstructionist behavior towards what President Solis seeks to accomplish. I hope it can be overcome. Most of what has been happening in CR over the last decades is a direct result of that GOP and PLN relationship. They use the exact same tactics! Latin America needs to continue the move towards the center-left. The right and big business $$$ has ruined much of what was once great in this country! That includes this amplification of a lost drug war!!! Drugs and big money have corrupted the region. The USA and the world needs to take a different route.

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Stephanie Neimiller

Costa Rica was, at one time, on the cutting edge of environmentalism. But corruption and greed won over yet again. I hope the new politicians get Costa Rica back to doing what’s right and good – not only for the environment, but for the people of Costa Rica and not just the few bad apples that have disgraced this beautiful country.

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Carlos Roverrsi attitude is an example of the worst of Costa Rica—denial, grandiosity, even paranoia. Juan Carlos Borbon’s response typifies the best of Costa Rica. If Costa Rica will get over its delusions of superiority and start seriously trying to fix its problems, the country might improve. But there is a lot to fix. If what is going on in the domestic violence arm of the court were ever revealed to outsiders, Costa Rica’s human rights record would plummet. To learn more about this you have to talk to people who have fallen into the quicksand of this problem. Try checking out the facebook page for the Fundación Instituto de Apoyo al Hombre, an organization trying to help men who have been victimized by the insanity of the system.

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That Paul Watson is a busy guy for not being able to set foot in CR. what, with dumping 90% of raw sewer in rural CR into rivers and oceans. And then stopping law enforcement from responding to and investigating crime. (Except US backed drug enforcement)
If Tourism CR isn’t worried about their ranking, they should.
To be fair, just because CR didn’t fund the gay parades, it didn’t stop them either.
As for the poaching, I suggest, follow the money. A few kickbacks possibly.

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Paul Watson is a joke. He was thrown out of Green Peace for being to crazy. Costa Rica is going to be fine. IF you don´t like it get out and go back to USA.

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gee cee

“smear campaign by leftist groups against the good name of Costa Rica.” is not” humbly accepting the critiques we are given”.

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