Costa Rica Rural Community Empowerment Project

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Phase III

Phase III, initiated in spring 2007, began our collaborative work on sustainable ecotourism development models in rural farming communities. Through community meetings and dialogue with farming families in spring 2007, the alliance established that the main alternative economic development goal for spring 2007 and the foreseeable future is:

To research, vision, design and implement of a world-class 50 km eco-tourism trail through the pristine high cloud forest and remote valleys from Santa Maria in central Costa Rica to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast. Over 7 days, the team of eco-tourist/smart-travellers will experience adventure travel [trekking, mountain biking, and horse-riding], home-stay accommodations with organic farming families, Spanish immersion, community cultural activities, and opportunities to volunteer on the family farms. This venture will diversify regional economies and create locally owned and operated eco-tourism businesses for local farming families. 

Pilot tours are currently being run, and the eco-tours will formally begin in EARLY/MID 2014. During 2012, a team of five research interns conducted participatory observation research during the 2012 Pre-pilot Eco Tour. Upon completion of the tour, the team did a comprehensive SWOT analysis of all aspects of the tour: trails, guiding, accommodation, food, and cultural activities. From the SWOT analysis the team created a report of recommendations, which was presented to the families during a series of capacity building workshops. 

Another pilot tour was conducted during May 2014 which consisted of five research interns, the VIU project director, a photojournalist/Rainforest Alliance partner, and three “real” tourists. Once again, the team conducted participatory observation research throughout the tour and concluded with an updated SWOT analysis report. This year the team has also worked to strengthen ties with partnership organizations including Earth University, Earthwatch Institute, Rainforest Alliance, and the Canadian Embassy in San Jose.  

 Los Santos Eco-Trail

The idea of the eco-trail is to link the different grass-roots or ecological based home-stay and tourism operations along a spectacular, world-class, eco-trail. The eco-trail will be predominantly targeted for intermediate level hikers seeking cultural and educational eco-tourism experiences. The hikes will mostly be guided in small groups, at least in the initial stages of trail and itinerary development.

The trail will link different educational, cultural, and adventure opportunities in regional communities through activities such as; various volunteer opportunities (general labour, teaching English, etc.), mountain biking, horseback riding, tree-top adventures, coffee tours, homestays, and biology and agricultural interpretation. One of the main purposes of developing this trail is to raise awareness to conservation aspects of the Los Santos Watershed - a large natural area Northwest of the Los Santos Forest Preserve (near Naranjillo) that is not protected. Eventually the eco-trail organization will need to develop a strategy in regards to how the trail will educate and aid conservation efforts in the area.


The first stop on the Eco-Trail is Providencia. Participants will depart from Santa Maria de Dota early in day one in vehicles and will be dropped off at the trailhead in the Parque Nacional de las Quetzales. The hike starts at an elevation of about 3500 meters above sea level in the high altitude cloud forests. The small town of Providencia is nestled in the mountains and is successful coffee and fruit growing region with immense natural beauty and interesting historic sites, such as La Piedra. The accommodation options in Providencia range from cozy cabins to intimate homestay experiences.

Quebrada Grande

The hike from Providencia to Quebrada Grande takes the group through thick Costa Rican forest where an abundance of different species of trees, ferns, fungus, birds, and more can be observed. The families receive the group in a Vilma’s century old home that used to be a working dairy farm for a hearty lunch and well deserved rest. Quebrada Grande is a small neighbourhood of the town of Copey, where the group will visit a beautiful historic church. The families love to showcase their agricultural products to visitors during an apple and avocado tour where the group learns about the growing and processing of the fruits, followed by a delicious sampling of homemade delicacies like fresh apple pie and avocado ice cream. A favourite activity for the group is also learning how to maketamales, a traditional meal made during special occasions like weddings and holidays, that’s wrapped in a banana leaves. As with every stop on the tour, interacting with the families is always a highlight!

 Nubotropica/Santa Maria de Dota

The third day of hiking features an interest mix of forest trails and pastures to bring us to our destination: Nubotropica Foundation, an education, conservation, and interpretive centre for the surrounding Los Santos Forest Reserve. There areseveral dorm style bedrooms and a small hall, perfect for hosting groups. Nubotropica also has its own set of trails in surrounding forest and is located just a few kilometers from the quaint town of Santa Maria de Dota.

On the final day of hiking a change in the climate is noticeable as the elevation declines and the environment feels more tropical. Vines hang from the trees and several impressive anthills can be spotted next to the trail. The community has turned a vacant home into dorm-style accommodation to house groups, which overlooks the river. The small, remote town is home to just a handful of families that are proud to teach tourists about their agricultural products such as achiote and sugarcane. One of the highlights of Naranjillo is that all of the food prepared for tour is local grown and organic – delicious!