Ecotourism is the answer that Latin America needs to promote the rural development of small rural populations, the biodiversity that surrounds the areas added to their culture and local cuisine gives it an added value.
Mexico's Héctor Ceballos, an expert in environmental architecture, ecotourism, and sustainable planning, told EFE that Latin America as a whole is a part of the world with the greatest biodiversity on the planet. However, social inequality is one of its greatest obstacles, so it must work on sustainable policies to achieve rural development.
"Curiously, the poorest areas have the greatest biological wealth, and that's a contradiction because in our region there are poverty and great inequalities, but ecotourism can help, if we manage to preserve the natural environment, and give sustainable rural development to all the country's populations," said Ceballos.
In recent years, Costa Rica has worked to train different communities so that they are accessible to national and foreign tourists so that they know the authenticity of its inhabitants and they can offer a variety of options for their enjoyment.
An example of this is the Agroecological Association Juanilama, located in the town of Pocosol, in the canton of San Carlos, north of the country. The community is made up of 525 people and 25 families are dedicated to rural community tourism, most of them women housewives.
With the support of government institutions, as well as volunteers and their efforts, they have created different activities to offer tourists, such as trails to observe the flora and fauna that ends in a waterfall, construction of a fruit tree nursery, an agriculture tour, traditional cooking classes, dancing and courses to make handmade soaps.
"Community-based rural tourism is a way for us housewives not to have to go out to work elsewhere, but to take advantage of the spaces that the government helped us in a moment and we began to work together. We have the land and we work it, here we can offer tourists, for example, a tour of agriculture and how to harvest the land," Yamilet Soto, one of the coordinators of the program, told EFE.
The producer said ecotourism is a "benefit for her family and the community," she no longer needs to go to the supermarket to buy a pineapple, nor does she need to buy pepper, bananas, bananas, meat, eggs, and legumes because they grow them on her land.
"We are also a bridge to help schools, colleges and the development association (...) We involve our children in being friendly with nature, that what we do we do with love, and that taking advantage of the minimum spaces we can move forward. This project with my land and in my courtyard, has allowed my children to go to university," said Soto.
The initiative began almost twenty years ago, receiving eight people a year, while in 2018 a total of 2,300 people arrived in their community, which has become for them a motivation to continue working and improving their processes.
"Everything we do here has given us work and this has allowed the people of this community not to migrate to look for work in urban areas, but to work here their land and offer different services for tourists. Here in Juanilama we are authentic, we are farmers and we are proud to be," said Sandra Molina.
Ecotourism is environmentally responsible tourism planning, from which you can appreciate the natural, cultural and gastronomic beauties. According to specialist Ceballos, ecotourism is not the "solution to all problems," but it contributes and can "alleviate" especially in needy areas.
"Ecotourism becomes the spearhead and paradigm of this type of sustainable development in rural areas. What particularly interests us in a country like Costa Rica, and others of great natural beauty in the region, is that scenario full of biodiversity, not like other countries with large commercial developments or sports tourism," said Ceballos.
The Mexican expert explained that ecotourism should always have a regional focus and develop a methodology to determine the product. The first step is to study the focal attractions and provide added value with complimentary attractions and support for the tourist to achieve greater satisfaction.
Ceballos was in Costa Rica in the framework of the International Congress of Sustainable Tourism, Planet, People, and Peace, which is the only one of its kind offered by the country to the world in terms of tourism.