By Aaron Braverman
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica – With a slight push off a platform high within a tree-covered cloud forest, a long flight through the air begins.
For fleeting moments, people are able to perform acts usually only available to birds as they zip line through 15 cables in Selvatura Park.
One of the longest canopy tours in Costa Rica, it is the only one located inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest, part of the country’s vast protected area. Selvatura Park has eco-friendly activities on only 12 percent of its land, leaving 88 percent of its property protected as an action to help preserve the ecosystem, according to the park’s website.
Visiting Selvatura is considered adventure tourism – a form of travel combining nature and leisure activities. Adventure and leisure travel are the largest draws for Costa Rica tourism, followed by ecotourism – involving visits to natural areas, intended as an alternative to standard commercial tourism.
Most come to Costa Rica for a spark of adventure, yet as of 2009, a total of 46 percent of tourists visit Costa Rica for ecotourism activities, according to an article in La Nación. People travel to Costa Rica to witness its well-established system of national parks and protected areas – covering more than 23 percent of the country’s land.
Tourism in Costa Rica affects the economy of the country greatly. Since 1999, tourism earned more than banana and coffee exports combined, according to a 2010 Annual Survey from the Costa Rican Board of Tourism.
But some believe that tourism is too unstable an industry to be so heavily relied on as economic contributor.
The country needs to be more reliant on other economic earners, said Carlos G. Murillo Martínez, an engineer, economist and EARTH University-La Flor Director.
“Tourism is not the answer,” Murillo said.
Guillermo Vargas, program coordinator at Life Monteverde, an agricultural cooperative, also worries about the future of the country’s farming as more Costa Ricans shift to tourism for income. He sees education and a return to a more agricultural-based society as a way of keeping Costa Rica’s economy strong.
“We should not have agriculture as only something to present to tourists,” Vargas said.
Regardless of the reason for their visit, tourists continue to contribute to Costa Rica’s economic growth, flocking in large numbers to the country for both its stunning environment and relaxing atmosphere.