Costa Rica is a Central American Success story on many levels. Of all the countries in Central America, it has the longest standing democracy, boasts the highest literacy rate, and has the highest number of tourist arrivals. The Travel and Tourism Competitive Index (TTCI) is a measurement of the factors that make a country attractive to develop business in the travel and tourism industry. According to the most recent index (2011), Costa Rica ranked first in tourism competitiveness in Central America, second over all among Latin American countries (behind Mexico) and forty-fourth overall in the world ranking.
While international tourist arrivals continue to grow (see Figure 1), the sector has been slowed by the recent global financial crises and the flu pandemic of 2009. The TTCI reports that Costa Rica’s main weaknesses in competing for international tourists include: a) time required to start a business, b) poor condition of ground infrastructure, c) poor quality of port infrastructure, and d) lack of cultural sites. While tourism operators have limited power to address the first three issues, they have attacked the last issue of lack of access to Costa Rican culture.
Figure 1 – International Tourist Arrivals
Unlike Mexico or Guatemala, Costa Rica does not have pyramids or other ancient ruins that act as instant cultural tourist attractions. Lacking ancient ruins, industrious Costa Rican tour operators are creating Costa Rican cultural tours based on modern Tico culture. Below are some of the sectors having the most success.
Chocolate (cacao) Tours. Costa Rica is home to a deep aroma cacao bean, which is the preferred bean for making fine dark chocolate. Tours vary from small artisanal producers to large commercial factories. Tours also vary in that some show the history and techniques for making chocolate, while others have participants actually make their own chocolate. Many visitors enjoy learning the techniques used in creating one of the worlds favorite sweets, as well as the history and cultural impact the cacao bean has made on the local population.
Coffee Tours. Coffee has long been, and continues as, an important aspect of the Costa Rican economy. Coffee tours are a mixture of a history lesson, cultural and agricultural tour. The coffee crop has not only contributed to the Costa Rican economy, but also the hacienda culture. It has played a significant role in the development of Costa Rican labor law and continues to be Costa Rica’s seventh largest agricultural export. Tours vary from small-scale rural producers to large-scale plantations. Most tours include a tour of the fields where coffee is grown and harvested, as well as a tour of the roasting factory. As with the chocolate tours, the excursion ends with a sample of the freshly made Costa Rican product.
Cooking Classes. While there are fine culinary schools in Costa Rica, most of the cooking classes offered to tourists are of the excursion variety. It is another way that tourism operators are diversifying their list of activities to attract more guests. Often a Costa Rica luxury hotel’s executive chef will teach the classes. It is an excellent way for a hotel operator to take advantage of an asset already on site, and to be more attractive to potential visitors. Rather than focusing solely on traditional Costa Rican cooking, most classes fuse traditional Costa Rican ingredients with modern cooking techniques to create simple, yet delicious creations. As with the chocolate and coffee tours, guests consume their creations at the end of class.
Costa Rican tour operators have responded to the demand for more Costa Rican cultural activities. Lacking ruins like those found at Machu Pichu or Teotihuacan, Costa Rican tour operators have turned to living Costa Rican cultural attractions to attract and entertain their guests. The focus on food, culture, and tourist participation in culturally important activities, is allowing tour operators to thrive without having the benefit of a ruined civilization as a tourist attraction.
Los Altos de Eros Boutique Hotel & Spa is located in a paradise-like setting in one of the most beautiful of all countries….Costa Rica. Situated on a 27 acre estate, 20 minutes outside of Tamarindo, Costa Rica, we offer a supreme “5-Star” destination. Los Altos de Eros means “the heights of love”, and you will love everything about us: our location, our ambiance, our cuisine, our Spa, and our staff. All we ask of you is that you come with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.