How do you save the world? According to Costa Rican Adventures Director Lisa Schachter-Brooks, one traveler at a time.
“The travelers that go on our journeys may simply be looking for a fun way to see the wonders of a tropical rainforest,” said Schachter-Brooks from her office on Berkeley’s Addison Street, a warehouse-like industrial space paneled with books, pictures of the rainforest, and the many friends the family-run business has made over the years. “But they also inevitably come away with a broadened perspective on global issues, a love of the earth and an inspiration to be part of the solution.”
The method seems to be working: In July, Costa Rican Adventures took home the runner-up award for Best Ecotourism Operator by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
An educational and environmental travel company based in Berkeley, Costa Rican Adventures has guided nearly 3,000 travelers throughout Costa Rica, Belize and Panama since 1995.
“Ecotourism” has been adopted by such a wide variety of tour companies, the term has practically lost its meaning. The International Ecotourism Society defines Ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” But it is often used to refer to anything from trips that include any outdoor activities to huts that serve piña coladas.
With adventurous programs that support organic farming, alternative energies, and locally owned businesses, Costa Rican Adventures intends to redefine tourism itself by focusing on the needs of local communities as well as its traveling clientele.
Programs include hands-on community service projects in nearby villages, a visit with an indigenous family, and a stop at the banana plantations to explore the effects of industrial agriculture on the local people, the coral reefs and the rainforest. One tour highlight is a rainforest hike that leads to Punta Mona, where Costa Rican Adventures’ founder—and Lisa’s brother—Stephen Brooks has created an organic farm and center for sustainable education nestled between the beach and the forest. Next, Punta Mona visitors explore the issues of sustainability while harvesting their own food–and investigating the systems that keep the place running: solar panels, composting toilets, and permaculture gardens.
In addition, the organization currently testing the use of alternative fuels for tour buses (Schachter-Brooks and co-worker Jay Golden drive their cars on vegetable-based biodiesel; Stephen led a vegetable-oil bus caravan to Costa Rica last year) as well as including a carbon credit program to attempt to balance out the huge energy expense involved in airline travel. For more information