ITTN interviewed William Rodriguez Lopez, Minister for Tourism for Costa Rica at World Travel Markets who shared the two things any man must do before they die. I’ve done one and Costa Rica might be the destination to do the other. Either way, it has an abundance to offer travellers.
Costa Rica is a Central American country with Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Known for stunning beaches, lush rainforests and incredible wildlife, the minister shared “the raw material for tourism is Costa Rica’s nature and adventure”. Located just above Panama on the map, the country is about 4/5ths the size of Ireland with a similar population. It has a well-developed tourism industry and now seasonal flights from London to its capital, San Jose, means travellers have another path to reach this beautiful paradise.
Interview with Costa Rica’s Minister for Tourism
Shane: “It’s a really exciting destination. I know it’s not currently a massive destination with the Irish markets, but certainly, post-COVID, the Irish traveller is looking for something a little bit more exciting and a little bit more adventurous where long haul is definitely growing.”
The minister explained, “Costa Rica is a nature sanctuary. The raw material for tourism is Costa Rica’s nature and adventure. We are a hotspot, actually, not only in the Americas but in the world and we’re growing very rapidly.”
Getting there, what would be the best route?
“We’re going to have the non-stop flight from London to Costa Rica. It’s a seasonal flight from November to April but we will negotiate with them to maintain the flight all year so that is the more direct flight but through Madrid is another option… BA has 3 flights now from from London to Costa Rica and Iberia has a daily flight so you can go through San Jose and come back through Madrid or whatever.”
In terms of duration, what would you recommend?
“The average stay in Costa Rica for Europeans is 17 days. So, in 17 days, you can do some very exciting activities but do you have time to see everything? I would say that at least three weeks is the time to be there.”
He added, “It depends on what you prefer, beaches or mountains or adventure. Wellness is a famous activity in Costa Rica too so I think three weeks is the least that any European should stay in Costa Rica.”
What are the top 3 destinations to visit in Costa Rica?
“Well I wouldn’t rank the top three because I do think all are number one but I decided that nobody should die without the experience of two things – sea whales in the Pacific area of Costa Rica and sea turtles in the Caribbean. Those are two things that no one on this earth should miss during his lifetime.”
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to swim with sea turtles in the Caribbean but seeing humpback whales remains on my bucket list. Costa Rica with so much to offer will make my bucket list too.
Germany, France & the UK are Costa Rica’s Largest source markets in Europe
The latest figures from the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) show almost 50k UK visitors travelled to Costa Rica between Jan-Sept 2023 with Germany (53.5k) and France (51.3k) the highest source of European tourists, respectively. In total, Costa Rica welcomed 1.8m worldwide visitors between Jan-Sept 2023, with projections set between 2.3-2.5m by the end of the year (c. 5% higher versus 2019).
Costa Rica extends tourist visas to 180 days
The Costa Rican government has extended the maximum stay for foreign tourists visiting on a tourist visa, from 90 days to 180 days. This came into effect in September 2023 and applies to passport holders from visa-exempt countries including most European nations, the US and Canada. In addition to leisure visitors, the 180-day stay period aims to make Costa Rica more attractive for digital nomads. Previously, digital nomads could only remain for 90 days before requiring a visa. Now, they can stay for up to half a year on a tourist visa before needing to pursue other visa options.
The National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR) and the Costa Rican government hope the extension will attract young professionals to the destination, allowing visitors more time to explore Costa Rica and embrace the world-famous “pura vida” lifestyle. This decision intends to position Costa Rica as the top destination for the location independent worker; hoping to boost the nation’s cultural footprint and way of life amongst both professionals and longer-staying visitors. Tourism represents over 8% of Costa Rica’s GDP.
Costa Rica will invest $4.5 million across 7 national parks
Costa Rica will invest $4.5 million over the next three years to improve tourism facilities and infrastructure across 7 key national parks. This investment aims to improve visitor experiences and promote sustainable tourism practices. The funding will be used to develop new trails, upgrade visitor centres and implement conservation initiatives. The 7 parks benefiting from the funds will be Manuel Antonio, Tenorio Volcano, Guayabo National Monument, Carara, Arenal Volcano, Irazu in the Prusia sector, and Los Quetzales National Park. These were selected based on high visitor numbers throughout the year. By investing in these priority upgrades, Costa Rica aims to enhance the visitor experience while also ensuring the long-term preservation of the country’s rich biodiversity.
Conservation of the Scarlet Macaw and more
Conservation of Costa Rica’s eclectic avian life has reached promising new levels. Boasting 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica continues to stalwart the preservation of its varied wildlife. In 2023, a total of 2,121 Scarlet Macaws have been identified, a sharp rise from 978 counted in 2020. Leading the way, the Research Programme at La Cangreja National Park partnered with
a group of experts, ornithologists and local enthusiasts across Costa Rica, and is encouraged by the improvement. Conservation authorities indicated that ‘by focusing conservation efforts on the macaw, we indirectly ensure the protection of numerous other species sharing its habitat, which plays a pivotal role in ecotourism, attracting nature enthusiasts’. This is a key example of the rewards of collaborative and effective measures, and how Costa Rica put the environment and wildlife first.
New luxury hotels coming to Costa Rica’s Guanacaste
Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, famous for its pristine beaches, national parks and dry tropical climate, will see a variety of new luxury hotels opening throughout 2024. These include the luxury One&Only Papagayo (161 rooms); Peninsula Papagayo (109 rooms); Waldorf Astoria Residences Guanacaste (197 rooms); and Hampton by Hilton Guanacaste Airport (100 rooms). This will further attract visitors to the north-western region of Guanacaste which is famous for its beaches and climate as well as its rich cultural heritage and vibrant festivals.
Beyond Guanacaste, luxury retreat, Our Habitas Santa Teresa, in Puntarenas province
opens on 29 December 2023. Its low-impact, earth-inspired 45 rooms will nestle on the
border of dense forest and the famous Santa Teresa’s beach, known for its world-class surf
break and abundant marine life.
New brochures launched by the Costa Rica Tourism Board
Keep an eye out for Costa Rica’s new visitor brochures. These include recommendations for museums, arts and culture, wildlife spotting, national parks, surfing, hiking and even bus schedules. The 45 new brochures promise a mix of escapades across Costa Rica whilst continuing to pay homage to the traditional sites, bringing travellers a fresh and growing perspective of the wonders of the country. Find them at www.visitcostarica.com/uk.