We continue our Summer Series on Purposeful Travel with a spotlight on two of our personal favorites: Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. These Latin American locales are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Costa Rica holds 6% of the world’s biodiversity and even abolished its military to contribute to the country’s stated goal of focusing its tax dollars on conservation and sustainability. To the south, the Galapagos Islands are home to over 2,900 known species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals.
Given the importance that these two unique places hold in the world of conservation, we partner with some very interesting organizations and people that are taking strides to ensure that the nature and wildlife that make our world so amazing are preserved for generations to come.
Costa Rica – Conservation from the Mountains to the Sea
Costa Rica is a gem. Straddling the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean with a spine of volcanoes and pristine rainforests running through its interior, Costa Rica’s geography is extremely unique. And with this perfect placement in the tropics, the jungles of Costa Rica contain over 230 species of mammals ranging from monkeys to sloths to tree frogs and jaguars. What’s even more impressive is the fact that within only 30 minutes of the capital city, San Jose, you can find yourself deep in the equatorial jungle seeing many of these creatures with your own eyes. Travel to the coast and you will witness even more marine wildlife including whales and sea turtles.
We’ve been sending groups to Costa Rica for nearly a decade. What’s even more impressive is that the feedback keeps getting better and better. Unlike many destinations that are struggling to balance their natural wonders with the challenges of over tourism and climate change, Costa Rica is actually growing its biodiversity. Below are a few of the organizations that we’ve been partnering with through the years and who you will be lucky enough to meet during your time in Costa Rica:
- Rescue Center of Marine Endangered Species (CREMA) – Since 2013, CREMA has worked to protect the sea turtles that come to nest along the North Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We assist CREMA on our Sea Turtle Initiative trip with their beach patrols, helping to locate nesting turtles and protecting their nests while contributing to one of the most important initiatives to protect turtles in the country. The best time of the year to witness these sea turtles in the wild is between July to December.
- Kids Saving the Rainforest – On our Family Volunteer Vacation trip, we meet with the incredible conservation group, Kids Saving the Rainforest, to experience firsthand their efforts to rehabilitate injured wildlife including sloths and monkeys. Their staff also introduce us to the amazing wildlife that inhabit this country and have been rescued at their center. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come face-to-face with some of these unique creatures that call Costa Rica home.
- Corredor Biológico Paso de la Danta (Biological Corridor for the Tapir) – The tapir is one of the strangest looking creatures that inhabits the Costa Rican jungle. If a pig were to be combined with an ant eater you would get the tapir, one of the most primitive large mammals in the world. On our Eco-Rainforest Adventure trip, we set camera traps to monitor the movement of wildlife along the biological corridor than runs through the Savegre region of Costa Rica then gather and record the data at the end of the stay. This contributes to a larger project, the Savegre Tapir Project, that aims to protect the area from development.
- La Selva Biological Station – La Selva Biological Station is a protected area of lush, tropical rain forest in that is owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of universities and research institutions from the United States, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. Home to 2,077 species of plants, 125 species of mammals, 470 species of birds, and tens of thousands of insects, it is truly one of the centers of wildlife in the country. Typically only open to researchers, we are able to get exclusive access through our expert guide, Karla, on our Wildlife Safari trip in Caribbean Costa Rica.
The Galapagos Islands – Preserving Giant Tortoises in the “Enchanted Islands”
The Galapagos Islands are unlike anywhere else on earth. These 19 islands sit at the confluence of three ocean currents which makes them one of the richest and most biodiverse marine environments on earth. Additionally, the extreme isolation of the islands – sitting over 600 miles from the nearest landmass – has led to the development of strange species of plant and animal life. From flightless birds to massive iguanas and cacti, experiencing the Galapagos means seeing many creatures that do not exist anywhere else on the planet.
This isolation not only played a role in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, but has led to one of the most well-preserved environments in the region if not the world. The “living museum” of the Galapagos continues to thrive thanks to the Ecuadorian government’s forward thinking policies on limiting tourism, guarding against overfishing and establishing a national marine reserve on the islands. This is not only a highly unique setting (no large throngs of tourists competing with one another to get to the next site – yes please!), but is a place that really lends itself to our style of travel – purposeful experiences.
Purpose takes on several forms in the Galapagos Islands for us. First, our partners. We partner with a father and son duo, Duncan and Steven Divine, who are part of one of the first families to settle the Galapagos. In fact, Steven first moved to the islands when Santa Cruz had a population of only 100 people! Steven became one of the first tour guides on the island eventually becoming a certified naturalist guide. His son, Duncan, was trained in his footsteps and over the years developed an extensive background in the nature and biology of the islands. Both Steven and Duncan have a passion and personal love for these islands that is unmatched and provides a lens through which to view the islands that can’t be matched. Our groups also support generational knowledge to be passed on and preserved.
Alongside Steven & Duncan, we strive to be part of the solution by lending a hand preserving the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Considered a vulnerable species, the story of the most famous Galapagos tortoise (and probably the most famous individual to come from the archipelago) is a sad one: when Lonesome George died in 2012, his species died with him. Happily, though, several other species of Galapagos Tortoise survive across the islands. We spend time at one of the leading reserves in the Galapagos helping to remove invasive species and preserve the natural environment for these amazing creatures to thrive. As they roam freely in the reserve, you’ll most likely come face to face with one of these gentle giants.
The Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica continue to amaze us with their incredible amounts of natural beauty and biodiversity. Next month, we’ll have our final installment of the Summer Series on Purposeful Travel featuring the destinations of the Dominican Republic and Peru.