Costa Rica has long been at the forefront of ecotourism but the July 5 opening of the Veragua Rainforest Research and Adventure Park attracted national coverage for its location in the less developed province of Limón on the Caribbean side of the country. The brain child of three young Costa Rican entrepreneurs, the park created more than 50 ecotourism jobs in one of the nation’s poorest regions.
Verde Ventures invested $500,000 in the start-up in 2007 to finance infrastructure development, site construction and the purchase of a gondola and aerial tram system. Nine months later, the center is open to visitors. Other investors include Costa Rican investors, the BCT Bank and The Nature Conservancy EcoEnterprises Fund for a total investment of close to $7 million.
The 77- hectare private nature park will be a buffer zone for La Amistad National Park, (Friendship National Park), so named because it is shared by Costa Rica and neighboring Panama. La Amistad is the largest virgin rainforest park in Central America. It has been estimated that about two-thirds of the total species found in Costa Rica live there.
The young owners set out to create the best rainforest experience on the Caribbean side of the country and to educate visitors and the local communities about the value of their natural surroundings. Visitors can walk trails and suspended bridges through the rainforest or climb onto a canopy-level, 500-meter-long gondola system that glides past giant century-old trees.
Back on the ground, local guides lead tours through live reptile and butterfly educational exhibits, a live day-time frog exhibit and a nocturnal frog terrarium that simulates the night time conditions under which these frogs are at their most active and observable. This is the closest most of us will get to see nocturnal frogs without spending the night in the forest.
Ecotourism is not the whole story. The park has joined forces with the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), a renowned research and conservation center. INBio helped design the educational exhibits and will maintain a permanent research station on site. Glass panes allow visitors to watch the researchers at work and video screens retransmit real time images of what scientists are observing under their microscopes. INbio’s onsite station is expected to greatly benefit biodiversity research.
La Amistad National Park, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, is right next door and is home to dozens of globally threatened species, including Central American tapir, Central American squirrel monkey, bare necked umbrella bird, and three-wattled bellbird. It supports as yet undiscovered species and protects critical watersheds and cultural resources.
The Veragua project will also benefit more than 1,000 hectares of forest surrounding La Amistad National Park, where the project leaders successfully negotiated with other neighboring land owners to halt cutting of the primary forest.
The grand opening attracted Costa Rica President Oscar Arias and more than 300 guests and was featured on national television. Watch Costa Rica’s Channel 7 coverage (en español).