Rios Tropicales: How A Tour Operator Can Become A Sustainable Community Co-Creator

Rios Tropicales: How A Tour Operator Can Become A Sustainable Community Co-Creator

Rios Tropicales

In 2008, Rios Tropicales, led by co-founder Rafael Gallo, moved into international sustainable community development collaboration by winning a South-South grant for a rural tourism project between Bhutan and Costa Rica. Rios Tropicales has historically kept a low profile about its sustainable tourism practices and philosophy within its company operations and across its local Costa Rican communities.


Winning a large international rural development grant in 2008 enabled Rios Tropicales to expand its sustainable tourism practices to include a focus on international knowledge-sharing and best practices training for other emerging rural tourism destinations. Rios Tropicales believes that it is critical to support replicable, community co-created sustainability initiatives in today's world. Small, authentic projects with low barriers to entry (in terms of cost, design and resources) offer the best chances for best practice examples to be replicated internationally and achieve long-term success across unlimited numbers of communities worldwide.


This, furthermore, helps tourism remain authentic and affordable to a larger percentage of the population. From the early days of its Pacuare River rafting operations, Rios Tropicales has supported the El Tigre community near its ecolodge by providing school supplies like computers and offering a handful of jobs at its rainforest reserve and sustainable farming operations. Limitations in funding restricted El Tigre’s ability to build the infrastructure necessary to support the development of sustainable businesses and proper waste management within the rural community.


Rios Tropicales led the grant process to secure funding for an international collaboration between the rural tourism destinations of The Kingdom of Bhutan and Costa Rica. The Costa Rican part of the project targeted sustainable development in the El Tigre community. The resulting South-South grant from Fundecooperacion is funding the infrastructure development of seven sustainable tourism attractions within the community.


These include: a serpentarium, an orchid garden, a butterfly garden, an internet café, environmentally sustainable bathrooms at El Tigre’s elementary school, expansion of the Tilapia sustainable fish farming project, and a new hydroponic nursery for organic farming. Environmentally responsible waste management practices are a key part of the El Tigre - Bhutan projects. Both projects are implementing recycling, composting, and proper solid waste disposal schemes.


Rios Tropicales provides the community with advice on best practices and business viability, and is overseeing project construction*. The tourism market for these attractions is ready-made from the existing rafting industry on the Pacuare River. Development to date has enabled El Tigre to apply and get approved for the Blue Flag for Educational Centers award. They will also be able to apply for the Blue Flag for Climate Neutral Community award in 2010, thanks to this project. The community project provides income, jobs, education and international collaboration opportunities, as well as confidence and economic independence for the community members. Construction has been completed to date on all initiatives except the internet café, which is now half finished.


*Rios Tropicales has no ownership or financial investment in the El Tigre community attractions.


The rainforest attractions in the community, designed by community members, are run and fully owned by community members. Rios Tropicales has shared its expertise in geotourism to help successfully finance and develop the project. The Bhutanese-Costa Rican community collaboration as part of this El Tigre project is a model example of sharing best practices across cultures and countries in sustainable adventure tourism. The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) is partnering with Rios Tropicales to replicate lessons learned from adventure recreation operations within a sustainable community development framework.


As lead agency partner for the development of rural tourism, specifically rafting adventure tourism in Bhutan, Rios Tropicales team will teach, train, share, and collaborate with Bhutan’s teams about Rios’ best practices developed over 25 years of successful rafting adventure operations. In addition, Rios will support Bhutan’s early development of sustainable communities via sharing lessons learned from its ongoing work with El Tigre.


Learn more about the Costa Rica-Bhutan Community Project


Rios Tropicales, in partnership with Fundecooperacion, ABTO and EARTH University, is leading a sustainable community development project in Bajo del Tigre, Costa Rica, to provide income, jobs, education, and international exposure & collaboration for the community members, and sharing knowledge and lessons learned with rural communities in Bhutan through South-South collaboration initiatives.


>> Download project summary (pdf, 100 kb)


Learn more about Rios Tropicales

Rios Tropicales is an eco-adventure company that operates throughout Costa Rica - on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, in the mountainous central rainforest, and in the western regions - offering adventure activities that take advantage of Costa Rica’s unique variety of environments: whitewater rafting on eight rivers, multisport activities that feature kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and cycling, family adventures, cultural encounters, nature and wildlife tours, and voluntourism.


>> See Rios Tropicales member profile



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