COSTA RICA-Ríos Tropicales, a rafting and adventure company in Costa Rica, is committed to socially responsible business practices and initiatives. The founders understood from the beginning that in order to truly enjoy Costa Rica’s rivers and rainforests, they would need to ensure that they were available for future generations, and that the local communities were involved in the development and growth of the business. Their efforts have brought entrepreneurs, trees, and even a jaguar to the local communities where they operate.
In 1985, Ríos Tropicales became the first rafting company to hire guides from Turrialba, the town closest to the popular Reventazon and Pacuare rivers. Not only do these guides share their insider knowledge of the area with guests, but they also become role models for their communities – illustrating that other career opportunities (besides farming) are available. Ríos encouraged and supported their best guides as they transitioned from employees to business owners, or eco-preneurs. Rather than seeing them as competition, they collaborate with these companies to provide the best in ecotourism opportunities throughout the country. Many of the guides have moved on to other jobs in the industry – and some are even seeing the world as their careers have taken them to New Zealand, California, and the Himalayas. At least 95% of the staff at Ríos are native Costa Ricans.
Keeping the rainforests available for future generations is an integral part of Ríos Tropicales operations. When Ríos was looking to expand near the Pacuare River in 1989, they purchased land from a local farming family, the Obandos, who had cut down many of the rainforest trees to convert the land to farmland. Then, Ríos hired the same family to reforest the area. The seeds planted were all local species, as the seeds had been collected by the Obandos. This reforestation continues today, with more than 5,000 new trees planted as of May 2008 – and a goal of 10,000 trees targeted by the end of 2008.
Illegal hunting and fishing are common practices in rainforest locations – and this was also true for the area surrounding the Pacuare River. When Ríos Tropicales purchased land along the banks in 1989, they opened up a dialogue with the indigenous Cabecar Indians and local residents, educating them on the dangers and consequences of this behavior. Once the community understood how important it was to protect the land, they took a proactive role in confronting poachers, which has led to the reappearance of several species of wildlife that were noticeably absent, including howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, ocelots, and many other cat species. Rarely seen at all in Central America, the endangered jaguar has once again made its presence known in the Pacuare Basin – and this would not have been possible without the partnership between Ríos Tropicales and the community.
In addition to these specific programs, Ríos Tropicales also demonstrates conservation leadership in Costa Rica through the Fundación Ríos Tropicales (FRT), a non-profit environmental organization established in 1994 to assist in the preservation, protection and restoration of the rivers, streams and watersheds of Costa Rica, as well as through their partnership with numerous Non-Governmental Organizations. For more information on the sustainable tourism practices at Ríos Tropicales, visit www.riostropicales.com/tourism.php. Ríos Tropicales offers rafting, adventure packages and one-day tours throughout Costa Rica for all ages and activity levels year-round.