Q & A with Rafael Gallo, President and Co-Founder of Rios Tropicales, Costa Rica.
“An award-winning eco-lodge and tour operator celebrating 30 years since 1985.”
COSTA RICA IS A SMALL COUNTRY YET A LEADER IN ECOTOURISM…HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN IT?
Costa Rica is blessed with many micro climates and different types of forests – tropical rain forests, cloud forests, mangrove forests, to name a few. It is well known for its biodiversity. But 30 years ago, in 1985, we did not know that much about ecotourism. My business partners and I, we were friends growing up in Costa Rica and became experienced river runners and naturalists. All we knew was that we wanted to save the Pacuare River from a Dam, so we began to purchase rain forest land to protect it, and we hired neighboring indigenous folks to help us build and work with us. We earned money from our work as guides showing people the natural side, and this is now what is called ecotourism.
EVERY COUNTRY HAS TO COMPETE THESE DAYS TO ATTRACT TRAVELERS. BESIDES THE BIODIVERSITY, WHICH YOU MENTIONED, WHAT BRINGS PEOPLE TO COSTA RICA?
Well Costa Rica is a very friendly country – we have no army! We are also very eco-friendly and remain a great model for other countries who want to copy our methods. We offer plenty of eco-destinations for nature-lovers with great guides and operators to choose from. Most companies here who say they are into ecotourism are authentic, say 80%...just do some research before you decide which one.
YOU’VE RECEIVED AWARDS FROM TRIP ADVISOR YEAR AFTER YEAR – SO CLEARLY YOUR GUESTS THINK YOU’RE THE REAL DEAL! HOW DO YOU KEEP IT GOING?
Passion, passion, and more passion! It’s a lot of hard work, but I love the sustainable angle, the fact that we are helping local communities, that we are creating “ecoprenuers” out of our guides and other employees, and that we get to help restore the rain forest.
ARE YOUR GUESTS MOSTLY FROM NORTH AMERICA? WHERE ELSE?
Yes mostly from North America. Other people from Costa Rica also come here. The rest - about 25% - come from various European countries.
Well if rafting is your thing, then the Pacuare River trip should be your #1 choice - - it has warm water, non-stop rapids, and it is surrounded by an incredible rain forest with amazing views of flora and fauna.
But for others, they might prefer to go hiking or mountain biking. We also offer horse riding on trails, and we have a great zipline. Plus the unique experience of staying in a true Eco-Lodge which is off the grid – where you can hear and enjoy the sounds of the forest and the river especially at night.
We sure do! Once people discover the Pacuare, they love it, and they want to experience it again with us because they felt very safe on our rafting trips. Also the water levels change every day, every year, so it’s always a different experience each time. Our guides turn into chefs once everyone returns to the Lodge, they cook a “jungle chicken" dinner – the guests seem to like it!
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO BOOKING A GUIDED TOUR WITH YOUR COMPANY….COMPARED WITH TRAVELERS WHO GO AROUND BY THEMSELVES?
When you can have great guides and drivers, you are better off with a guided tour. But if you want a private tour with a "flexible" schedule not attached to a group, we can do that for you too.
WHAT MAKES AN ECO-LODGE DIFFERENT FROM A REGULAR HOTEL?
Our Eco-Lodge is in the middle of the rain forest, we rely on hydropower. We don’t leave trash around, and we do composting. There is no Internet, no TV, no cars...just our beds and private baths and Mother Nature.
Not really, we are at about 72 degrees [Fahrenheit] all year long, plus or minus a few degrees.
WILL YOUR GUESTS GET TO SEE BIRDS AND ANIMALS DURING THEIR STAY WITH RIO TROPICALES?
Mainly you will see lots of birds and hear their calls, and a lot of people really enjoy bird watching. The birds are very colorful. We have monkeys, sloths, ocelot, agouti, and other animals here in the jungle, too, it’s just not as guaranteed that you will see them during your visit.
We are planting trees in what is now a pasture of 250 acres. It will take us another 10 years to finish restoring this land next to our primary forest. These trees require more than 3 years of caring in the beginning in order to survive. We want to hire more people from the local community to do this work, and so we are hoping to start our own charity so that people can donate to us and support this cause.
They can learn from our community development projects, the saving of the rivers, the reforestation, and our efforts to protect the natural habitat.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
Our trips go from easy to hard adventures with superior river running knowledge. We operate an amazing ecologically responsible and sustainable Lodge. Plus we have been in business for 30 years with the same original owners, so something is working well!
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