The growing trend toward conscious travel reflects an increasing desire by independent travelers to experience new places and people in ways that are sustainable, responsible and most importantly meaningful. Marco Bollinger and Eytan Elterman, founders of iSeeiTravel, share one such experience from their travels to the Corcovado Foundation in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula.
"It is coming back! The black turtle is coming back!" Nicole, 16, is very excited. Her hands gesticulate the shape of a turtle. She has spent the whole night relocating a black turtle nest, marking the return of this species to the area after many years.
Only a week ago she would have never given a second thought to the turtles of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, a peninsula that comprises 2.5 percent of the planet's biodiversity. Nicole, a Costa Rican high school student, is taking part in a volunteering program of the foundation. At first it was her parent's Idea, but now she does not want to leave: "It feels amazing knowing we are helping a species that is in danger of extinction."
Many of us care about the environment we travel in and want to take part in influencing it in a positive way. The Corcovado Foundation offers just that to travelers in Costa Rica. Set in the Osa Peninsula, a region half the size of Rhode Island and the last standing virgin rainforest on the Pacific coast of Central America, it works on creating sustainable tourism for the region.
Getting there is a little adventure in itself: after a few days spent off-roading in a 4x4 SUV, spotting poisonous frogs and scarlet macaws, and getting bitten by terrifying army ants, we eventually make our way to the tiny town of El Progreso, located near Drake Bay. The main office of the foundation's sea turtle conservation program is located a small open-air building with a plain dirt floor and a few hammocks stretching the length of the room. We are greeted by the friendly staff, which invites us to stay with them at the camp, generously offering us a meal and a comfortable bed.
The staff and volunteers come to this remote place from all over the globe: in addition to Nicole, the accents are English, Australian, American, Venezuelan and Spanish. One biologist came from Madrid, one from San Diego. A few young local boys are hanging out, soaking in the international atmosphere.
Life here is a glorious mix of long hours and great adventures in paradise. The Corcovado Foundation started this program in 2006, after years of turtle egg poaching on the island had drastically diminished the population. Volunteers take turns on nightly patrol shifts, scouring the beach in search of turtle nests. When nests are found, they relocate the eggs to a nursery where they are guarded until they hatch.
As the staff gears up for the next nightly patrol, we notice a group of residents from El Progreso accompanying the group. According to Corcovado, these locals receive a nominal stipend for working on shifts. The financial incentive is part of a large strategy to involve the community in turtle conservation. Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in much of Costa Rica, and for poor rural communities struggling with unemployment, egg poaching is a very real means of earning a living or simply feeding your family. The foundation has even recruited former egg poachers to the team, as they are most skilled at locating deeply buried turtle nests.
Corcovado has also involved local families in a homestay program, paying them to house and feed travelers such as Nicole, who have come to volunteer for a short period.
The Corcovado Foundation is a great example of how travel can effect positive change. We had earlier been in the popular beach town of Tamarindo, an infamous party area so impacted by the influx of tourists that locals said they could no longer afford to eat in the restaurants in town. This hidden paradise of the Osa Peninsula offers a harmonious travel experience, one that protects the environment, benefits the local population and gave us one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.
To learn more about iSeeiTravel and their work in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, please visit their documentary project "2.5%: Conscious Travel in the World's Most Biologically Intense Rainforest."
To learn more about sustainable travel vacations visit Elevate Destinations.