A group of Bribri people is working to open Costa Rica’s first indigenous tour agency, aimed at showing adventurous travelers what their territory has to offer.
The group will base its operations in Talamanca, located in Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean region, near the border with Panama.
The business idea originated in 2014 as an initiative of the Costa Rica Institute of Technology (TEC) to provide indigenous people with new sources of income, the university reported in a news release.
In the first stage of the project, the TEC offered training to a group of 16 Bribri people to obtain their license as tour guides specialized in ecological and cultural tourism.
Melissa Espinoza, president of the Talamanca Bribri Tour Guide Association (AGITUBRIT), said that the project plans to offer tourists a low-cost opportunity to learn how the Bribri people’s ancestors lived, and how the Bribri still live, in harmony with nature.
“We want to promote a form of tourism that is respectful and harmonious with nature, and we want tourists to get to know our culture and our worldview,” she said in a statement.
Project coordinator David Arias, a professor at TEC’s School of Sustainable Rural Tourism, told The Tico Times that one of their main goals is to incentivate the creation of new tourism businesses to increase income options for Talamanca residents.
The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) also participated in the project and trained the group in the requirements to open a tourism business and obtain a license as an authorized rural tourism agency.
All program participants have obtained their licenses as authorized tour guides and are currently offering individual trips. They now hope to get an ICT license to operate as a travel agency, a further testament to the quality of their services.
Arias said that in addition to offering guided tours, the project seeks to support people in Talamanca in opening complementary services such as lodging and restaurants to improve the travel experience. Their main focus, he noted, is promoting a cultural experience in a natural environment.
Some of the tour guides also are taking English lessons and are practicing to improve their language skills.
“Some of them are trilingual, as their native language is Bribri. They are capable of giving a tour description in fluid Spanish, and now some of them are working to do it in English as well,” he said.
The tour agency has passed the first of two inspections required by ICT licensing regulations. The group is now preparing for the second inspection, which will take place in coming months.
“Current projections are that the agency will receive their ICT license in April,” Arias said.
See a video explanation of the project (Spanish only)
The group of tour guides group wants to launch their business a menu of 12 tours that combine the natural attractions of the Talamanca mountain range with detailed explanations of the history, culture and lifestyle of the Bribri indigenous people.
Visitors will be able to choose from tours through rivers, forests, farms and indigenous reserves, where they will experience and learn about the region’s natural resources.
Roger Blanco, vice president of the tour guides association, explained that on the cultural tour, for example, tourists will travel to an indigenous community to learn and participate in their dances and songs, and will learn basic words in the Bribri language.
They also will learn about traditional activities such as the use of a bow and arrow, indigenous farming methods, indigenous architecture, and the traditional way of life of an indigenous family.
Another tour takes travelers along forest trails where they will learn about the area’s wildlife and get an up-close look at animals and exotic plants. They will then arrive at a farm where they will hear about indigenous agriculture methods, natural food and medicinal plants.
The tour guide group is currently working with TEC experts on a website for the project, www.turismoindigenacr.com, that provides detailed information about each tour. It also will offer information about available transportation and lodging options.
The website is still under construction and is only in Spanish, but those interested in visiting Talamanca can request information about each tour through a contact form on the site. Arias said people can fill out the form in English.
Tours have an average cost of $40 per person. Prices vary according to the tour duration and the number of people taking part.
Most of the tours take less than a day to complete. Three of the 12 tours offer lodging services in case a visitor is interested in taking more than one trip. Lodging is available at hostels in three areas: Amubri, Yorkin and Shuabb.
The association provides transportation services from three nearby communities in Bribri, Bambú and Suretka. Tourists can get to these communities by car or by bus from downtown Limón; and there is bus service between the capital, San José and Bribri.
The bus trip from San José takes about five hours and costs approximately $10 each way.
See a video explainer of one of the tours (natural food/medicine):