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How one Costa Rican non-profit responded to the tourism crisis

June 30, 2020

We’ve told you about Camino de Costa Rica, a 280-km hike from Costa Rica’s Atlantic to its Pacific coast. 

Reader Garry Wallace, who completed the Camino de Costa Rica last year, shares an update about how the pandemic has impacted rural tourism.

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It’s heartwarming to realize that even in these difficult and isolating times, there are those who are focused on helping their fellow man and continue to think about the long-term prospects of our country and the wellbeing of its peoples.

Mar a Mar is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is increasing tourism exposure and revenues in Costa Rica through promotion and development of El Camino de Costa Rica, a hiking trail which stretches 280 km from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s a true hikers’ delight for both domestic and international tourists.

Mar a Mar began their efforts to develop El Camino in 2016, and their efforts were really beginning to pay off. Hundreds of hikers were booked to walk all or part of El Camino in 2020.  International recognition in periodicals and newspapers was growing. The team of Tico tour operators supporting El Camino was growing.

2020 was to be the year El Camino exploded on the world-hiking scene. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything came to a grinding halt.

Mar a Mar refused to throw up their hands in defeat. They saw the pandemic as an opportunity to help the dozens of small entrepreneurs and families who shelter and feed the hikers along El Camino and improve their offerings for El Camino hikers.

To begin this process, proposals for improvements to accommodations were requested. Then, Mar a Mar raised $9,000 in just three weeks (from generous supporters such as Fundación Horizontes) and got that money into the hands of Camino supporting businesses in just one month. Eighteen locations across the country were selected by committee to receive $500 each for materials only.

“The donation from Mar a Mar during the Covid lockdown allowed us to move forward on constructing a spacious disability-enabled bathroom which increased our ability to accommodate large groups, people with special needs and to meet more stringent Covid requirements by providing better hygiene options.”

– Gustavo Castro-Peinador, Scientific Director, Ave Sol River Sanctuary

The variety of projects in different locations across the country reflected the needs of these small businesses in developing their tourism service or product. From building “glamping” sites for hikers to stay in overnight to rain-collection systems, from meeting stricter health guidelines to improving bathroom facilities and much, much more. As each location supplied its own labor, it meant that every dollar raised and spent went directly into making the hikers’ experiences better, more enjoyable or safer.

“The assistance from Mar a Mar gives us back the strength that we are not stopping for good because of Covid, we are just preparing for the comeback.”

– Felicia Echeverria, Owner, Finca El Casquillo

Mar a Mar has always focused on providing income and employment for the parts of Costa Rica not blessed with golden beaches. With this project (Programa Donaciones COVID), they hit a home run. The program improved the offerings of 18 small shelters across the country, will increase international tourism to Costa Rica in the long run and will give the hikers who undertake this challenge a better experience. Win/win/win — what more could you ask for?

“Still reeling from the onset of the pandemic global shutdown, we came up with the idea of a program that would: help out our Camino partners now, when it was needed most and build hope for the future.”

– Conchita Espino, Executive Director of Mar a Mar Association

For more information about El Camino de Costa Rica or the Mar a Mar association, visit: Caminodecostarica.org

Garry Wallace is a managing partner at Serenity Boutique Hotel in Quepos, Puntarenas.  Learn more at www.serenityhotelcostarica.com

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