Tourism in Costa Rica is one of the fastest growing economic sectors of the country and by 1995 became the largest foreign exchange earner. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined. The tourism boom began in 1987, with the number of visitors up from 329,000 in 1988, through 1.03 million in 1999, to a historical record of 2.52 million foreign visitors in 2014. Tourism contributed to a reduction in poverty of 3% in the country
Since the late 1980s Costa Rica became a popular nature travel destination, and its main competitive advantage is its well-established system of national parks and protected areas, covering around 23.4% of the country’s land area, the largest in the world as a percentage of the country’s territory, and home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, in a country that has only 0.03% of the world’s landmass, but that is estimated to contain 5% of the world’s biodiversity. The country also has plenty of beaches, both in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, within short travel distances, and also several volcanoes that can be visited with safety.
Costa Rica was included in both the 2011 and 2012 lists of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations. This is an annual ranking produced by Ethical Traveler magazine, which is based on a study of developing nations from around the world to identify the best tourism destinations among them. The benchmarking uses categories such as environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights.
Most of the main attractions are nature related, a combination of ecotourism with leisure and adventure activities: sun, sea and sand (55%); flora and wildlife watching (44%); visiting volcanoes (43%); trekking (41%); bird watching (30%); canopy tours (26%);bungee jumping from bridges (11%); surfing (11%); snorkeling (10%); and rafting (7%). Cultural activities such as visiting museums, art galleries and theaters corresponds to 11%, and business travel corresponds to 17%.