POAS, Costa Rica – Communities near Costa Rica’s Poas volcano, which since April has seen tourist visits fall off due to eruptions of gas, ash and heated rocks, are seeking to attract visitors to rejuvenate their economies.
Hotelkeepers, restaurants, adventure tourism promoters and other leisure activities have been hurt in particular by the closure of the Poas Volcano National Park.
Lisandro Barrantes, in charge of the Weaving Development program, which seeks to give an economic push to the area, told EFE that many tourists have an incorrect perception of the danger posed by the volcano, and the local communities are not being affected at all by its eruptive activity.
“Poas is not just a crater, it’s a living mountain with a lot of activities that one can do, from gastronomy with local ingredients to beautiful landscapes, hikes, waterfalls, birdwatching, culture, woodworking. It’s an area with much to offer,” Barrantes said.
Figures provided by the Poas Volcano Tourism Chamber show that each year the volcano and its environs receive more than 620,000 visitors, but – since the eruptive activity increased – those numbers have fallen off by 60 percent.
Costa Rican authorities have kept the national park in the area closed because of the eruptions, given that hot rocks have been ejected falling up to 300 meters (yards) from the crater.
The volcano itself is visited each year by some 400,000 tourists, attracted by its closeness to San Jose, its beautiful turquoise lake and its gigantic crater, which measures 350 meters deep. Once they are in the area, many of those people then take advantage of other activities nearby.
“After Holy Week, visits fell off completely. The volcano remains active, without any real problem for people. There is gas activity inside the main crater, but it’s not like that in the community, where there’s no ash, no falling rocks, and we have no problems with our crops,” said tour coordinator Diego Jimenez.
A study by Costa Rica’s Universidad Latina revealed that during the first two months that the park was closed local businesses each lost an average of $1,900 per month, and the yearly lost income for the area as a whole amounted to some $12.4 million.
Local tourist activities include fishing, rappelling, hiking, rafting, horseback riding, as well as nature viewing, birdwatching, butterfly watching and viewing monkeys, snakes, frogs and felines, among other things.
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute, along with the municipality and local businessmen, is seeking to diversify the tourism offerings to transform the zone – increasing tours of coffee cultivation areas and local livestock farms and ranches, among other things.
Tourism is one of the main engines of the Costa Rican economy, and the country contains about 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, which is one of its main attractions.