By Shannon Farley
Four years in the making and now marking 10 years of operations, Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure Park in Costa Rica celebrates its hard-won success on its 10th anniversary in July 2018.
Veragua’s world-class facilities, breathtaking natural beauty, and international recognition in conservation and scientific research have made the rainforest park a top tourist attraction in Costa Rica and Central America.
Its remote yet easily accessible location on a 200-acre (77 hectares) private rainforest reserve in the central Caribbean mountains, less than an hour from the coast, makes it one of the most popular shore excursions for cruise line passengers docking in the Port of Limon.
Veragua Rainforest borders the spectacular La Amistad International Park – the largest nature reserve in Central America – which contributes to the abundant wildlife in the area. Scientists come from around the world to Veragua’s research center to study the amphibians, reptiles, mammals, insects and birds found in the surrounding tropical forest.
Veragua’s list of achievements is prolific and filled with important milestones. From its inauguration on July 4, 2008 by Nobel-laureate and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, to its multiple awards won over the years, notable scientific discoveries, growth in educational groups and strategic alliances with international conservation associations, Veragua Rainforest has earned its status as a major player in Costa Rica’s world-renowned ecotourism industry.
“Veragua Rainforest has helped strengthen the Port of Limon’s appeal as a cruise destination. And it has become a respected research and environmental education destination over the years. It serves as a solid base to draw further attention to tourism and research in Limon,” said Veragua co-owner Marti Jimenez.
“We have all of the top activities that people enjoy in Costa Rica all in one location: hiking trails through rainforest, a river with waterfalls, wildlife exhibits, science labs, an aerial tram and a canopy zip line tour,” added Jimenez. “Plus, nearly the entire park is wheelchair accessible and is designed to be safe and simple for all ages to get around.”
Veragua began with a dream of uniting conservation and business
Jimenez and fellow young Costa Rican entrepreneur, Felipe Koberg, started Veragua Rainforest in 2004. A few months later, their friend Eric Fullmer joined the endeavor (and eventually other friends and investors). They believed in conservation and business, and decided to create a top nature tourism attraction with world-class service but with a very low environmental impact. They bet on the province of Limon, a historically poor region in the country, with the goal of promoting tourism and transforming the area into a leading destination in the Caribbean. The community where the land was initially leased was rural and mostly dedicated to subsistence farming and logging.
“The economic impact and cultural exchange that Veragua Rainforest has brought to the area is invaluable. In an area historically dedicated to selective logging and often frequented by hunters, Veragua Rainforest emerged with the clear idea that it is better to ‘sell’ a tree many times without having to cut it, and instead of selling it only once,” said Daniel Torres, Veragua Site Manager.
Within two miles of Veragua Rainforest are the two tiny communities of Brisas de Veragua de Limon and Union of the Peje River. From the beginning, Veragua founders worked with local residents to create jobs, teach them to protect their resources, and help support education in local schools.
“Besides investing in scientific research, producing around 80 direct jobs and educating thousands of tourists who visit us every year, we have become an important pillar for the community and a source of pride for those who are part of this company,” said Torres. “It is incredible to see a former hunter become a protector of nature; to serve as a source of employment for many villagers who have used their income to build a house or educate their family; and also to help neighboring schools and nearby communities.”
Veragua fulfills 10 years through perseverance and dedication
Like all businesses, Veragua Rainforest has had its ups and downs throughout the years. Only two months after its grand opening, the peak of the 2008 financial crisis hit in the U.S., leading to a global economic downturn. Costa Rica’s tourism industry, at the time highly dependent on the U.S. market, drastically slowed in recession.
“Reaching our 10-year mark at Veragua highlights the essence of perseverance and the entrepreneurial spirit in business,” noted Jimenez. “It took four years for us to go from concept to opening. Then, right when we were getting started, we faced a 60 percent reduction in cruise ship passengers and came to the brink of closing in 2012, only to reemerge restructured and renewed.”
Jimenez and Torres say it is their team’s dedication that made the difference for their success over these 10 years, and which will give them sustainability for the future.
“It has taken a lot of effort, critical decisions taken at crucial moments, and always giving the best of all of us who are part of this organization so that our clients always enjoy the best experience through friendly and excellent service,” said Torres.
“The moments when I perceive a sense of belonging from staff members are what give me the ultimate feeling of accomplishment,” said Jimenez. “Whether they are authentically bonding at a company event, playing a table foosball match at night in Veragua, helping out at the local schools, working tirelessly during a long day-turned-into-night at the port, on the road, in the office, or in the park with no need for approval but rather to make the team and company succeed…. I notice those things and I think to myself: ‘Wow, we have really created something special and sustainable here’.”