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Lokal Travel: Connecting conscious travelers with unique local experiences

“In a remote and lush corner of southern Costa Rica lies a realm of giant trees, potbellied spider monkeys, harpy eagles, prowling jaguars and herds of white-lipped peccary. This is on the last places on Earth where virgin rainforest grows right to the high tide line, and a visitor might walk for hours – or days – along its isolated coast without meeting a single person. This the Osa Peninsula and there is no other place in the world like it.” – Trond Larsen, Osa: Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea

Quietly pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area. However, recent plans to open up an international airport threaten the very beauty, uniqueness and ecological diversity of this place both to its inhabitants and its flora and fauna. Sadly, as little as only 5% of all revenue made on tourism goes back into the local community and the rest goes into other hands.

It is here where conservationist and filmmaker Eytan Elterman and his good friend photographer Marco Bollinger lived for five months to produce the award-winning documentary “2.5 %  – The Osa Peninsula” that would change the course of their lives and inspire them to create Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based tourism in remote places around the world.

It all began in early 2011 when Eytan read an article about the plans to build an international airport in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Both Eytan and Marco were deeply inspired by their years of traveling and their passion for engaging with diverse cultures and they wanted to combine their vision of responsible, conscious travel with their expertise in powerful visual storytelling. The story about the building of an airport in the Osa Peninsula greatly piqued their interest.

Eytan and Marco had been working together as the founders of iSeeiTravela boutique travel media firm producing brand-building documentary content to showcase local experiences, inspire sustainable travel and highlight unique destinations and conservation. Yet they wanted to do something different and on their own. They moved to the Costa Rica and spent five months living in the Osa Peninsula learning about the unique issues of this area and eventually producing their beautiful documentary film 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula.

Unspoiled coasline in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

Unspoiled coastline in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

The film 2.5% is a documentary and photojournalism project that examines and addresses the issues that over-development and mass tourism may bring to the Osa Peninsula while also presenting a new model of sustainable and responsible tourism that may help Costa Rica’s poorest region survive. The filmmakers follow a single mother who mines for gold for a living and an ex-hunter who now leads wildlife treks on his rainforest property as they launch their rural community tourism projects. To better understand the negative impacts of rapid tourism development, the film also visits the well-known Guanacaste in the Northern province, home to Costa Rica’s second international airport. The construction of the airport 20 years ago, has fueled massive growth in foreign investment and real estate development in Guanacaste. Yet sadly a lot of the money does not go back to the local population and the region now has significantly changed.

The film raises awareness about the negative impacts of big tourism, promotes greater cross-cultural engagement, and inspires conscious travel. It also promotes the importance of protecting and conserving this pristine, undeveloped area by having the local community build sustainable incomes from rural tourism opportunities.

One of the many colors found in Costa Rica's biodiverse rain forests. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

One of the many colors found in Costa Rica’s biodiverse rain forests.

It was during the filming of this project that Eytan and Marco realized how many inspiring local people there were in the community that were turning to tourism to boost incomes, conserve land and protect their cultural heritage and the enormous potential this had to help.

Right before their eyes, there existed an incredible opportunity to market a new model of rural tourism that would provide an answer to the current lack of economic options facing Osa’s rural communities, incentivize local land owner retention, and attract environmentally and socially conscious travelers. It is, in the words of many Costa Rican experts a great strategy for tourism development and conservation.

Eytan and Marco returned to the US and launched Lokal Travel, together with their partners Paul Erickson (programming guru) and Dave Koken, who had years of experience working in microfinance for non-profit Kiva and was equally as passionate about promoting rural and local travel opportunities. Combining Dave’s expertise, knowledge and experience in Asia with Eytan and Marco’s passion for Costa Rica and other Central American countries, Lokal Travel represents a unique kind of travel opportunity to experience local life in untouched, remote and rural areas around the world. Places that most travelers would never ever dream of experiencing and a much needed income to preserve a way of life.

A little over a year old, Lokal Travel handpicks adventures that offer a genuine chance to experience local life. For example, you can canoe through a private lagoon in the Costa Rican rainforest or learn a traditional Cambodian musical instrument from a local master or staying in a handcrafted eco lodge with the Lisu Hill Tribe of northern Thailand. Lokal’s  growing network of local partners and trusted communities offer one-of-a-kind experiences. To explore all experiences, click here.

Lokal Co-Founder Dave Koken embarking on a traditional 'ox cart' ride through the community of Cedral in the highlands of Southern Costa Rica. Cedral offers hiking, visits to an indigenous cemetery, waterfalls, tours of their coffee plantation and coffee roasting factory, and overnight accommodations in a guesthouse.

Led by rural tourism entrepreneur Froilan Diaz, Lokal Co-Founder Dave Koken embarking on a traditional ‘ox cart’ ride through the community of Cedral in the highlands of Southern Costa Rica. Cedral offers hiking, visits to an indigenous cemetery, waterfalls, tours of their coffee plantation and coffee roasting factory, and overnight accommodations in a guesthouse.

Rural tourism entrepreneur Johnny Rodriguez demonstrates the process of turning sugar cane into candy in Rancho Quemado, Costa Rica.

Rural tourism entrepreneur Johnny Rodriguez demonstrates the process of turning sugar cane into candy in Rancho Quemado, Costa Rica.

All trips work to support local communities by putting money directly into the hands of locals and supporting work to preserve natural and cultural heritage. Generally, only 5% of money spent by tourism around the world goes back into local hands however with Lokal Travel 80% of the money is reinvested back into the community. It is a fantastic way to promote sustainable, responsible travel.

Lokal Co-Founders Eytan Elterman and Dave Koken share a meal at the Nacientes Palmichal rural tourism project in central Costa Rica. Nacientes Palmichal offers local lodging options, cooking classes, hiking, and farm visits/cow milking lessons.

Lokal Co-Founders Eytan Elterman and Dave Koken share a meal at the Nacientes Palmichal rural tourism project in central Costa Rica. Nacientes Palmichal offers local lodging options, cooking classes, hiking, and farm visits/cow milking lessons.

Sample Lokal Trip: 3 Day Cerro Escondido Jungle Lodge, Birdwatching and Hiking Adventure – Off the beaten path

Cerro Escondido, which translates to “Hidden Hill,” is located in the heart of the Karen Mogenson Wildlife Refuge. The Reserve measures 900 hectares and protects one the richest ecological zones of the peninsula. Enjoy the majesty of the reserve from the relaxing comfort of one of the lodge’s hammocks.

Activities include seeing flora and fauna, meeting members of the community, exploring the beauty of the landscape and swimming in the crystal-clear water of the “Velo de Novia” waterfall. This reserve represents the source of most of the rivers of the Nicoya peninsula.

1073: Lokal Co-Founder Eytan Elterman talking with rural tourism entrepreneur Juan Cubillo in Rancho Quemado Costa Rica. Cubillo offer artisanal gold mining tours in the rainforest.

Lokal Co-Founder Eytan Elterman talking with rural tourism entrepreneur Juan Cubillo in Rancho Quemado Costa Rica. Cubillo offer artisanal gold mining tours in the rainforest.

Sample Lokal trip: Three Days Eco lodge, Wildlife Viewing and Corcovado Hike

Stay in an ocean-front tent cabins and take a spectacular hike into Corcovado National Park with a local, naturalist guide. Located on a pristine stretch of the Pacific Coast and only steps from the national park, La Leona Lodge is a great place for nature lovers to relax and experience Costa Rica’s rainforests and fascinating wildlife.

The lodge helps maintain this unique place by applying sustainable practices, reducing environmental impacts, considering social responsibilities, and conserving local cultural values. All activities and facilities are designed for considering the environment and for offering amazing comfort to guests.

48A8498: Lokal Co-Founders Eytan Elterman and Marco Bollinger with Finca La Tarde owner Eduardo Castro in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Finca La Tarde offers hundreds of acres of hiking, Costa Rica's largest fig tree, and a gorgeous river to swim in.

Lokal Co-Founders Eytan Elterman and Marco Bollinger with Finca La Tarde owner Eduardo Castro in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Finca La Tarde offers hundreds of acres of hiking, Costa Rica’s largest fig tree, and a gorgeous river to swim in.

Sample Lokal Travel trip: 2 Day Lisu Lodge Adventure – Farm visit, rafting and Eco Lodge outside of Chiang Mai, Thaliand

Your adventure will begin with a cycling tour in a scenic countryside of Chiang Mai. Stop at an organic tea plantation to discover how tea is grown, processed and transformed in a traditional way from tea leaves to tea cups. Then, enjoy white water rafting and a picnic lunch. The tour also includes a visit to an Akha village where you will have a chance to chat with the village shaman. Stay overnight at Lisu Lodge where your Lisu hill tribe hosts will make sure you have a good night sleep.

As Lokal’s motto says “Travel Further. Book unique local adventures and cultural experiences around the world”.I couldn’t agree more. As the world becomes a smaller place and more destinations are becoming overwhelmed with tourism, it has become more difficult to truly experience the real thing: The culture, nature and beauty of a place that makes it special and unique. Thanks to Lokal Travel, now you have the chance.

To learn more, you can visit Lokal Travel’s website here. I was able to watch a screening of the documentary 2.5% and interview Eytan for this article. 2.5% has not been released to the public yet but stay tuned. Eytan and Marco are aiming to launch the film publicly by the end of 2016. To see the trailer, you can watch it here: 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula Documentary Trailer from Lokal Media on Vimeo.

Worth a read: “The Magic of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

17 comments

  1. What a beautiful place and wonderful work, Nicole. Our older daughter and I spend five days in Costa Rica and had a marvelous time (not in this place, though.) Have to go back again, I guess. 🙂

    janet

  2. I’m so impressed with these guys, and thrilled to find out about them. We’re hoping to go to Costa Rica over the winter so I think we very well may do one of their trips there.
    Alison

  3. Nothing beats traveling and seeing a place like the locals do. Love it. Such a brilliant way of promoting sustainable travel, thanks Nicole for enlightening us.

  4. Nicole as you know I have been mulling about the impact of tourism for some time but especially since our trip to Peru. It left me unsettled. So fascinating to read what is being done in Costa Rica. Sustainable travel is more here than a catchy phrase.

    • Yes the more we travel and see things the more we realize how much things should be preserved. I wasn’t as aware of it until I started really thinking hard about the issues and reading more.

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