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Off Hours: Three Latin American Countries Going Eco-Friendly

Finding eco-friendly highlights when you travel around Latin America is easy. From the local farmers selling their organic goods on the side of the road to the purpose-built green spaces in places like Mexico City, Latin America has a wealth of options.

The eco-friendly movement is about preserving nature, minimising the negative impact of humanity on the Earth, and improving humankind’s health. Whatever side of the climate change debate you are on, it is clear that finding less-destructive ways to live, play and work can only benefit humanity and the world.

Here are three Latin American countries that are working to ensure that they move their country to more sustainable models and protect the beauty of their environment.

Costa Rica

Forests filled with monkeys or some of the most picturesque beaches in the world may be the picture-postcard vision of Costa Rica that brings tourists to its shores every year, but the Central American country has significant green credentials and is working hard to improve them every year.

Most of their energy comes from hydro power or wind. In 2010 Costa Rica won the Future Policy award for spearheading the legal protection of their natural wealth. In 2015, the Costa Rican government managed to generate all of the energy for the nation through renewable sources — at least for the first 75 days.

The policy was drawn up to protect not only their natural resources but also their people. The goal is to create an environment where energy is renewable, where traditional knowledge from indigenous people is preserved and protected, and the rights of all their people are upheld.

A mix of renewable energy sources – from geothermal, wind and solar to biomass – means that Costa Rica has taken center stage in the drive to achieve independence from fossil fuels. As one of the most developed countries in Latin America, it benefits from the advantages of its tropical climate with significant rainfall, low population and low industrial base, all of which makes the use of renewable energy more practical.

The World Energy Council ranks Costa Rica 19th (2014) on its Energy Trilemma Index, which ranks countries on the basis of energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability.

Tourism also has a role to play in maintaining, Costa Rica’s environmentally-savvy track-record. If you are looking for an eco-friendly place to stay in Costa Rica, maintains a good list.


For Brazil, the beaches of Rio and the Iguazu falls in the South are notable photo opportunities. With a massive area of natural wonder in the Amazon and all the rivers and dams which belong to it, Brazil has held true to using this power to create a more sustainable environment.

Brazilians have taken the environmental cause to heart. A recent National Geographic survey, the Greendex, ranked Brazil fourth out of 18 countries in terms of its citizens’ concern for the environment. Interestingly, Americans were ranked last.

IguazuGovernment initiatives have echoed consumer concern and there are increasing projects delving into renewable energy. Trailing behind Costa Rica, Brazil is ranked 30th on the World Energy Council’s Energy Trilemma Index.

Their hydro electrical projects have created one of the biggest hydro electrical plants in the world, The Itapu, on their borders of Paraguay and Argentina. This power plant generates most of Brazil’s energy and also provides water for irrigation and drinking.

All is not rosy, however, as the realities of climate change loom over it, and droughts could impede the success of this energy. With this realization Brazil has created a new plan and is putting in methods to harness solar power, thus curbing the reliance on one form of energy.

Photo of Curitiba by Augusto Janiscki Junior
Photo of Curitiba by Augusto Janiscki Junior

Curitiba, Brazil’s lesser known gem, has claimed its title as the greenest city in the world because of its park structure. With more than 52 square meters of green space per capita, Curitiba is living up to environmental ideals, while offering its residents excellent quality of life.

Using its river as the mould onto which to lay each park, it has kept the natural landscape intact. The city has also set up a creative way for the inhabitants to help keep it clean by allowing for the exchange of bus tokens and fresh food for trash. As a result of such initiatives, 70 percent of the garbage in Curitiba is recycled.

The private sector is also getting in on the eco-friendly activities. A report in the Guardian noted that “Brazilian companies are spending more on social and environmental initiatives than most other countries, including the UK and Canada.”

To help Brazil’s environmental campaign, visitors can choose to stay in eco-friendly resorts like the Ariau Amazon Towers Treetop Hotel in Manaus. The International Ecotourism Society provides details of ecotourism destinations in Brazil.


For years people having been moving ‘off grid’ and creating eco-villages around the world to live in. These villages not only create a sustainable environment, they also create a different way of life.

Throughout Mexico this has become a trend with with those looking for alternative ways to live. These eco-friendly villages have created their own version of sustainable pods,where people harness solar power for electricity, use and reuse water in new ways, and have changed their habits to solve their daily needs in a more sustainable manner. The Rancho Amigo Eco-Village in Lake Cajon de Peña, in Tomatlàn, Jalisco, is just one example of this phenomenon.

The Comun Terria Project was founded by Leticia Regatti and Ryan Luckey, who have taken off on a journey from Mexico to Argentina to explore the area and search for more sustainable ways to live. Their project has created a resource list of Eco-friendly farms and co-habitats in Mexico and beyond. Their list and map attached shows you the pockets of people working together to create this sustainable environment.

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With an historic reputation as being one of the most polluted cites in the world, Mexico City is demonstrating that it is possible to turn things around. Just three years after launching its Plan Verde (Green Plan), Mexico City was ranked first in environmental governance in the 2010 Siemens Green City Index for Latin America. The Plan Verde has been particularly applauded for its Hoy No Circula (Today Don’t Drive)  and Muevete en Bici (Get on your Bike) programs.

The Index report noted that the higher ranking was “thanks to robust environmental monitoring, the wide remit of its environmental department and a high level of public participation. The city ranks above average in the categories of energy and CO2, land use and buildings, and transport.”

While other cities in Latin America rank higher overall than Mexico City, it is significant that the city has made such noticeable strides in addressing its environmental footprint.

In a world where it is easy to just adhere to old practices, it is comforting to know that some countries are striving to create a better model for future generations. There are many other examples of eco-friendly initiatives throughout Latin America. So keep your eye out while traveling through the region and you may spot a new eco-development that could change the world.

Pravina Chetty

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