Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2012

Capstone Advisor

Professor Steve Brechin

Honors Reader

Professor Gretchen Purser

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Regional Sociology | Sociology | Tourism | Work, Economy and Organizations


This paper explores a community-based ecotourism initiative called La Tortuga Feliz, in Pacuare Beach, Costa Rica. This organization founded and run by Western expatriates using a conservation approach provides benefits to the local community while meaningfully involving them in the process.

My research included an extensive literature review, informal and formal interviews as well as participant observation for one month on-site. The objective was to understand what it means to empower and involve local communities in a meaningful way in community-based ecotourism projects.

I will argue that La Tortuga Feliz, although facilitating some benefits to the community, also disempowers the local community, unable to satisfy the community’s need of autonomy and equity. The administration has a superiority complex, does not appropriately communicate, and does not trust the community, resulting in overall dissatisfaction.

Although La Tortuga Feliz faces some challenges, they do not appropriately address these challenges. These challenges include a lack of social and human capital, lack of funding, lack of administrative skill and the right attitude as well as failure to adequately address cultural differences.

Community development work is difficult. Fortunately, with the right attitude and knowledge, we can understand what successful community empowerment entails.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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