The Playa Tambor "Ecotourism" Page

FIRST a little background. One of the most notorious projects in Costa Rica's history has proved to be the Playa Tambor Hotel. Earlier this year, my publisher was forced to remove the mention of Playa Tambor from my old travel guide Adventure Guide to Costa Rica because of the letter reprinted here.

It is my plan to have this page become an interactive site on the subject of ecotourism in general. I'm also collecting opinions on the hotel and will share these without discrimination.

As you can see, I have spent a great deal of time typing in Barcelo's little missive. I want to be fair and for all voices to be heard.

The story was widely reported in the media, and my information came from reputable sources--including ASACONA, a local environmental organization. Other guidebooks (and even the conservative Conde Nast Traveler) provided similar coverage.

However, to my knowledge, I am alone in being so singled out. If the chain has nothing to hide, why did they not contact me before making legal threats?

Please read a bit more and then write me to let me know what you think. If you'd like to know what other people are saying, here are some responses.

Harry S. Pariser is the author of Explore Costa Rica and its predecessor the Adventure Guide to Costa Rica.



Mon, Jun 10, 1996

I have just returned from Costa Rica where I met with reporters for the Tico Times as well as two founders of ASCONA, the environmental organization which fought the hotel project. They showed me a video which documented trucks taking sand from the river, white sand clearly overlaid on the black beach sand, as well as the construction atop what is obviously a marsh. Their views will be incorporated into a future version of this page.

Here's my original review:

Playa Tambor Hotel: The nation's most controversial hotel project is here at Playa Tambor. On July 24, 1991, the Grupo Barcelo, a Spanish international consortium, signed a contract with the government for the construction of this $28.5 million hotel and promised to respect Costa Rican Law. After construction began in Sept. 1992, a swamp that was home to hundreds of waterfowl was completely drained, a hillside was destroyed in order to quarry the stone underneath, and over 240 truckloads of white sand were moved from Playa Punta Piedra Amarilla, and other sand was dredged from the RĠo Panica. This sand was used to cover the original black sand beach. In addition the hotel was built atop the aforementioned marsh, using fill from the destroyed hillside, and within 50 m of the beach, which is clearly prohibited by law. The hotel opened in Nov. 1992, and the hotel's sewage and garbage is now deposited in the RĠo Panica which is also illegal.

Grupo Barcelo operates 32 hotels worldwide. Since the 1970s, the hotel chain is also accused of having repeatedly violated the law in the Dominican Republic, where it owns the Bavaro Beach hotels. This is by no means the end of the Playa Tambor project. The master plan for the peninsula envisions eight hotels, luxury villas and apartments, a 500-slip marina, and golf courses. The Grupo Barcelo have also been attacked by the Coordinator of Organizations for Environmental Defense, a Spanish environmental group. Its leader, Juan Gallego, has charged the company with "19th Century labor practices" which led to the death of two workers. The chain is being taken to the nation's highest court by ASCONA, the Association for the Protection of Nature. For more information on the hotel, see the July, 1993 issue of Conde Nast Traveler. note: In 1993, the hotel announced that it would not expand from its current 100 rooms to 2,000 rooms as planned. For information regarding the current situation contact the Asociacion Abientalista y Naturalista Cuaremarpro de Montezuma, Apdo. 1126, Pavas.

Here's the letter from the hotel chain's hired legal thugs:

Susan H. Aprill


PO Box 015441

Miami, FL 33101-5441


fax 305-789-7799

Aprll 3, 1996

Hunter Publishing

239 Hobe Sound Rd.

Hobe Sound, FL 33455

Adventure Guide to Costa Rica. Second Edition


Barcelo International Corporatlon has asked this firm to communicate with you on its behalf concerning a reference to Playa Tambor Hotel in Costa Rica (the "Hotel ") in the captioned publication.

The reference to the Hotel appears at pages 333-334 (a copy is enclosed) and contains several false and defamatory statements of which appear to have been published for the specific purpose of disparaging the Hotel and its owner/developers (the "Article"). Moreover, the Article devoted to this intentional disparagement is contained in a section entitled "accommodations, " yet offers the reader little or no information about the accommodations offered by the Hotel, is misleading in its "description," and has harmed and continues to harm Barcelo in its business by imparting falsehoods which can only be intended to convince those who would read the Guide not only to avoid patronizing the Hotel, but to protest its existence Tour group have cancelled or declined booking due to the Hotel's reputation as a result of the Article.

The specific falsehoods and misleading statements contained in the Article and the truth about each in brief summary are as follows:

A The statement that Barcelo promised to respect Costa Rican Law, but implicitly did not. The construction of the Hotel was fully permitted and in compliance with then existing Costa Rican law.

BThe statement that a swamp that was home to hundreds of waterfowl was completely drained, that a hlllside was destroyed to quarry the stone underneath it, that more than 240 truckloads of white sand was moved from Playa Punta Piedra Amarilla and other sand was dredged from the Rio Panica to cover the original black sand beach are false and disparaging. In fact, no swamp ever existed at the construction site which was previously a low lying cattle grazing area with an elevation of no greater than ten feet surrounded by hills, no sand was was ever deposited over the black sand, and the only sand brought into the area was river bottom sand and gravel customarily used in construction which was completely authorized by law. No sand was ever taken from Playa Punta Piedra Amarilla at all, and no damage was ever caused the beach or existing vegetation or wild life--no trees were felled, no waterfowl destroyed and the property has, in fact, been enhanced by the addition of 2,000 to 3,000 plants.

C The statement that the Hotel was built within 50 meters of the beach in violation of applicable law is completely false and disparaging. The Article's author seems to have confused the Hotel with others that are in violatlon of the law in this regard.

D. The statement that the Hotel's sewage and garbage is deposited in the Rio Panica, also in violation of applicable law, is false and disparaging The Hotel is one of the few to have constructed its own water treatment plant No waste from the Hotel is or has even been deposited into the Rio Panlca, althouqh other properties are believed to discharge waste into the ocean.

E. The statement that Barcelo is "accused" of havlng repeatedly violated the law in the Dominican Republic with its Bavaro Beach Hotels is a false and disparaging rumor, obviously intended to poison any reader against Barcelo and its properties in general, despite the fact that no violations of law suggested in the Article have been confirmed.

F. The statement that Barcelo is presently planning to build eight hotels in the region of Playa Tambor, implicitly describing an overcrowded and environmentally unsound project, is false and disparaging.

G The statement attributed to Juan Gallego, accusing Barcelo of "19th century labor practices, " even if made by Gallego, is unfounded and demonstrates a total lack of investigation and balanced reporting by the author. While it is true that two workers were accident victims who unfortunately lost their lives durlng constructlon, th ere is no truth to the statements that archaic labor practices-- or violations of labor laws were responsible for this and it is utterly false to say that these accidents resulted in the pursuit of charges in Costa Rica's highest court. There neither is nor was any legal action concerning these accidents and the statement suggesting that legal efforts by the ASCONA concernlng the Hotel have any legal basis or have been successful is completely misleading.

As we have stated above, the foregolng statements contained in the article have caused Barcelo serious harm and continue to do so. The Article constitutes intentional interference with the business of Barcelo, is an injurious falsehood or trade libel, and is an excesssive publication intended to reach potential patrons of the hotel for an improper purpose. Barcelo demands that the publisher immediately halt distribution of the Adventure Guide until such time as the Article can be removed or concealed and recall those books whivch have been sold to libraries or others that can be identified, Barcelo further demands publiation of a corrective article which omits the false statements set forth above. Failing this or comparable action within 15 days herefrom, Barcelo will be forced to institute legal action to protect its reputation and will seek money damages and other remedies to it.


Susan H. Aprill

An update:

X-POP3-Rcpt: vudu@Radar Date: Tue, 02 Dec 1997 10:51:28 +0000 From: albert Ingalls


MIME-Version: 1.0


Subject: Barcelo

Dear Harry

you may remember me, I met with you and Leon Gonzales in San Jose about Hotel Barcelo in Playa Tambor. You asked for some photos wich we unfortunatly never sent you. We had lent these photos to manypeople and they seem to have been lost. The reason I am writing you now is that Barcelo is now starting the second phase of the hotel and using the same methods and disrespect for the laws of the country and for the nature in Tambor. He has cut a mangrove forest along the beach and is draining more swamp to reclame land suposedly to build condominiums to sell and a golf corse. It seems there are no permits for this activity and he is trying to do this so quickly that the athorities will not realize it until it is done. We have denouced him in the courts. This is a preliminary report to you this is all very new and we will send you more information if you ask for it photos.

Albert Ingalle

Well, that's it. I am asking visitors to this site to comment on both my review and the letter; you may read some of these. Please write me and give me your views. Here are some
Here's some of my thoughts on "Ecotourism" from my Adventure Guide to Costa Rica:

ecotourism or egotourism?: Sadly, many so-called "ecotourism" projects are mostly hyperbole. The government lacks any plan or direction, and there is no control over development. Former Costa Rican Tourism Minister Luis Manuel Chacon was presented an "Environmental Devil" award by Robin Wood and Pro Reginwald, two German environmental groups, at the '93 International Tourism Fair in Berlin on March 6, 1993. Chacon retaliated in the pages of Conde Nast Traveler that "those new greens, if you scratch them a little bit, the red will come out." There is considerable debate on what constitutes "ecotourism" in Costa Rica. One travel agency owner actually copyrighted the word "ecotourism" in 1983 and claims all those using it are in violation of his copyright!


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