El Camino Independiente

In Costa Rica, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the tourism industry, which makes up a substantial portion of the country’s GDP. This makes exploring how tourism can become more resilient while still expanding the economic growth of the country ever so important now and in the future. The El Camino De Costa Rica, a hiking trail developed in 2017 that goes from coast to coast, is a great example of resilient tourism in the country. For instance, it is community based, helps hikers make authentic connections with people, and is post-pandemic friendly given that there will likely be more nature-based tourism in the future. 

This project explored how we could re-imagine new experiences for people hiking the Camino in order to expand upon the already successful Camino de Costa Rica. We found that there is potential to broaden the audience of the Camino and support communities moving forward. More specifically, we found there is an opportunity to coordinate a better planning experience for independent hikers, create infrastructure for hikers and community members, and facilitate better relationships between hikers and locals. 

We created El Camino Independiente to help address these opportunities. It’s an independent hiking experience that broadens the audience of the Camino and supports the community as well. The service rests on four main components, all supporting each other. The first includes a network of community hosts who facilitate relationships with hikers and the community. The second is a web portal to help people plan for their hike, make reservations, and chat with local hosts. The hiker beacon is also important to the service because it has an SOS button, and, most importantly, lets hosts know when they are arriving. These components are all supported by the last, the long range radio network. This network allows hosts to coordinate with each other without internet or cell service and brings the former three components together.

Our service was designed with a large number of stakeholders in mind. The team interviewed 6 hikers, 2 tour operators, 3 community members, and 2 Camino employees. After completing ecosystem maps and journey maps to better understand the current experience of hikers, the team uncovered the main opportunities to design around. In the design phase of the project, the team was fortunate to be able to co-design each component with key stakeholders. These activities lead to the preliminary service design concept of El Camino Independiente.