Comunidades Intencionales

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Longo Mai

Longo Mai is a special “campesino” (farmer) community located in the southwestern part of Costa Rica. Located approximately four hours outside of San José, Longo Mai houses around 700 residents and sits on 850 hectares of land. 450 of those 850 hectares are primary and secondary tropical rainforest that the community protects. Longo Mai welcomes visitors and groups from around the world looking to learn about and engage with an authentic, sustainable, and eco-friendly way of life.

This area is known as the “Refugio de Vida Silvestre Longo Mai,” and is officially registered as a Costa Rican national conservation area. Tourist visits can range from a few days to a year and have different goals, depending on their reasons for coming. They can learn language and culture, conduct their own research, volunteer, or receive a hands-on education about the daily lives  of those who live here.  Longo Mai offers nontraditional tourism where visitors can get a unique and authentic experience inside a distinctive, environment-first community.

Longo Mai is a self-sustaining, self-governing community run for the benefit of the residents by the residents.  Legally, Costa Rica considers Longo Mai to be an association and a board of directors does paperwork with the Costa Rican government. In the view of the Longo Mai European Association, Longo Mai Costa Rica is considered an “unintentional community,” since it was originally founded for refugees instead of being designed for a group of people with common ideological or political beliefs, like European Longo Mai communities were. Citizens can join different committees, which operate independently, but frequently communicate with each other to achieve their goals.

Some committees have existed for decades while others come and go. Some of the major committees in Longo Mai include a tourism committee, which has been around the longest, a sports committee, a committee meant to protect the water quality, an education committee, and a committee called UNAPROA that is dedicated to environmental protection. The committees in Longo Mai provide a shield around the community, and almost everyone who lives here is involved in one. Many are open to all regardless of age, and tourists that stay here for extended periods frequently join committees as well.

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Longo Mai translates to “Long Life” from the Provençal language. The Longo Mai movement was founded in Switzerland in 1973 by young people of “Generation 68,” the 1968 student movement made up of youth from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and France who were looking for a better future than what postwar society offered. Today there are ten intentional communities of Longo Mai in Europe and one for refugees in Costa Rica. Longo Mai communities promote living together with agricultural self-sufficiency and self-administration.

Longo Mai in Costa Rica was founded in 1979, with the support of the United Nations, as a project to assist a region torn by civil wars. Initially, it was a refuge for those looking to escape war in Nicaragua. Later, as the national liberation movement won the war in Nicaragua, the conflict in El Salvador worsened. Within a year, most Nicaraguans returned home and more El Salvadoran refugees arrived, looking to escape violence that threatened their lives. The early families to come to Longo Mai relied on farming to survive, and ate mostly subsistence crops like cassava, beans, corn, rice, squashes, plantains and bananas.

Eventually, Longo Mai residents became self-sustaining enough to be able to plant cash crops of coffee and sugar cane. As their capacity increased, they were able to trade with other communities and become influential in the southern zone of Costa Rica. Visitors have always been a part of the community, with the first being those who had lived in European Longo Mai communities, and eventually the Costa Rican Longo Mai community began receiving visitors from all over the world.

Many who came stayed for up to a year to conduct research, volunteer, or simply to share and learn about a different, communitarian way of life. In 2004, Longo Mai was proud to win the TO DO Award for Socially Responsible Tourism, a human rights tourism award for tourism projects which significantly contribute to social and economic well-being of host communities while raising the awareness of guests.

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HappE Roberts

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