Building and Selling a Dream in Costa Rica
Building and Selling a Dream in Costa Rica
been almost 4 years since we came to Costa Rica and a year since we opened
our luxury boutique hotel. I always wanted to own and manage my own business
and over the years I have had many entrepreneurial ideas, but the idea
of building and managing a small hotel, was always one of my favorites.
I didn’t know where I would do it, but I knew it had to be in a place other
than my home country; somewhere different, where everything is wonderfully
new and exotic, and where I could make my dream become reality.
In our quest
for the ideal place to open a hotel, we went online, to books and to friends,
and started doing research. We were considering Greece, the United States,
Spain, France, Italy and Cyprus, to name a few, but in each there was a
problem that wouldn’t allow us to realize our dream. In some countries
a foreigner can’t buy land, in others, legal immigration was basically
impossible or very difficult, and if that wasn't enough, then it was simply
too expensive for our budget.
And then my
sister-in-law and brother-in-law mentioned Costa Rica.
first came to Costa Rica 7 years ago for their honeymoon, and wanted to
buy land and move there ever since. Once we heard about Costa Rica, all
the other countries we were considering became irrelevant. Everything about
Costa Rica sounded exactly like what we were looking for – a very open
country for foreign investment, a stable and peaceful democracy, a relatively
easy language to learn (Spanish), a country whose tourism became its number
one export, a country that arguably has the best weather in the world,
and, did I mention that it is one of the most beautiful countries in the
world, with rain forests, volcanoes, beaches and prolific wildlife all
within an area smaller than the size of West Virginia?
So we decided
to come to Costa Rica and see if everything we have heard about this country
was true. It took us only a few days to realize it was even better than
what we could have imagined – we didn’t take into account how nice and
friendly the Ticos (that’s how the Costa Ricans call themselves) would
be, and how overwhelmingly beautiful and green the country was. We met
with several real estate brokers and were shown properties all over the
country, but it was actually the first property we were shown that caught
our attention and hearts. After traveling for over 3 more weeks seeing
dozens of other properties, we returned to the first property and bought
it shortly after.
the legal matters were done by a recommended local lawyer (who spoke no
English, but by then I already spoke a little Spanish and we had another
person who helped translate), who is still our lawyer and whom we consider
a dear friend (and how many people can say that about their lawyer…). By
law, any foreigner can buy and own properties in Costa Rica, as well as
establish companies (what is called a Sociedad Anonima), and all properties
are clearly and accurately registered in the National Registry (Regisrto
Nacional), to avoid any problems over property ownerships and sizes. The
immigration process took about a year, and we are now legal residents of
Costa Rica, based on investment in tourism.
was no house on the 7.5 acre property, we rented a small house in the near
by town of Puriscal. We found a local architect and started working on
the design of the hotel and our house. It was very important for us to
work only with local people and buy as much local materials as possible,
as we believe it makes all the difference in terms of the positive impact
foreigners and foreign investment can make on a country, not to mention
all the friends we have made and respect we earned from the local community.
of the first stage, which included our house (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and
a living room), the reception, the kitchen and the hotel’s dining room,
took about 8 months to finish, and a little over a year since we first
came to Costa Rica. These were very important months for us, as we tried
to be very involved in the construction, and every day was full of surprises
and new things to learn. Mastering Spanish turned out to be one of
our greatest challenges, but generally speaking it is an easy language
to learn, and we were able to communicate freely with the locals after
a few months.By the end of the first stage of the construction, I knew
my Spanish was pretty good, because I knew Spanish words related to the
construction which I don’t even know how to say in English!
our house was finished, we moved in and started planning the second stage
of the construction, which included 5 different small houses (Casitas),
each with 2 Junior Suite rooms (the hotel has a total of 10 Junior Suites),
and the pool. It was a very difficult challenge to place all the Casitas
on the property, because we wanted to position them within our mango plantation,
but without cutting any mango trees. At the end, we had to cut two trees,
but we did everything possible to protect all the other trees, including
leaving one of the mangos inside the terrace of one of the Casitas and
through its roof.
We lived in
the house while the construction of the Casitas and pool was going on and
I loved every minute of it! I am not an especially creative person, but
I found the construction and everything related to it to be a very creative
activity. By the time we built the second stage of the construction, I
already had some experience in building in Costa Rica, so I was “smarter”
and the construction went more smoothly than the first stage. Even so,
the Casitas and pool took about 9 months to build, and it took us 3 more
months after that to finish all the details in the rooms and the landscaping
and to be able to officially open the hotel for guests. We wanted to create
a boutique hotel that combines the personal services found in exclusive
Bed and Breakfasts with the luxury and amenities found in luxury hotels.
Junior Suite has a private bath with a Jacuzzi for two, as well as Satellite
TV, DVD player and a refrigerator, to name a few things. Our food is excellent
and is a combination of home cooking and gourmet world cuisine. All and
all it took us about 2.5 years from the time we first came to Costa Rica
until we opened the hotel.
hotel has been open for only less than a year, we have already established
professional relationships with some of the best travel agencies in Costa
Rica and abroad, we already appear in the new editions of 2 guide books
to Costa Rica (Moon handbook and The New Key to Costa Rica), we
have had several articles written about us in local and international newspapers,
and our unparalleled reputation is growing by the minute on online travel
message boards (for example Fodor’s online) and by word of mouth.
In the last
4 years, we became, what our local friends like to call, “medio Ticos”
(=half Costa Ricans). Although we have not adopted the very common custom
of eating rice and beans 3 times a day (like most Ticos do!), we have embraced
many other aspects of the Tico life style, and mainly that of living the
Pura Vida (=pure life, a popular expression that means the desire to live
an easy, hassle-free life).
We wake up
naturally every day at 5:15 in the morning, to walk the dogs and welcome
the workers (the work day in the “campo,” the country side, starts at 6:00AM).
The hour between 6:00AM and 7:00AM is my favorite time of the day, when
the sun is still low and the shades of green of the mountains seen from
the balcony are spectacular. Two kinds of toucans can usually be seen early
in the morning from the balcony as well. By the time the guests come up
for breakfast, we usually already get a great deal of our daily activity
done and we are free to serve the guests and try to make their vacation
as wonderful as possible. During the mornings I usually take care of reservations
and emails, and my spouse, who is an artist, works on his art.
By late afternoon,
the guests who went on day trips (we are located at a convenient distance
to some of Costa Rica’s most famous attractions) or new guests that
check in, arrive back at the hotel, and we prepare for our family style
dinner, which we usually try and join the guests for. Most guests are tired
pretty early from all their activities, and so are we, and it is not uncommon
for us to go to sleep as early as 9:00PM.
All our employees
are from the near by village of San Pablo de Turrubares, and most of them
are women, who never worked for a salary before. We became very close to
our employees, and we are very involved in their lives and the life of
the community in San Pablo. We try to help as much as we can in many ways
– empowering our workers, giving small loans, teaching English, free art
classes for children in the local school, donating money and other things
to schools and local fund raisers etc. These are all small things for us,
and they really do make a difference in the lives of the community. When
we first came we thought we would perhaps make an impact on the community,
but we didn’t imagine the wonderful impact our employees and community
would have on us.
We are now
interested in selling the hotel, as we are a young couple and we are ready
to move on to our next adventure – starting a family. We would like to
do that closer to our extended family and we believe it will be very difficult
to run the hotel with small children running around. We love the hotel
dearly, and also the life we have created for ourselves here, and it will
be harder than we care to imagine to leave our dream and our friends, but
we are sure there are other couples who would love to make the hotel their
home, run it themselves and experience the wonderful and fulfilling life
that Costa Rica has to offer. As every single one of our guests will testify,
this is a truly unique place, and we know of no other such property in
Costa Rica, for sale or otherwise.