I dream of building a surf hostel in Central America
How I fell in love...
A little about me...
When I started surfing I had no idea how hooked I would be after that first wave. I am a lifeguard /swim instructor /water aerobics instructor. During my youth I competitively swam and played waterpolo. I have always been involved in the outdoors and especially with regards to anything water related such as: wakeboarding, kyacking, canoing and more. Furthermore, I am an experienced snowboarder and have been living close to some of the worlds best ski resorts my whole life. Surfing was a natural fit for me, it seemed to combine all of my interests, including beach-going and a laid back lifestyle. However, due to the fact that I hail from the non-wavy West Coast of Vancouver, Canada, I was 24 when I tried it for the first time.
Tamarindo: Costa Rica
My love affair with surfing began in 2011 with my first trip to Witches Rock Surf Camp with my best friend. We had a blast. Tamarindo is a great party town with some amazing surf out front and on the nearby beaches of Playa Avallanas and Playa Grande. I think what struck me most about Costa Rica was the Pura Vida lifestyle, which reminds me a lot of Hakunamatata from the Lion King. Pura Vida, Pure Life, No Worries. I made friends with the local surfers and tried to keep up with them in the water. Due to my swimming and snowboarding background I picked it up rather quickly. It also helps that I am not afraid of the water, well...most of the time.
I enjoyed myself so much that a couple months later that year I was back again to surf with my newly aquired Tico friends. On my next trip down to Central America, I plan to travel down the coast of Costa Rica and into Panama and Nicaragua to locate the perfect up and coming beach town in which to invest.
I have done a couple big trips abroad with friends, siblings and by myself. I would love to travel more extensively around the world. I have been to Thailand (once) and Costa Rica (twice - once alone). I am a big fan of off the map travelling. Pre-packaged tours and all-inclusives do not offer that same ability to network and meet other like-minded travellers and locals. The owners and people running the hostels always seem to be in good spirits. It is the sort of job that I could see myself really enjoying.
Based primarily on hostels I have visited and internet research I have compiled a list of things that I think would make up my dream hostel:
1) LOCATION! I would rather stay somewhere close than have to worry about transit or long walks to my destination. If I were looking for a location for a surf hostel I would want to be right on the beach, in front of some good waves. There is nothing like sitting at a table in the restaurant area of your hotel/hostel watching the waves until the conditions are calling your name. Being close to bars and shops is also a consideration but I am primarily concerned with finding beachfront and I may have to go off the beaten track to afford that!
2) SECURITY. Good Lockers with enough space for laptops, cameras and big backpacks. Lockers with their power bars inside is also a nice touch. That way you can charge your expensive electronics while keeping them locked. Depending on the area of Central America, hiring security guards to patrol the premisis might also be necessary. If possible it may be nice to use key card system (more expensive short term but no worrying about lost keys and harder to break in). A secure storage space is also nice for people to use after check out and before heading to the airport or their next destination.
3) ATMOSPHERE. Good hostels must have a 24 hour party space (I am thinking a beach bar, removed from the sleeping quarters). A bar or restaurant within the hostel is also a plus as it allows for people to mingle with others staying at the hostel. A lot of hostels have murals and other interesting atmospheric touches that add to the appeal of staying there.
4) KITCHEN. Having a kitchen available is often a requirement for many budget travellers who would rather buy their own groceries and make their food. The only problem with doing this is depending on where I purchase my off the map beachfront, there may not be any grocery stores around for my clients to buy their own food.
5) TRAVEL ADVICE OR RECOMMENDATIONS. It is nice if hostels/hotels help people figure out their next destination and aid in the arrangement of shuttles or trips to local sights. Having a poster board of local activities or group trips to local surf breaks makes your clients vacation hassle free.
6) DIFFERENT PRICE OPTIONS. Often hostels are only group dorms. Sometimes they offer private rooms. I would like to have a range of price options: cheaping it for somewhere around $10 a night in a shared dorm, 2-3 person group rooms with bathrooms for $30-$50 and private villas that rent with a full kitchen and bathroom for $80-100 (or cheaper with monthly rates).
7) SURF LESSONS and BOARD RENTALS. Good instructors with excellent local knowledge of the surf in that area. Group trips to other breaks (by boat or truck). Packages for staying and taking lessons and board rentals etc.
8) ENTERTAINMENT. Movie nights, local talent, a couple guitars lying around for people to play, music/dj, bookshelves, bar/dance floor. Proximity to local hot spots is also nice.
9) RETAIL STORE. To sell basics such as sunscreen, bug spray, sun hats, surf wax and towels. It is nice to create some t-shirts, stickers, and other items to advertise your surf camp when your clients want a souviner. There should also be a small selection of bikinis, boardies, rash guards and surf boards available.
Where in Central America:
If you are a surfer with knowledge of these areas that could help me narrow down the regions that I am currently interested in that would be great. For the most part I am focusing on the small stretch of coast in the Rivas Province, Nicaragua between the Pacific and Lake Nicaragua. Due to the fact that the lake is there, this area has the most consistent conditions with winds blowing offshore most of the year. As a result of these ideal conditions, there is a concentration of the countries best surf spots in that South West corner of Nicaragua.
The most popular surf town in this area is San Juan Del Sur. Although the surf culture, development, nightlife, and tourist appeal of this area far exceeds other places, the surf out front leaves a bit to be desired. I think the best area would be close to but not in San Juan Del Sur, like Playa Maderas or Playa Colorado. My goal is beach front in this area somewhere - the waves and price will determine where.
Aside from that I am extremely interested in Costa Rica because I feel that it is a more secure investment and the country offers better health care and other considerations. I have also been there and I know that I like the country. However, I think much of this Costa Rica has been sold and the prices continue to be out of my reach. I really loved the Tamarindo area but would rather invest outside of the town on one of the bordering beaches like Avallanas or something less developed with a good consistent wave.
The Pavones area is a part of Costa Rica that is more jungle and less development and may still offer some less expensive beachfront. It has some amazing surfing and one of the longest waves in the world.
I would have to travel more extensively throughout Central America and talk to locals about property for sale that I can not locate through Google. If anyone has advice on this process of selecting property I would be interested!
So, how do I make this dream a reality?
Honestly, I have no idea. My parents would never invest in such a wild idea. I have little money to do much on my own - most of it has been spent travelling. I have been researching the idea of a small buisnuess loan or mortgage but it seems difficult to aquire one in Canada for property abroad.
The idea of purchasing real estate in a politically unstable country like Nicaragua is kind of scary (especially since i am a property virgin). What if all the rumours of corruption are true and I get swindled out of all my money? However, if I could just come up with a 30% down payment for the property it may be possible to get a foreign investment loan. After securing funding, I would just have to do my homework and make sure that the land is titled and there are no outstanding land claims to the property. It is also important to get myself a good local lawyer (ideally someone who speaks both spanish and english and can translate for me).
But then, I have to worry about the question of emigrating and gaining citizenship which is no doubt an expensive endevor. I ask myself, is this really possible all by myself? I do not want to be 60 years old and finally getting my surfside lot. I want to aquire this dream while I am still young and fit enough to live it.
Have you done it?
So I pose this to those reading my post who have been in my position and took the leap into the unknown - is it worth it? I have a good life here in Canada and could likely get holidays once a year where I could fly off to different destinations to stay for a vacay. It is a much more secure life, and the idea of plunging into the tourism industry with no work experience is daunting. It would involve the spending of all my hard earned money and likely money that I do not even have yet.
Is it worth the risk to have the chance at a life by the beach where I get to surf every day? If so, what is your advice? How much money should I raise prior to buying? What is the best way to do it?
I think of surfing every day. When I was in Costa Rica, I felt at home. I fell in love with Central America and the surf lifestyle. Now i dream of starting a surf hostel in Central America. Am I crazy?