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I dream of building a surf hostel in Central America

Updated on January 7, 2012
That's me!  Surfing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  It was on this trip I decided it would be so easy to just move there and surf year round.
That's me! Surfing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It was on this trip I decided it would be so easy to just move there and surf year round. | Source

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.

Travelling:

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.

Hostels:

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?

Pura Vida!



Entrance to Blue Trailz Surf Hostel, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Entrance to Blue Trailz Surf Hostel, Tamarindo, Costa Rica | Source

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    • profile image

      Nicabound 16 months ago

      Clearly I'm not the only person that has this concept. Although I can't make the move till 2020, I started the process last year. I have a great real estate agent and a local power of attorney and have been back a couple of times, specifically to look at properties. I'm meetin a few possible investors there again in August. I too am starting with very little cash in the bank and always looking for partners and investors. I have a pretty good grasp of properties around SJDS and Playa Maderas. One thing I can say is that beach front is almost impossible. Semi close walk or ocean view is about the most you can hope for but I tend to believe this is all you need for success. So please let me know if any of you are still looking.

    • profile image

      hard road 22 months ago

      Lot of great info here, thanks for sharing. I too am on an adventure to open my own hostel. I started a blog on my journey at http://www.ahardroad.com/ but it is a long-term plan. I'm planning by 2020 to have something together! currently starting from scratch with $0

    • idreamofsurfing profile image
      Author

      idreamofsurfing 3 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Hey Tom, thanks for commenting! I wish I had started my hostel by now but I decided to go back to school to be trained in New Media and Web Design. My hope is that I can travel while using my internet based skills. I still think the idea of owning a property in Central America would be great but I am hoping to travel around more once I graduate my program to find that perfect spot.

      From what I have learned, just make sure you cover your ass legally and pay a local lawyer that you trust to look over the paperwork on a property before you hand over your money. There are lots of other resources out there online that give advice on purchasing property in Nicaragua and other countries.

      It is best if you know Spanish, if you haven't already make an effort to learn the language.

      This is beneficial so that:

      1) you don't get duped in the paperwork or during the negotiations

      2) because it is easier to make local connections

      3) the locals will be less likely to try to make an extra buck off you if you are trying to learn their language.

      It is not necessary, you can definitely manage without learning Spanish but the locals appreciate the effort.

      Please let me know how it goes and best of luck! It's a big leap but I think it will be worthwhile in the end!

    • profile image

      Tom 3 years ago

      Heey there!

      I'm Tom from the Netherlands. And i'm wondering or you already did start your hostel. I fly back to Nica in a few of weeks to visit some properties. i'm wondering if you can tell me a bit more about the expenses?

      Please let me know.

    • idreamofsurfing profile image
      Author

      idreamofsurfing 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Hey guys,

      First, thanks for reading and commenting, I should try to write more often! Yes, I agree that it is a toss up between having a lifestyle where you can afford to travel to a number of different locations vs. owning something in a prime location. Obviously, there is more risk involved with the latter and you would be somewhat tied to that spot for a while... However it also offers the possibility of being able to provide for yourself financially while still being in perma-vacation mode.

      I totally agree that although the laid back vibe is perfect for hanging out, it would also work as a drawback on the business side of things. It would be hard to find people you trust and staffing would be difficult. Especially considering that you are allowed to own a business but are required by law (in Costa Rica anyway, I am not sure about Nica) to staff it with domestic workers. Given this, I still remain optimistic that the right mix of people could be found to create something that works.

      Cheers!

    • profile image

      Zac 4 years ago

      Great blog! Over the past year or so I have been contemplating the same thing as all of you. I am currently working as an English teacher in Lima, Peru, but I am originally from the U.S. I too have been to Costa Rica (Mal Pais, Jaco), and my trip there is what got me thinking of possibly starting a surf hostel/ surf camp in Central America.

      Now that I am actually living in a foreign country, my eyes are opening to what life (and business) is truly like on a daily basis. Things are difficult to say the least. "Sure things" fall through with regularity, people you do business with are almost always late, and there is an overwhelming sense of, "Let's worry about it when it is a problem." While these things may actually FIT into the laid back lifestyle of owning a surf hostel, they are actually extremely detrimental to getting a business off the ground, particularly if you are a foreigner.

      I don't mean to sound off-putting. On the contrary, I still would like to invest in a surf hostel in Central or South America. I think that working with a like-minded partner, in addition to TRUSTWORTHY people on the ground with local surf and business knowledge is really important.

      Thoughts?

    • profile image

      Let me out 4 years ago

      I find myself in a very similar situation. I have recently realized that the life that I'm living here in Ontario is not the one I dream of. I spend a lot of my time travelling the world but am mostly drawn to the laid back lifestyle of Central American surf towns. I have been on line looking at hostel properties lately and find myself asking the same questions you are.

      I have a great job and life but find myself wanting something different. Work has granted me a sabbatical in which I am taking off the year 2015. I planned on travelling originally but now thinking more about owning a sweet beachside hostel.

      I'm going to follow your thread and do some investigating on my own. I will share what I come up with.

    • idreamofsurfing profile image
      Author

      idreamofsurfing 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      You brought up some great alternative options, thanks! I have been giving some thought to surf tour companies. It seems a bit easier to attain but there is just such an appeal for me to own property.

      I agree that you would have to select a business partner carefully, if you choose to have one. It is definitely a big stress on even the best friendship or relationship. I did read about a couple of brothers from British Columbia who came up with the cash for their Nicaraguan Surf Camp by fundraising through friends/investors who essentially bought their own little villas on the property. These investors could choose to keep their villa under private ownership or stay for free whenever in town and get a cut of the rentals the rest of the year. I thought this was an interesting way to raise funds for their dream. It lightens the burden when you have others involved, but it may be a bit difficult to manage in the long term. I wonder if it has worked out for them.

      Good luck with your dream of quitting the daily grind to live a surf lifestyle!

    • profile image

      Seb 4 years ago

      Hey,

      I have the same dream. I've been travelling all around central america. I think nicaragua is the cheapest but also more risky, my second option would be panama or peru, although peru has cold water..but its really consistent! I know one guy who's done it with 100k. He found a good spot 1h from the san salvador airport and build everything from scratch. After 5 years he sold 70% of it and kept 30%, so that he could move on to other projects. My main concern is buying/reselling the land and finding a place busy enough that you make a decent living, but not overcrowded in the water. Also, it would be great to be able to take 1 month off to travel, otherwise, feeling stuck and lonely could suck. I've seen many depressed singles who had started their dream hostel and splitted up with their boyfriend/girlfriend only to become lonely, alcoholics and miserable.

      I know some guys who've partnered up with another hostel to provide the tours and surf school part, so they only had to invest in boards and trucks, and website. That's a no-risk option, but you don't build equity on the land.

      A third way to be surfing a lot without the hassle of foreigh ownership and risk of expropriation is to start a surf tour company. You need to get a license to sell your tours in Canada and pay taxes, etc.

      I'm still trying to decide which is the better way. Let me know if you have any ideas or feedbacks