Note: This post was originally written/published in September 2014.
There seem to be countless opportunities in Costa Rica. Everything seems possible whether starting a business, taking a vacation, doing a cultural exchange, or volunteering
there is always being talked about.
There isn’t a week where there isn’t something like that to keep me up thinking at night. Most ideas never get much past the sketch on a napkin stage, but nevertheless the possibilities are endless.
Recently I was stuck on the idea that I had to invest at the beach. Something about having nothing but the deep blue ocean in front of you and nothing but a plush rainforest behind you, waking up each day with a walk to the beach and a dip in the pool, pina colada in hand, seemed like paradise to me.
I was certain Costa Rica Frika 2 would open sooner or later at the beach. I just had to make sure this wasn’t a phase like Power Rangers or Pokemon was as a kid growing up. So like all good investors do, I scouted it.
I had been to this particular beach before for two to three days at a time, but I still felt like a tourist every time I arrived there. I just hadn’t been able to find a property that fit what I was looking for.
Until this time. It was a small apartment complex situated on top of a mountain with a direct ocean view a few minutes walking from town.
This was right up my alley, and from the pictures on the Internet and having direct contact with the owner when I made the reservation, I knew this could be potentially a very good visit.
Lucky for me though I was only staying as a guest, and not as an owner. Because it wasn’t anything like what I had expected.
Marketing is really an amazing tool. Done well, you can dress up just about anything to look and sound like the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, this wasn’t my dream Costa Rican vacation, because the only thing I dreamed about during my stay there was how much better this place could be with some substantial investment.
The website didn’t lie; you can definitely see the ocean, and the property borders a private wildlife reserve in which we were able to see howler monkeys playing in the trees the first day we arrived. The pool was even nice and well-kept.
That is about where the pleasantries ended.
Even when lounging at the pool, I couldn’t help but notice the overgrown grass, the plants growing wildly out of control, and dirt caked on the sidewalk, having eroded from the last night’s rainstorm. As I turned to look back at the apartment building, I noticed that some of the units appeared to have been under construction at some point but had been abandoned. I also observed that there had once been three floors to the building and there was now a makeshift roof over the concrete floor on the second.
And the whole place looked like it could use a paint job, as the salt and humidity in the air had had its way with the apartment complex.
I felt blessed to have only prepaid for one night, instead of the three I’d planned on. We arrived to find the advertised wi-fi didn’t work, the water might not work and we couldn’t unlock our room safe after we had locked our valuables inside it.
At least we had the pool while we waited for the locksmith.
I’m sure some people would have turned around and left at this point, and not too long ago I would have done the same myself. This is obviously how all disaster vacations begin, right?
But maybe since I came with an investor’s mindset, the only feeling I could strongly identify with at that point was pity. I felt bad for the owner.
I knew he didn’t intentionally not mow the grass or maintain the garden and that it wouldn’t be cheap to run the must-have wi-fi signal all the way up the hill to the apartments.
And so the longer I sat at the pool the more I felt sorry for this guy. Maybe he had come to Costa Rica with big illusions of developing a great tourism business but for one reason or another things haven’t quite worked out. If I had to guess, he probably underestimated the amount of money it would take to renovate and maintain a place like this.
My wife and I speculated it would cost maybe a half-million dollars to bring this up to dream-level vacation standards. We’re not quite at that level of investment (read: nowhere
near), but we did spend some time at the pool thinking of what could be done to this place.
In the end we were reminded of a common Costa Rica phrase “Cuando sea grande…” It means “When I’m a grown-up…”
That’s the phrase that’s often used when talking about things that you don’t believe you will ever do. This was a humbling experience for me, as I realized beach ownership isn’t quite what it’s all cracked up to be.
I stayed my few nights, but then I was on my way… on to the next opportunity.