An Impulse Purchase Leads to a Dream Business in Costa Rica

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on February 11, 2021 in Setting Up a Business

Every year, when it came time to buy my wife a Christmas present, I would ask her what she wanted and she’d always reply, “Surprise me or something nice.”

Never a big fan of shopping, I often settled on a foreign vacation and in 2001, we chose Costa Rica as our destination. After much planning, we made reservations to visit Arenal Volcano National Park and booked several hotels for our two-week trip.

During our stay at Tabacon Hot Springs, we decided to go an ATV tour that took us to a mountaintop near the small town of El Castillo. It was a beautiful day and we had a perfect view of Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano. As we drove around, we came upon a piece of land with a small “For Sale” sign. Intrigued, we called the phone number and asked if the property was still on the market.

Yes, the person on the other end of the line replied, but someone else was interested in it. (A common sales tactic.) I inquired, “How much?”

He told me and I asked my wife if she wanted a hectare of land in Costa Rica for $40,000? She instantly said, “Yes!” (My father always told me to never ask a question when you do not know the answer. In that moment, I wished I’d listened to his advice.)

We had not planned to purchase property and did not have the money available, but this land was so special that we agreed to meet the owner the next day at Stewart Title in San José, Costa Rica’s capital city. After opening escrow, we returned to the States, found the money, wired it, and celebrated. We owned property in Costa Rica!

Two weeks later, the title company called and told us our seller did not own this property. Yikes! I quickly called the seller and he told me not to worry. He had purchased the property one year before, and things move slowly in Costa Rica. He and the previous seller went to the title office to straighten things out and we were back on track. Now, we “officially” owned the land.

When we bought it, the property was bare pasture deep in the jungle. We have since built a home, 10 casitas, two swimming pools, and a spa. We also purchased the adjacent property to further develop our business and now have a bed-and-breakfast/resort called Nepenthe, a restaurant called The Phoenix Restaurant at Nepenthe, and a large home called Casa Oropendula. We are proud of this Costa Rica venture. Plus, it goes to show how an unexpected detour, in our case the unplanned ATV excursion, can change your life forever.

Nowadays, we enjoy a peaceful existence. We begin each day with some homegrown coffee. The beans come from our land and we’ve learned how to pick, dry, roast, and grind them ourselves. We also have eggs from our 30 chickens as well as bananas and pineapples from our garden.

After checking in on our business, we usually have a cocktail in hand by 4 p.m., when we can relax out back with our guests and neighbors and soak up the sounds of the jungle and the stunning sunsets in Costa Rica.

Before starting our dream resort in Costa Rica, back when we lived in Modesto, California, I was a civil/electrical engineer who built roads and bridges, and my wife was a school counselor. We had no knowledge or experience of running a resort in a foreign country.

Now, we have 12 hard-working employees and a close-knit community of regular guests from around the world. It’s been a dream pura vida experience.

By Gordon Berg