Set at the end dateline of miles of dirt roads and absent of modern amenities, the rustic beach towns of the northwestern province of Guanacaste traditionally drew adventurous backpacking tourists who didn’t mind crowded buses and sparse hostels.
They’d spend hours in transit to reach the country’s deserted beaches to watch monkeys swing through the trees and explore the region’s forests, often bunking down in cabins without electricity or air-conditioning.
But Peninsula Papagayo, on the northern Pacific coast, was created to bring a different type of tourist to Costa Rica. And the recently opened marina here is no exception.
With 180 slips set in a custom-designed floating dock system and capacity to accommodate luxury yachts of up to 220 feet, Marina Papagayo caters to the most exclusive of clientele – guests who can easily spend $10,000 a day.
It’s the only place for miles where mega yachts can dock, and one of only two marinas presently open in Costa Rica. With a helicopter landing pad less than a minute away, white-glove golf cart concierge and dock shuttle services and day passes available for the five-star Four Seasons Resort, nothing is out of reach for marina patrons.
The crew is also taken care of, with the seaside Dive Bar, a well-equipped fitness acility, a miniature theater, a pool, a general store and a business center. But the real draw of this little corner of Costa Rica is the dramatic contrast of the marine-blue bays with the knotted branches of the seaside vegetation, where monkeys perch in the treetops, white-nosed coatis strut across the roads and hummingbirds are as common as pigeons in London.
“It’s the ability to be in an exotic location with all the conveniences and comforts you need,” said Molly Harris, director of marketing for Marina Papagayo. “And then there are the Costa Ricans, who are known for their armth and hospitality. I truly believe that it’s Costa Ricans who sell Costa Rica.”
Though project construction has stalled due to a lull in financing, developers have announced plans to move ahead with a luxurious 150-room Andaz Hotel by Hyatt, to be built on-site in the coming months. And, as financing becomes available, they’ll unroll a mixed-residential development complemented by shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
The only residential building completed to date sold nearly all of its 41 condominiums in one weekend in December 2008.
Though it’s still somewhat hard to imagine in the sleepy skeleton of a development that exists today, the marina’s Web site describes the future village as “everything a full-fledged Latin American village-by-the sea should be; vibrant and alive with global sophistication and day-to-night festivities.”
Even as the marina expands – the plan is to add an additional 200 slips – the thrust will be keeping the personalized service by which the marina hopes to define itself.
“We may be expensive,” said Harris, who noted that marina membership begins at $4,500 per linear foot, “but we really do it all (in terms of services). We can arrange massages on board. We have florists, plumbers, welders, all types of transportation. … We offer the best and the most.”
Darrell Furton, a Florida native who runs a sportfishing company on Peninsula Papagayo, says the marina allows him to provide a service at the level his clientele expects. He used to meet his customers on the beach in front of the Four Seasons and says it was slightly awkward having to wade into the water to help them aboard.
“I was counting down the days until the marina would open up,” said Furton, a seasoned fisherman who operates Billfish Safaris. “Battling the surf to get people into the boat was often a nightmare. A lot of my guides got hurt saving the clients.”
“The marina also offers a dependable source of fuel,” he added, noting that the protected environment of the facility makes maintaining boats much easier.
Boatmen such as Furton and luxury yacht owners may be celebrating the completion of the marina now, but navigating government bureaucracies for permission to build was an arduous process that delayed the project for more than a year; red tape in the central government pushed the target completion date from 2006 to the end of 2008.
At present, the only other operating marina in the country is Los Sueños at Playa Herradura (completed in 2002). The Marina Pez Vela in Quepos is set to complete its first stage of construction sometime this month. Both are on the central Pacific coast.
On the drive into Marina Papagayo, you’ll see a string of signs advertising Los Sueños Marina – but rather than compete against each other, Harris said, the three marinas are working together to pitch Costa Rica as a vacation destination.
“We each have different things to offer,” she said. “And, together, we are trying to promote Costa Rica as a premier fishing destination.”
For information on the marina, call 2690-3600 or visit www.marinapapagayo.com.
The Papagayo Project
For first-time visitors, the entrance of Peninsula Papagayo can take your breath away. After miles of winding through dry forests and fields tinged yellow during the January-to-April dry season, the grand palm-lined promenade can make the heart skip a beat. A perfectly manicured lawn drops off to forests and then to stunning blue bays on either side, and the trip along the five and- a-half-mile, hand-laid-stone road offers a unique combination of sophistication and natural beauty.
“Peninsula Papagayo began over 25 years ago as a dream – a grand vision to transform the most beautiful coastline in the northwest corner of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province into an environmentally sensitive, perfectly designed luxury resort community,” writes Alan Kelso, the project’s chief executive officer, in the inaugural issue of Papagayo Magazine. “I am proud to report that, today, our remarkable dream is a tangible reality.
“Peninsula Papagayo has earned a permanent spot on the travel industry’s ‘bests’ lists. I might be so bold as to say that we are the next great place to be.”
Recognizing the uniqueness of the PapagayoPeninsula, with its steep bluffs, deep-blue bays and dense wildlife, the government purchased the land from farmers and cattle ranchers in the 1970s and set it aside for a high-end tourism development. Strict regulations were placed on the 2,300-acre property, allowing only 30 percent of the peninsula to be developed. The rest would remain in its original form, without even landscaping to disturb its natural habitat.
After a slow start-up that saw criticism from environmentalists, an interruption when the project’s Mexican financer and development company went bankrupt, and controversy in the central government, Peninsula Papagayo was taken over by a joint partnership between Costa Rica’s Florida Ice and Farm Company and the U.S.-based Schwan Foundation. With their leadership, the Four Seasons Resort was built in 2004 and has since served as an anchor of the project.
Designed by renowned Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher, the 153-room Four Seasons sits at the peninsula’s point and is constructed in such a way that it blends in with the contours of the land.
“That was my intention as soon as I saw this spectacular site – to make the connection between man and nature seamless,” says Zürcher in the project’s marketing material.
Aside from attracting a new type of tourist to the shores of Guanacaste, the Four Seasons serves as a tool to showcase Peninsula Papagayo to potential investors. It has also helped expand the number of flights going in and out of DanielOduberInternationalAirport in Liberia, the provincial capital.
To date, developers have completed only the first phase of a three-phase project, including construction of the 6,788-yard championship Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, fairway condominiums, a beach club and spa and phase one of the marina.
The second phase includes the development of a second golf course, the village surrounding the marina and the sale and construction of numerous single-family lots.