Seeking a New Lifestyle: From Canada to Costa Rica

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    In the sun-kissed beach town of Jaco, nestled in the province of Puntarenas, Luke Shantz and Stephanie Sitt, two expats from Toronto recently turned their dreams into reality by creating a boutique hotel in the southern part of the town.

    Their journey started three years ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when they decided to seek significant life changes by moving to Costa Rica. In their opinion, this country was always the obvious destination: “We always thought Costa Rica checked all of our boxes: it is safe, it is sustainable, it has nature, good schools and good healthcare”.

    Just like many expatriates, coming to Costa Rica completely transformed their lives, starting with their environment and their work life balance. Stephanie explains, “It is amazing. We get to spend more time with our kids, we get to be in nature all the time and live by the sun, get up early and go to bed early. Before, we were both working a full-time job. I would come back home at 6 or 7pm, and the kids would go to bed at 8. I didn’t see them much”.

    Opting for Jaco as their hometown, despite its mixed reputation, was also a right decision according to them. In terms of amenities, the couple expresses satisfaction, as they are able to choose between plenty of restaurants, places to party and multiple schools for their children. They also admit to appreciating the town’s affordability, central location within the country, and its proximity to the capital, San José, as well as the array of activities available around such as nature experiences or yoga.

    Starting the hotel project

    Opening a hotel was not part of their initial plan but the opportunity presented itself when they noticed a local hostel up for sale on the side of the road.

    We just kept driving by and this was such a good corner. We thought ‘This hostel’s for sale, I think this place has a lot of potential. It is on the south side, it is quiet, it is the nice part of Jaco beach’. There was not a lot of things in this area at that time, and it was a good price, so we bought it.

    Their decision to embark on this adventure was not motivated purely by economic outlook, but rather by a desire to fill a gap in the local market. They realized that accommodation options in Jaco were divided between low-cost hostels and luxury resorts, leaving little room for those seeking a middle ground. This observation gave rise to the idea of Hotel Amavi, an establishment that aims at embodying balance between luxury and affordability.

    A sense of community

    Transitioning from Toronto to Jaco brought a profound shift in their lifestyle, especially in the way people interacted and supported one another. In Jaco, they encountered a strong sense of community, unlike anything they had previously experienced.

    The radical change in the size of the city also had a considerable impact on their way of life. In the bustling environment of a big city like Toronto, arranging meetings with friends required weeks of planning. In contrast, in the small town of Jaco, it became easy to meet friends. As Stephanie describes it, “Here, on a Saturday morning, you can wake up and, within ten minutes, four different families can be meeting by the pool or at the beach. It’s much more spontaneous and community oriented”.

    Inspired by this newfound connection, they made it their mission to imbue their hotel and events with the same spirit of unity and mutual assistance that defines life in Costa Rica.

    A challenging journey

    The transition to another country and the launch of a hotel obviously brought with it a variety of challenges for the couple of expatriates, including overcoming language barriers and cultural differences.

    In fact, conducting business and day-to-day interactions can be complex when fluency in the local language is lacking. However, living in Jaco, a tourist resort where English is widely spoken, provides a fallback solution for communication.Haut du formulaire

    One other major challenge the couple had to face was the opinion of people around them: “People thought we were crazy because we hadn’t lived here very long, and it’s a different country and buying this one down hotel. There were people around us that were skeptical about whether or not we were going to be able to pull this off”.

    In addition, cultural differences, particularly for people from Western countries, can present significant obstacles when starting such a project. Adopting the Pura Vida lifestyle, characterized by a slower pace and relaxed attitude, marked a profound change for the couple. Luke recounted for example the difficult process of obtaining a credit card machine, which involved visits to the bank every day for hours over the course of a week. To acclimatize to the country, expatriates have to shift away from the Western notion of constant speed and productivity towards patience and understanding that some processes require time here.

    Luke explains, “This is Costa Rica: it is beautiful, but it has its challenges, and you have to embrace them. So now when I go to the bank, I make sure that I have good audio books. Going to the bank is now ‘Oh good I can spend two hours listening to my audio book, what a nice break in the day’”.

    Making a positive impact

    Through the creation of Hotel Amavi, Luke and Stephanie sought to make a positive impact on the area. In addition to offering a middle ground between luxury hotels and basic hostels, they claim intending to reshape the image of Jaco.

    In fact, despite being associated with illicit activities, the town is in reality way more than that, offering a peaceful daytime lifestyle and a variety of health-related activities. Providing a place such as Hotel Amavi represent for them a way of highlighting the positive aspects of the city and offer a welcoming space imbued with community atmosphere and engaging activities.

    To enhance even more their positive impact on the region, the couple made sure to employ local workers, as well as using local materials to build the establishment, with an emphasis on sustainability. The entrance of the hotel even has a small space with items from a local shop, reinforcing their commitment to supporting the community.

    Betting on Paradise

    Despite the many challenges they faced, both in the process of moving to Costa Rica and building the hotel, Luke and Stephanie have no regrets and are now eager to share their story.

    In fact, in a series titled “Betting on Paradise”, to be broadcast on US channel HGTV, viewers will soon be able to witness Luke and Stephanie’s journey as well as the design and construction process of the Amavi Hotel. Over six episodes, the series will recount a year of challenges, triumphs, and unwavering commitment to realizing their vision in a paradise setting.

    Maïna Cout

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