My Life in Costa Rica (Part 5)

My tenure as the general manager of Nakuti Resort in Playa Panama Beach, Costa Rica, concluded in 2003. (Refer to "My Life in Costa Rica Part 4").

I spent approximately six weeks in Atenas, near San Jose, cherishing quality time with my children. They were moving out of the house we had purchased in 1993. During this time, I received a call from my former employers, the Barceló Group. They requested that I take charge of opening a 220-room, five-star beachfront hotel in Playa Blanca, Panama. Without hesitation, I accepted the offer. My marriage had ended after two years of relentless discussions and arguments, making it the perfect opportunity to start anew. I traveled to Panama City to meet with the investors and to review the project alongside Simon Barceló, who had arrived from the Dominican Republic to oversee what would become a new Barceló Hotel in Panama. The construction was 70% complete, situated at Playa Blanca, an hour from Panama City, and boasted a white sand beach and the mesmerizing Blue Diamond ocean – truly magical!

During my stay, I lodged at the Decameron Hotel, adjacent to the future Barceló Playa Blanca Hotel. This gave me insight into the operations of the 852-room, all-inclusive five-star hotel, aiding in my preparation for the opening of our Barceló hotel.

The Barceló Playa Blanca's grand opening was my second but far more significant and luxurious than the first. I was incredibly fortunate to work with a team of professional hotel operators from top five-star Barceló hotels in Costa Rica and Uruguay. Before settling in permanently, I spent a few months in Panama City, close to the corporate headquarters. Panama City amazed me with its resemblance to Miami Beach, featuring high-rise towers, modern buildings, wide boulevards, and an Americanized atmosphere, yet mixed with Latino culture. Despite my deep connection to Costa Rica, I had to admit that it would benefit from a modern downtown like Panama's; San Jose felt more old-fashioned and Spanish Colonial in comparison. Unlike Panama, which is concentrated around its modern downtown, Costa Rica offers more for expats and tourists with its diverse towns.

The hotel's opening coincided with the 100th Independence Day celebration, but we faced the challenge of overbooking more than 35 rooms. Informing each family was daunting, but fortunately, most guests were wealthy Panamanians with alternative accommodations, such as mansions or fincas. To resolve the situation, I offered to double their booked stay for a future visit, which effectively addressed the issue.

After a few days, the hotel's operations smoothed out, with the animation department particularly impressing me. Over 30 young employees engaged guests with numerous activities, ensuring their satisfaction. Each evening featured a large stage with different themed shows, highlighting the extraordinary efforts of my inexperienced animation team at the Barceló Playa Blanca resort.

Given that the hotel was all-inclusive, it was crucial for the Food & Beverages department to provide exceptional cuisine and service from day one, a task more challenging than anticipated due to the distance from suppliers and contractors in the city.

Professionally and personally, I was content in Panama, successfully managing a five-star hotel with over 220 employees for six months. However, missing my children and the Pura Vida lifestyle unique to Costa Rica, I made the difficult decision to return home, despite my accomplishments in Panama. This also meant parting ways with my Colombian girlfriend, whom I had met upon my arrival in Panama City.

Fortuitously, I secured a new job in Costa Rica in less than two weeks. I found myself in Playa Hermosa Guanacaste, my favorite beach locale in Costa Rica. I was delighted to manage a smaller boutique hotel, Villa del Sueño, which offered a less stressful environment as I approached 45 years old, after spending 12 years managing large hotels with demanding schedules and significant responsibilities.

I served as the general manager of Villa del Sueño for six years. Due to its smaller size, I also had the opportunity to act as the Maître d’hôtel in the evenings, my preferred aspect of hotel management. The restaurant and the addition of an open-air theater for special events at Villa del Sueño provided a fulfilling experience, allowing for more personal interaction with staff and guests compared to the larger resorts I had previously managed.

Pura Vida!

To be continued...

Updated on Feb 18, 2024


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