San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Marina Projects Make Headway in Guanacaste

If you’re looking to dock a boat in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, start battening down the hatches: the Papagayo Marina, S.A. project officially broke ground last month, after years of wallowing in controversy and nearly endless trámite (red tape).

And there’s more: if the Arias administration’s promise to pass a law streamlining the marina permit process sails through the Legislative Assembly, the total number of boat slips in Guanacaste could jump from the current zero to 2,381 in the next five years.

According to Papagayo Marina’s Steve Grubba, his company hopes to open Guanacaste’s first full-service marina in early 2009, with 170 slips, and then, in a second phase, add 212 more, for a total of 382 wet slips and 180 dry slips. The province has been without a marina since the facility in Flamingo was closed in June 2004 after more than 15 years of operation (TT, June 18, 2004, March 18, 2005).

The new facility at Papagayo, valued at $15 million, will be enormous, capable of housing everything from megayachts of 100 feet or more to sailboats and a full fleet of fishing boats, in a region Grubba says is well-known for its excellent fishing – and lack of marina services.

It will also offer wastewater treatment services, water, electricity, fuel and all manner of private businesses, including restaurants, shops and repair facilities.

Government offices ranging from Customs and Immigration to drug enforcement will also be on hand, making the marina a truly world-class, all-inclusive facility.

“This will absolutely be the largest marina of its kind in Central America,”Grubba said. The idea, he said, is to serve as a magnet for yachts and travelers who previously saw Costa Rica as a proverbial blank spot on the map.

The Pacific coast of Mexico, north through Baja and the U.S. state of California, abounds in marinas, but until Papagayo begins receiving boats, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador can offer little more than the occasional protected harbor to weigh anchor, leading to an entire market – an affluent market at that, Grubba said – that Central America was leaving marooned at sea.

Grubba said demand for boat dockage facilities in Costa Rica, and particularly Guanacaste, is very high, adding that he’s already attended prospective clients from as far away as the U.S. state of Florida who’ve arrived by boat and anchored in the harbor – pre-marina – just to inspect the area and reserve a space.

“They’re going to fill fast,” he assured The Tico Times.

Welcome to Trámite

For reasons ranging from delays in trámite to environmental offenses and lack of funds, a long line of marinas have been proposed in Costa Rica, but few, if any, ever see the arrival of their first megayacht or fishing charter.

At present, Costa Rica has just one marina: Los Sueños, at the central Pacific coast’s Playa Herradura, which, while offering 200 wet slips and 100 dry slips to visiting boats and local sport fishers, is hardly enough to service the demand in the rest of the country, according to Mauricio Céspedes of the Guanacaste Tourism Chamber.

“There is a huge demand for marinas in Guanacaste, and right now there are none,” he said.

It’s hard to believe, he added, considering that Guanacaste is among the fastest-growing provinces in the country, according to recent construction statistics (TT, Feb. 23).

A quick glance at the laundry list of trámites required to obtain a marina operation permit is enough to scare away all but the most hardened, ocean-savvy seamen, according to marina and tourism officials.

In a document provided to The Tico Times by Papagayo Marina, the list of government agencies with a say in the matter is enough to fill a hearty paragraph, and constituted an alphabet soup of acronyms.

Thus far, only Los Sueños and Papagayo have managed to conquer them all. According to Minister of Tourism Carlos Benavides, this quagmire is a priority for the Arias administration, which hopes to pass a law cutting the total number of steps and requirements in the process from 17 to three.

“We need laws that make it clear what a developer’s obligations are, so that they can feel secure that they are not wasting their time or money,” Benavides said.

The proposed law, which is presently in committee, would reduce the time a municipality has to review a marina project from five months to three, and limit review by the Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourist Docks (CIMAT) to just two months.

The existing law pertaining to marinas, known as the Tourist Marina Concession and Operation Law, was described by Benavides as “torturous.”

“There is an incredible amount of demand for this kind of infrastructure, and it is very important that the assembly revises the law this year,” he said.

Problems in Flamingo

According to CIMAT officials, Papagayo isn’t the only marina with big plans in Guanacaste.

Eight other marinas have been proposed, according to the commission, each in different stages of trámite. They include projects in Cuajiniquil, Playa Panamá, three in Playas del Coco, Flamingo, Carrillo and Guacamaya.

If approved, the total number of boat slips in Guanacaste would skyrocket to more than 2,000. Most of the projects are in their early stages, though the Municipality of Santa Cruz recently received bids for a new Flamingo marina ranging in value from $12.5 to 45 million from eight prospective developers.

The most ambitious proposals, according to Municipality of Santa Cruz official Francisco Mairena, include space for 420 boats and would make Flamingo the largest proposed marina in the country.

According to Mairena, the municipality should be able to present a decision by the end of this year, and construction could begin soon after.

He declined to comment on an exact date of opening, however.


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