San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Marinas Look to Line Pacific Coast Despite Arduous Permit Process

Slowly but surely, the central Pacific coast is being lined with marinas. With four marina projects proposed or under development in addition to Los Sueños – which, seven years after opening, retains the distinction of being the country’s only functioning marina – anglers and sailors can look forward to plenty of new places to dock their vessels.

Located in Playa Herradura, just north of the popular beach town of Jacó, Los Sueños offers 200 boat slips. This number pales in comparison with the 1,025 boat slips and 325 dry-dock spots that will be created if the four proposed projects come to fruition.

These projects are being developed in conjunction with luxury hotels, condominiums, restaurants and shops.

Beyond the number of temporary jobs created during construction, marina activities at Los Sueños have created 526 permanent direct jobs as well as an additional 1,000 indirect ones. Marina users account for 10 to 20 percent of the increase in Central Pacific hotel guests in recent years, according to a study commissioned by the Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourist Docks (CIMAT), which oversees the development of marinas in the country.

While marinas have a positive impact on the economy, legitimate questions can be raised about whether it is economically feasible to have five marinas in the Central Pacific or, for that matter, 16 on the country’s 1,200-kilometer Pacific coast, as proposed.

Experts on the matter seem to think there is plenty of room for competition. “Given Costa Rica’s geographic conditions, there is great demand for marinas here,” said Oscar Villalobos, technical secretary of CIMAT. “A large segment of the tourism market is interested in coming here and practicing sportfishing. One million U.S. yachts travel to Mexico each year, and many of those are looking for new destinations.

“There is a lack of supply here. Los Sueños is at nearly 100 percent occupancy all year. This shows it’s possible and profitable to build a marina here.”

Harold Lovelady, developer of Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, south of Jacó, said Costa Ricans, most of whom live several hours from the coast, are not aware of the country’s potential as an ocean tourism destination.

“Most people don’t realize how prolific and biodiverse the waters off Costa Rica are,” he said. “The country has some of the best areas in the world to go fishing.”

Costa Rica is far from tapping into its potential, he said. “There’s room for a number of marinas in Costa Rica. In the United States, the number of places for boats has declined over the past 20 years, while the number of boats nearly doubled.”

Lovelady also stressed that marina tourism brings in wealthier tourists who leave more dollars behind to the benefit of host communities.

Proposed Marinas

Establishing a marina in Costa Rica is a long, multistep process. During the initial consultation phase, the potential developer contacts CIMAT for information on the place where a marina is to be developed.

CIMAT, a commission made up of five institutions, analyzes the location and informs the developer of the conditions a marina would have to meet to be feasible there.

Eight of the 17 marinas proposed in Costa Rica are still in this phase.

In the Central Pacific, two marinas are in this phase: the 300-slip Central Marina Jacó in Jacó proper and the 280-slip MarinaCararaBay in Playa Agujitas, near Hotel Punta Leona, 12 kilometers north of Jacó.

CararaBay is a particularly ambitious project involving the creation of an 11-hectare lake that will be connected to the ocean via a canal. The marina will accommodate yachts up to 120 feet long.

The marina constitutes only the project’s first phase. The second phase of the 40-hectare project will include a commercial zone, restaurants and bars, and the lake will be surrounded by townhomes. A third phase would include the purchase of 70 additional hectares where mountainside condos would be built.

“The marina is just the project’s anchor,” explained Guillermo Carranza, the project’s developer. “The real money is in real estate, which will take 10 years. We expect to build 500 to 600 apartments, plus what we would build if we add 70 hectares.

“Getting a marina permit in Costa Rica is an odyssey, even more so when there is no zoning plan where you are developing the project. We’ve been working on this project for six years. The trámites (bureaucratic procedures) are expensive and slow. There is a lot of paperwork involved. We are very tired.”

Beyond the temporary jobs created by construction, Carranza estimates the project will create between 200 and 300 permanent jobs.

Planned Marinas

If the developer decides to continue with a proposed project after hearing CIMAT’s verdict, the project enters the pre-project phase where it must undergo environmental, technical and feasibility studies.

Now in this phase is Marina Punta Bocana, a 240-slip project in Herradura. The development, which will also include a residential community, resort and spa, is awaiting the results of an environmental impact study to move forward. Punta Bocana released its first offering of residences and condominiums earlier this year.

Roberto Acosta, the project’s legal representative, said he hopes Punta Bocana will have the permits lined up in time to begin the 20-month construction by the middle of next year.

“The project’s impact is expected to be positive for the local community,” Acosta said. “Construction will require 300 employees, and operation will require 125 permanent employees.”

Acosta said he believes Bocana’s proximity to Los Sueños will not be a source of trouble for either project, but rather a strength.

“Logistically, it would make sense to open a second marina within such close proximity to Los Sueños, as it would allow a full-time customs official to be placed in between both marinas,” he said.

If a project is deemed feasible, CIMAT approves it, placing the project’s future in the hands of the local municipality, which has the power to award marina concessions. With the permits lined up, the developer finalizes the plan and can begin construction.

Marina Pez Vela in Quepos is the only marina in the Central Pacific currently in the construction phase. Construction is “slower than I ever wanted it to be,” Lovelady said.

“But we’re moving along just fine. We should be able to open by July of next year. We hope to be done sooner, but it’s Costa Rica, so I’m giving myself more time.”

Covering an area equivalent to 25 football fields on water and 12 on land, the facility will feature 308 slips as well as dry rack storage, and will offer a full-service boatyard.

The marina will also offer a 150-ton travel lift, high-speed fuel pumps, free septic pump-out and dockside concierge services.

The first phase of the project, now under way, consists of building the breakwater and creating a land area by dredging material from the basin where the marina will be.

This phase will create the first 92 slips and the fuel docks. Phase two will consist of building 216 slips in the middle of the basin. Phase three will involve landside development of residences, 250,000 square feet of stores and a small hotel.

Lovelady expects the project to create 1,000 jobs in the marina itself and about 2,000 outside it through increased tourism to area restaurants, shops, hotels and tour operators.


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