A lot of people (I do!) dream of living abroad and setting up a business far far away. In the end, many of us actually don’t dare to follow their dreams. Moving to the other side of the world and starting from draft is extremely challenging and nerve-wracking. Leaving everything you cherish and taking great risks. But it does sound fantastic, doesn’t it?
Yenkim Banh (27) is someone who’s in a middle of a very enviable adventure right now. She and her boyfriend Misha (34) leased some land in Costa Rica and are building a colorful tipi style hostel called ‘Hostel Alouatta‘ which will open this November. Yenkim: “Our biggest dream is to run the hostel for seven months a year. Then return to the Netherlands for four months to see our friends, family and earn some money and then travel around the world for a month before returning to hostel life.”
Tell me, how did this adventure start?
Yenkim: “Misha and I were thinking of migrating for a couple of years. But we didn’t exactly know where to go.We thought about Portugal or France, but then we got the chance to lease one acre of land in Costa Rica. This opportunity sounded too good to be true. We decided to travel to Costa Rica for a few weeks and check out the land. We ended up having a great holiday and falling in love with that beautiful piece of jungle in San Francisco de Coyote.”
How would you describe your piece of land?
Yenkim: “Well, San Francisco de Coyote is off the beaten track, undiscovered and quiet. It’s a great place for hiking, there are so many animals around who are not very used to people. We have a lot of raccoons, coatis, iguanas and howler monkeys just wandering around. It’s a fifteen-minute walk to the beach and as you might know, Costa Rica is a legendary surfing location. We have some beginner-friendly waves nearby, and some major swells up the road for experts.
For me, this is a true paradise. Costa Rica is home to countless species of animals and plants. As a whopping two percent of earth’s biodiversity resides here, it’s fantastic for nature lovers. No need to go to a natural park, this ís a natural park. We’re opening an eco-friendly (but affordable) hostel, a place where you feel at ease and support the rainforest at the same time. We believe we have to give something back to Costa Rica, both on a local level as well on a bigger scale. We donate 50 dollar cents per guest to the adopt a rainforest organization and work closely together with local projects and activities. Also, we want to start giving English lessons to the local youth. So they learn to speak better English and at the same time we learn more Spanish.”
How did you design your hostel?
Yenkim: “We decided to both write a business plan first and compare our plans. Funny detail: we had the EXACT same plan. We didn’t want a party hostel to start with, we both dreamt of a place that will make you feel at home. Close to nature, but with all the small luxuries you need as a backpacker. We found a building constructer and he built us a small stilt house with a porch (it’s only 14 square meters – in Costa Rica, you only go inside to sleep), and a sanitary/kitchen area. We’re planning to ship three tipi tents from the Netherlands to Costa Rica soon. Tipis make a great accommodation. If it works, we want to ship some more in the future. And maybe some bell tents too. We made a lot of the furniture ourselves, using whatever building materials are available.”
Aren’t you ever scared?
Yenkim: “Of course, this plan is extremely exciting. My stomach aches every time I think of what we are doing right now and what we still need to do. For us, the most important thing was to get accepted by the locals. We’re never going to feel at home if they don’t like us. Luckily, they are lovely and they helped us so much along the way. That gives us great comfort and makes it less scary, too.”
What if your plan doesn’t work out?
Yenkim: “I keep telling my parents: if this plan doesn’t work, we will be happy for the experience. This is such an adventure and The Netherlands is just one flight away from home.”
Something you learned along the way?
Yenkim: “Costa Rica is pretty expensive compared with surrounding countries. We bought some of our gear in Nicaragua. The funny thing is: there are a lot of hardware shops around, but they ALL sell exact the same stuff. So at the beginning, we went to thirty different stores to find a certain ring. Now, we know you go to the shop first, see what they’ve got and then start building. And not the other way round.”
Did your relationship changed during this adventure so far?
Yenkim: “I know it sounds cliche if I say this makes us stronger. But it really does. Before this adventure, I lived in Utrecht, Misha lived in Amsterdam. This is the first time we’re actually living together. In Costa Rica. And we’re working together at the same time. Of course, we have our fights too (‘we need a 5mm plug! No! a 3mm!‘), Misha tends to think in details, I’m more practical. Whilst I was thinking how we could build this hostel from scratch, he was thinking about which lamp posts he liked the most.”
What’s your best advice?
Yenkim: “Well, we found a fantastic building contractor, who ended up being a close friend of ours. We told him exactly what we wanted and he gave us great advice along the way. Also: the local people were very welcoming and helped us a lot too. They gave us advice on building materials and we couldn’t do it without them. I think that’s very very important. Last but not least: learn the language. We don’t speak it fluently yet but we both still learning every day.
Turtle protection camp
The beach next to Playa Coyote is called “Playa Caletas” and is a protected nesting site for the Olive ridley turtle and the (more endangered and seldom seen) Green leatherback turtle.
At 20 minutes driving our friend, Mike is running his open air Butterfly farm. As an avid entomologist living in Costa Rica for many years, he has a very extensive knowledge about the local environment and its animals.
Karen Mogenson Park
A bit further away, at about 1,5 hours driving, there’s a hidden gem. Undiscovered by the masses, the Karen Mogenson Park offers beautiful hikes, encountering almost nobody while walking in an overwhelming canopy forest. The trail here leads to a beautiful waterfall and the pools on the way (and on top of the waterfall!!) give excellent chances to take a dip or two. For 1000 colones (CRC 1000) it’s also the cheapest protected park in Costa Rica.
A beautiful cloud forest with over hundred species of mammals, 400 species of birds, tens of thousands of insect species, and over 2,500 varieties of plants, 420 of which are orchids alone. They also offer some great tours which are definitely worth it. I can also recommend the zip lining, this is one of Costa Rican’s best canopy tours.
Rincón de la Vieja
This natural park is famous for its versatile activities. Choose one of three exciting trails to the volcano and after a tough hike, sit down and relax at the hot springs or dive into one of the nice and cool pools at the waterfalls.
This picturesque small surf village is also great for non-surfers. Expect a relaxed bohemian atmosphere, great food, loads of yoga classes and some nice walks. The beach is stunning and there are loads of beautiful waterfalls around too.