Live in Paradise…and Get Others to Pay

When Karen McCrea, 56, and Axel Santana, 46, were looking for an ideal spot for their guest houses, they had a few criteria.

The location had to be unspoiled, yet with amenities their guests might expect like hot water, high-speed Internet, and quick access to grocery shopping.

The couple found their spot during a trip to the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica in 2006.

The region, also known as the Southern Zone, is full of undeveloped natural beauty and just three hours from the main international airport in San Jose, the capital.

“And there was enough infrastructure for people to be comfortable,” says Karen, a retired flight attendant.

They first bought an ocean-view property but sold it in 2010 to focus on a unique lot they’d found in the jungle. It’s the current site of Casitas Del Rio, which features three kitchenette-equipped, one-room “jungalows.” Located near the small town of Uvita, their property is next to rushing river, with a nature preserve full of primary rainforest across the way. They live in a home on the property.

It’s attracted steady business since opening in December 2012.

The couple don’t offer meals or other traditional B&B services because they want to give the guests privacy and independence and…

“At this stage in our lives we didn’t want to work that hard,” says Karen. “Our guests make simple meals and enjoy them on the porch of their casita where they can see toucans fly by.”

That doesn’t mean the couple isn’t busy. They welcome guests—mostly American and Canadian, with some Europeans—and suggest local attractions and restaurants. And there’s always some chore to do.

“We get up at 6 a.m. and before you know it it’s dinner time,” says Axel, who handles the landscaping and maintenance.

The property includes an extensive garden of ornamental plants that Axel, a horticulturist, designed himself. He also oversaw the construction process. Karen joined him full-time about a year ago.

Karen says the guests are usually up early too—sometimes awoken by resident howler monkeys. They explore the region, including beautiful palm-lined beaches that are virtually empty and steamy rain forests. The property also has its own trails, as well as a waterfall on site about 900 feet from the cabins.

Karen does the marketing and has found online review and booking sites to be a big boon.

“Someone recommended we use, which is part of Trip Advisor,” explains Karen. “Once we got six or seven reviews our bookings really grew exponentially. We also use, which attracts a different clientele, more of a community of people who travel the world.

“We were extremely busy in the high season—which is December to April, then it slowed down in May and June. But it picked back up in July. We’ve had regular bookings since then. Once you get reviews and people see you have a history more people start booking. We’re already getting bookings for December and February.”

So business is good. And they’re feeling the benefits.

“There is a lot less stress. When you’re in this type of environment, your blood pressure can’t help but go down,” says Karen. “It’s a much simpler life.”

“A lot more living,” says Axel.

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