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  • Writer's pictureCari Mackey

It took us over 20 years to make this Eco Resort a dream come true.

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

“From Crisis Comes Opportunity” as a previous boss of mine used to say. In this time of crisis, I find myself thinking of this phrase on a daily basis and use it as mantra to focus on what will be the positive side of this some day. One step at a time, we will all get through this, and what opportunities will arise, and in fact already have, will give us great and inspiring reflections some day.

We began construction of this magical place in May of 2015 and then opened in November, 2018. Since then, we are proud to have hosted almost 2,000 guests here in our magical Eco Resort in Panama. With a small and ever-changing team of people, we have found little time to take to reflect on what we have created and share with you all our story.

We are located in a very remote jungle area of Panama right on the water’s edge. Finding this property was no easy task for us. Heck, it’s hard for some of our current guests to find us! In fact, when our guests do arrive after their long journey to get here, they are literally blown away at the natural beauty and then almost always immediately ask us “How did you find this place?” To which we reply; “It’s a long story. Let’s get you checked in, then a col-col homebrew, and we can tell you all about it….” So, here we go!

Being Ski Patrollers from Colorado it takes a lot to pay the food and beer bill so we found ourselves working several jobs at a time to make ends meet. It was a fun life; ski all day, work outside, work restaurants all night, then ski on our days off too with all our friends. Thankfully powered by the seemingly endless energy the 20’s gives you. At the end of the season and 9 months in ski boots, it was time to head for the beach. So naturally, you get as many friends as you can and pack ‘em into a car and head to Mexico! Little did we know, we were beginning to build all the skills we needed to operate this amazing place in Panama.

That was back in the 90’s. So, fast forward a few years when we were finally able to afford plane tickets, and that’s when we decided Costa Rica (picture on the right) was next on the list. We loaded our whitewater kayaks up like suitcases, threw them on the plane, and off we went with a great friend of ours to explore the rivers of Costa Rica. It was there that we were inspired by a young couple who started a small kayak guiding business and began their new lives there. Of course, we couldn’t afford their services at the time but from what we saw, there was a whole world of people who could and it allowed this young couple to have an amazing lifestyle sharing things they loved with others that centered around adventure, nature, culture, excitement, and well-being. This inspiration became a fun dream to talk about and a guiding light for us as we made our future travel plans.

With the idea in mind that some day we would like to do something like this that would support a lifestyle that we craved and share it with others, we began to choose different global destinations to search for a place that would support our rapidly growing and changing business dream.

We visited so many beautiful countries like Mexico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and then Panama. Within these countries we went to various locations as well and until we arrived in Panama, none of them quite checked all the boxes. The day we landed in our current location; Morrillo, we knew this was the place. Without a doubt, this was it. Ocean front, beautiful mountains, an estuary, kind and friendly people, uncrowded beaches, and most importantly; a place with incredible surf for all ages and a safe place to teach surfing, this was the place. So, we began to put the plan together in hopes that one day it would come to fruition.

As you can imagine, creating that plan did not come easy. We couldn’t do it alone so we had to find people to share it with so naturally, over the course of 5 years, we rallied friends and family to join us in this venture. It took years to put the business plan together with the help of some really smart and experienced people, and then years to move everything we owned to Panama to begin building.

Moving to Panama initially, did not go as we had hoped. We had planned that both Ryan and I would be able to move to Panama together and build the project. Well, it turned out, financially that would not work for us. So, while we were trying to figure out how to do this, an opportunity presented itself to me that would allow me to work in Panama City while Ryan worked on the project 5 hours away.

Working at an awesome little shop in Telluride, CO for over 12 years, I got to know Ralph Lauren and his family as they owned a massive ranch next to where we lived; our neighbors. After years of getting to know them, talking business, and creating a relationship, he offered me a job with his corporation and finally it dawned on Ryan and I that this could be the opportunity that would get us to Panama! So, I spoke with Ralph and when he asked me where I want to live and I told him Panama, he said “Well, you have to work in the USA for 2 years before moving internationally” and that was it. I put together my resume, sent it to his office, and after much ado, I got a fascinating job with his company managing stores in the Hamptons and helping to launch a rebranding of POLO. It was an amazing experience, I learned a lot, and am so thankful for that opportunity in my life.

While I was working for Ralph Lauren, Ryan focused on getting a job as a chief engineer at a 5-star hotel in the Hamptons as a way to gain more knowledge on how to run a hotel from the back-end and the day to day operations of what it takes to run a hotel from the restaurant to the sewer system, and all that lies in between. It was a great experience for him as well; he met some fascinating people and learned a lot about the hotel business. This also proved to be fortuitous as it led to another interesting job for him a few years later.

Alas, after the two years in the Hamptons turned into 3 and it was obvious that moving to Panama was not going to work out with the RL company, it was time for me to get out of NY. No matter what, it was time to move back to a lifestyle that suited me, and NY was definitely not it. So, Ryan and I made the decision to send me to Panama to get started on the project and he would stay back and work in the Hamptons.

While I moved to Panama, Ryan was hired as the estate manager for Christie Brinkley which provided him a place to live so, this was working out quite well for us financially not having to pay rent while I was in Panama. Needless to say, that was an interesting job for him and a great way to save on expenses. He was doing well in the Hamptons surfing, kiteboarding, and working for a super model. Life could definitely be worse.

Living apart was not awesome. We never planned on a marriage living apart and only being together for a week every 3 months or so, etc. and as one year was turning into 3, we had had enough of that lifestyle too. Traveling back and forth, the costs associated with it, the life disruptions, and the sadness of being pulled apart at the end of that short time together was heart wrenching. So we decided it was time to give it all we had, all or nothing, it was time to go for it in Panama together.

In October of 2017, our 19thwedding anniversary, with rough-in construction nearing completion, and the opening date planned, Ryan finally joined me in Panama and we worked as hard as we could to complete construction, open our hotel to the world, and give it 110% to make it a success.

On Nov 1st, 2018, opening day, we were still building our parking area as guests were arriving. There were people everywhere with shovels trying to make space for people to pull into. It was an incredibly stressful day but our first guests arrived, we figured out how to get them checked-in, cook for them, and host them in this magical place. Of course, it was the holidays here in Panama so we were fully booked. We were all being tested as to how we were going to pull this off! We had a plan and were mostly organized to make it happen and as we all worked long hours to provide and amazing experience for our guests, all departed happy with their experience and all 2,000+ guests that have followed since.

There have been countless little and big lessons along the way with so many more to come but with over 2,000 guests, and 340+ reviews, we are so proud to have maintained 5 stars with our guests, and some of the nicest reviews we have ever had the pleasure to read. We have made many new friends in our guests, and have been fascinated by all of the great people and stories we have heard from all of them.

Most of all, the best part of building this place is the thrill of sharing it with others. People of all ages have loved their stay here, and to see/hear how much people have enjoyed it, is what makes this place as special and magical as we always say it is.

Being a new and small business that relies on tourism, we are facing tremendously challenging times ahead. In our heart of hearts, a plan to follow, a great team, and working harder than one can imagine, we know it will work out and we will continue to be here for our future guests when travel becomes possible again. People all over the world still need places like this, and hosts like us to give them a break from the stresses of their daily lives, to experience a new place, a new culture, and share it all with their children.

Please, remember to keep your plans to travel again, use your credits, and support small operations like ours. We won’t be able to do it without you and we won’t disappoint you.

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