Couple quits Toronto jobs and buys beach hotel in Panama

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Ryan Somes and Anthea Stanley lived, by most standards, successful lives in Toronto.

With two children under the age of six, the couple had a home in the city’s Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood and held senior positions in the financial industry. However, Somes said something was wrong.

“I felt like Groundhog Day,” Somes told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday.

At the time, he had worked in finance for over a decade.

“We knew something was missing,” he said. “But we didn’t need more money. We didn’t need more stuff.”

Like her husband, Stanley, who was born and raised in Toronto, worked as an administrator in the Institutional Equity Floor of RBC Capital Markets.

“I worked 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day,” she said. “After we had our son, we were like, ‘What am I doing?'”

“I’m in my thirties and have a family – am I supposed to keep working those 13 hour days and never see my kids?”

Eventually, the couple said this underlying dissatisfaction caused them to re-evaluate their lifestyle.

“LET’S BUY A BEACH”

Avid travellers, Somes and Stanley knew they loved beaches. They had already traveled to Bali, Nicaragua and Costa Rica – among other tropical destinations – and pined after a life of sun and sand.

During a trip to Nicaragua, the couple met Canadian hotel owner Michael Dickson and, over a beer on the beach, inquired about what goes into owning and operating a hotel.

“We fell in love with what they were doing,” Stanley said. “And he said the first step was to buy land.”

“We realized we could buy a condo in Toronto as an investment, or we could buy a little waterfront somewhere,” Somes said. “We both looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s buy a beach. “”

In 2013, they bought a property that would later become “Catalina’s Shelter”, located 15 minutes from Santa Catalina, a small seaside town of about 700 inhabitants and five hours from the country’s capital, Panama City,

“We built our hotel on two and a half acres of land,” Somes said, adding that the property had no infrastructure or road access.

Once a road was built and electricity and running water were successfully installed, construction could begin. The couple said they worked with a contractor and an architect to complete the project.

Today, the resort houses nine private units for guests, separated by tropical gardens planted by Somes and Stanley. It also includes a two-story treehouse with floor-to-ceiling windows, a yoga studio, an outdoor theater, and an infinity pool.

CATALINA’S CACHE

Six years of meticulous planning, construction and Spanish lessons later, the family sold everything that didn’t fit in a storage container, loaded up their two children and moved south.

The station officially opened to the public in December 2020 – delayed two months by the pandemic, according to Somes and Stanley.

Despite opening in the first year of the pandemic, the hotel has been a success, the couple say. Today, the resort employs 22 people, 18 of whom are local to Panama.

Guests at Catalina’s Hideaway can choose from activities such as horseback riding, massages, stand-up paddleboarding, and yoga, among others.

“We feel like we’re hitting our groove,” Somes said.

“There was never any doubt that it wasn’t going to work,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Looking ahead, the couple say they’re in no rush to expand beyond adding three more units to the property.

“Who knows what the future holds…we just want to enjoy it.”

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