Well, it’s that time again. The Christmas tree is down and if you live in Central America you’re home from the beach and back to the grind. Happy New Year!
This is when websites and blogs all over start posting those articles telling you what’s going down in 2018 or what was the best/worst thing to happen in 2017. You know the drill.
And guess what? We’re no exception.
We contacted a handful of people living or doing business in Central America and asked them to answer one or both of the following questions:
- What was your most memorable moment in 2017?
- What are your hopes and/or predictions for Central America in 2018?
Here’s what they said:
Tropical Storm Nate
Easily the biggest event of the year – or the event that caused the most feedback from people – was Tropical Storm Nate.
For an unprecedented second year in a row (Otto hit Costa Rica in 2016), a named storm swung south and hit Central America. 43 people were killed in the region, the majority in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The damage was extensive but more important, Nate served to bring communities together:
“In October 2017, Tropical Storm Nate put most of Costa Rica on red alert. It was great to see people united and helping each other during the emergency.”
Rolando Campos, Chayote Lodge
“Our greatest moments in Costa Rica were related to the tropical storms and earthquakes that hit the region in 2017 and watching our community come together. The Red Cross did a fantastic job and even the government put in quick measures to fix roads and infrastructure that were damaged. It was great to see the support that existed during these times.”
Dave Playfair, EcoVida Properties
“Hurricane Nate was devastating for Nicaragua in 2017. Homes were flooded, crops were washed away, animals and people drowned. In the aftermath, I saw countless GoFundMe pages go up dedicated to helping the families in the most drastically affected areas. Groups from San Juan del Sur started food, clothing, water, money, and manpower drives. They rebuilt wells, houses, fences, and crops. The outpour of love was heart-wrenching. And where was the government? Where were the FEMA-type fund and government assistance? My hope for Nicaragua in the future is that taking care of their citizens in need becomes more of a priority. I was heartbroken by the people’s feeling of hopelessness and overwhelmed by the need for help. A country has a responsibility to take care of their own.”
Jenna Reid, The 1 Less Traveled By
“Tropical Storm Nate brought widespread devastation to Costa Rica. Flooding and power outages left families with next to nothing. The outpouring of community support afterward was amazing. Individuals, clinics, businesses, and organizations rallied to provide the essentials and more to those who needed it most. A truly heartwarming experience that has made us proud to be a part of the ‘pura vida’ family.”
Danielle Babler, Real Experiences Costa Rica
Business & Tourism
The business and tourism community seems optimistic on the whole about Central America:
“In 2017, we saw some of the best fishing tournament showings over any year in the past. Last year was slower than normal for our sailfish season in Costa Rica. Due to odd weather patterns, our big schools of sailfish did not show up like they typically do. We are hoping this year brings change to that pattern and we get back to the incredible sail fishing that Costa Rica is so famous for.”
Justin DeBoom, Caribsea Sportfishing
- Where Will The Best Billfish Tournaments In Costa Rica Be In 2018?
- What It’s Like To Own A Sportfishing Charter In Costa Rica?
“2018 looks very promising in terms of long-haul multi-destination tours, with an increasing number of visitors from Asian and Australian marketplaces. Clients tend to combine Guatemala with Belize and Honduras, and Nicaragua with El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama.”
Jan Strik, Va Pues
“I predict in 2018 we’ll see even more foreign investment in Nicaragua, increasing the number of tourists visiting this beautiful country. There’s so much potential here, so much yet to be discovered.”
Sarah Hampton, Origin Adventure Park
“In 2017 Costa Rica welcomed direct flights from Paris, Amsterdam and Zurich. I predict European arrivals to Costa Rica will continue to grow at the largest rate over any other country, with the UK and France leading the charge. We will see a growth in San Jose hotels as Costa Rica’s convention center is completed in May.”
Richard Bexon, COO of Namu Travel
“My prediction is an unprecedented number of new hotel project announcements in the region and an official end to a decade-long recession in leisure real estate sales. Conversely, I see a cooling of San Jose metro real estate demand as so many new projects come online and flood supply.”
Casey Halloran, CEO of Namu Travel
“It will be a good year for the tourism industry, mostly due to favorable conditions on our main source markets. Also, with an increasing number and quality of gastronomical areas, food trucks, craft breweries, and related events, there is a big opportunity to add these to the standard tourist attractions.”
Erick Nassar, Marketing Manager of Namu Travel
“2016 and the first half of 2017 were difficult for the tourism industry in Nicaragua. But things turned around and we are expecting the best year ever for 2018. Nicaragua has been on several “hot” lists and places to go in 2018 and it seems like the fear many tourists had of traveling to Nicaragua is gone. The Cuba boom in 2016 hurt Nicaragua arrivals, but things have stabilized. Several new hotel openings helped as well in this process.”
Hans Pfister, The Cayuga Collection
“Costa Rica is becoming more business friendly with smarter regulation and smoother compliance processes with far less red tape. The greatest moment for Costa Rica in 2017 was the focus on the Golfito Marina Project in the Southern Zone. When completed, it will be an incredible and beneficial boom to a depressed and ignored region. My hope is that along with smart development, more focus will be on environmental issues in the Golfo Dulce. We need better infrastructure, proper wastewater treatment and stricter enforcement of commercial fishing rules and regulations. Developers need to partner up with the government and raise the bar on environmental law protection and enforcement to set an example to others for the future.”
Harry Heist, Cascata Del Bosco Hotel
“2017 was the best year for tourism in Honduras since 2008 with a marked increase in visitors. Many hotels that had struggled for years were finally back on the path to recovery. And then came the November elections and another political crisis.
Although the situation has improved, it remains to be seen how things progress in January. The big date to watch will be the inauguration of the new presidential term at the end of the January. If this passes without turmoil, things will be set for sustained growth.
For tourism to grow, we need a peaceful, inviting setting. What happened in Honduras during the first part of December was far from that.
With that said, tourism to the Bay Islands and Copan Ruinas will continue to grow. These two destinations are isolated from the rest of the country. Roatan has its own international airport and most tourists visit Copan Ruinas from Guatemala.”
John Dupuis, Honduras Travel
“2018 looks positive in Costa Rica. The devastating hurricanes that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean made Central America more appealing.
Tourism-related businesses in the Arenal area have taken on large remodeling projects and new construction is visible throughout the area. Unique, residential lodging options (e.g. AirBnB and the like) are becoming increasingly common and now provide more options for visitors.
Overall, clients are asking for unique, authentic, community-based experiences and are visiting places off the beaten path. They want to go and do what the locals do and they want to do new and exciting adventures to push their limits.”
Suresh Krishnan and Christine Larson, Desafio Adventure Company
Current Affairs & Politics
The end of 2017 in Central America was dominated by the crisis in Honduras, proving democracy is still a fragile flower in this part of the world. Something worth remembering as Costa Rica limbers up for its February election with at least two candidates being compared to Donald Trump. Guatemalans will also vote in 2018 to determine whether the country has should ask the ICJ to intervene in its longstanding territorial dispute with neighboring Belize. Here’s what was said:
“The greatest hope for 2018 comes with the upcoming elections in February. Corruption has become endemic in Costa Rica, from under the table payments for simple procedures to the most scandalous cases at the highest political level. Organized crime is an increasing concern in Costa Rica, and poor infrastructure is affecting people directly. I hope the new president, whoever that might be, will be able to find a solution to these pressing problems.”
Nicole Busse, CR Luxury
“On Feb 4, 2018, Costa Rica will hold national elections to choose a president for the next four years. My greatest hope is to see most of the people involved and informed about every candidate’s proposals. As one of the Latin America’s oldest democracies, it is not only our duty to vote but to be mature enough to research the various candidates to choose wisely what is best for our future.”
Rolando Campos, Chayote Lodge
“In San Jose in 2017 we saw more communities seeking a ‘healthy’ urban environment; more people commuting on bicycles, more vegetarian restaurants and holistic workshops and activities. My hope for 2018 is that whoever is elected president of Costa Rica will be effective in transportation improvement. San Jose, its inhabitants, and visitors are suffering due to poor mobility options through the city. As we promote our walking tours through the city we hope more visitors will choose this eco-friendly and more pleasant option to see the best of San Jose!”
Stacey Auch, Downtown Yoga Studio/Barrio Bird Walking Tours
“Recognition of the increasing crime problem and an improved criminal justice system is crucial for foreign investment, the stability, the happiness, security, and wellbeing of the Costa Rican people.”
Harry Heist, Cascata Del Bosco Hotel
“I’m skeptical about 2018 in Costa Rica. Being an election year, and without a clear political panorama so far, most people will act conservatively in terms of investment and domestic demand. Inflation will probably increase, and without a real solution in the horizon, public finances will keep deteriorating, threatening stability and growth prospects.” Erick Nassar, Namu Travel
“I hope the government will finally realize the most valuable asset Belize has is its natural resources. It needs to start seriously investing in conservation to ensure the right kind of investors are coming to Belize. A good start would be to reverse the decision to provide Belizean wildlife to a cruise ship company to entertain their tourists.”
Colette Kase, Conch Creative
“Politically, Central American countries need to join efforts and open their borders to allow Central American people to invest without immigration limitations in the region, which will boost growth. And they need to reform the criminal and penitentiary system. Crime is costing too much money to the working and business class.”
Rafael Valverde, Outlier Legal Services
“The economy of Nicaragua will continue to grow at steady four percent in 2018. Tourism numbers will climb and who knows, we may beat the 28 percent increase we saw in the first four months of 2017! Nicaragua has laid the foundation for future investments with its new public and private investment law, as well as its solid reputation as one of the safest countries in the region. San Juan Del Sur will start to “grow up” as more and more two and three-story buildings will be started, maximizing the real estate potential and providing much-needed tourist accommodations. Like it or not, SJDS is a tourist hub and will continue to grow into that role as it feeds the smaller tourist communities around it. The future looks as bright as the stars that shine over this funky town.”
Kelvin Marshall, Del Sur News
In other news, Panama and Costa Rica both qualified for the 2018 World Cup with the added bonus of knocking out the gringos, something that was cause for a disconcerting amount of joy. If Mexico had failed to qualify, the party would have been even bigger. After Costa Rica and Panama celebrated, Honduras commiserated as their Russia 2018 chances went up in smoke in their playoff against Australia thanks to a Mile Jedinek hat trick for the Socceroos. But two countries out of seven ain’t bad, and props go especially to Panama for making the World Cup for the first time in their history.
The Central America Games also took place in 2017, in Managua, Nicaragua. It was the biggest one ever and Guatemalan athletes with a total of 287 medals, over a hundred more than the second most performing country, Costa Rica. The region also continued to attract some of the best surfers, fishermen, and cyclists in the world over the course of a number of competitions.
Here are some of the final thoughts from our panel about sport and other stuff:
Costa Rica and Panama will not make it out of the group stage of the World Cup and Germany will win everything.”
Richard Bexon, Namu Travel
- How Soccer Is Changing Kids Lives In Costa Rica
- Costa Rica To Face Off Against Brazil, Switzerland, And Serbia At 2018 World Cup
- World Cup 2018: Panama Declares Public Holiday After Qualifying
“There are several large development groups on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and I hope they are considerate of the environment as they continue to grow our community.”
Saul Raminsky, Dominical Real Estate
“My greatest hope for Nicaragua in 2018 is that more awareness is raised about the animal protection law to help educate people about responsible pet ownership.”
Katie Horn, World Vets Nicaragua
“Costa Rica frequently makes headlines for running on renewable energy; an accomplishment to be proud of, no doubt. But we would love to see more resources aligned to recycling programs; the reduction of single-use plastics; and education on minimizing personal environmental impact. Every day, we see the unfortunate effects caused by these lacking programs. No curbside recycling, overuse of plastic straws, bottles, and shopping bags; the commonality of abandoning trash or overflowing public bins; and improper drainage of black water (mostly sink and laundry) just touch on the surface of the issue. All of these are detriments to the environment, as our landscapes are littered with trash and water supplies are compromised. Initiatives have begun, but need more backing to become widespread. An informed population with resources to manage the problem will go a long way to reducing the impact we are leaving in this beautiful country and the planet.”
Danielle Babler, Real Experiences Costa Rica
“The best thing I have seen in Panama is the sheer diversity of immigrants. Whereas previous visa applications were dominated by retirees and business, we now have younger families and a new wave of diverse immigrants from North America and Europe. I hope these families stay and enrich the melting pot that is Panama. Where once western immigrants were seen as wealthy outsiders, these new young professionals have more wealth in their ideas and enthusiasm than in their banks. We need to welcome them as part of a potential knowledge economy rather than simply gringo cash cows to be milked financially.”
Lee Elliott, Panama writer
“2017 was an amazing year for Costa Rica. Cuba Dave was released from prison, JP Sears didn’t get murdered, and Jose Maria Figueres didn’t run for president. In 2018 we predict Costa Rica will ban plastic, fossil fuels, and murder. A five-thousand-mile long bike bath will connect both coasts and Keylor Navas will be nominated for sainthood.”
The Costa Rica Post
- Cuba Dave’s Release Makes Hookers Happy
- JP Sears Before The Ticos Killed Him
- JP Sears And How Not To Make Something Go Viral
“In a region wrought with turmoil, ranging from crime and violence to political upheaval, a truly positive and inspiring event underscored just how wonderfully talented Central America truly is. The Central American Games provided an opportunity for athletes to showcase the region’s true colors. This event was punctuated by the 109 gold medals obtained by Guatemala. This is particularly significant for Guatemala’s national athletes especially since its Soccer Federation is mired in a corruption scandal. Every one of the medals obtained by Guatemala is an example that there is more to sport than soccer and breathes fresh air into the lungs of a growing nation.”
Nestor Quixnan, Guatemala writer
What are YOUR hopes and predictions for the region in 2017? We’d love to know!
James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.