My Costarican Coast to Coast Corona Internship

A month into my internship, Costa Rica’s Tourism came to a complete stop due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. And then the hotel I was doing my internship got sold to a Silicon Valley Mogul and became a private home…

Hello! My name is Eve and I had the pleasure to experience a six-month internship with the Cayuga Collection in Costa Rica.  Now, this was no normal internship as it just so happened that during that specific timeframe a global pandemic engulfed our globe and a new normal started to define our everyday lives.

The wonderful people I met during my internship was the most precious part of the experience. This is me and my colleague Jeremy at the reception of Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo.

I am a 23-year-old student from Switzerland, currently enrolled in a bachelor’s program in international hospitality and business management in Lausanne.  I very much enjoy being out in nature, am quite obsessed with animals, cultures, and languages and generally very curious about discovering new parts of our planet. Through having the possibility and luck to travel and explore our beautiful planet, I had come to realize how utterly important it is to not only enjoy its beauty but also to take care of it and support it in every way possible. That is how I started becoming fascinated with sustainability and with organizations that were making it their mission to leave the smallest possible footprint.

As I was looking for an internship, I had been researching day and night and just could not seem to find the one place that seemed right. Then one day I came across the Cayuga Collection website, started reading and simply could not stop. I loved the idea of redefining luxury travel by incorporating sustainability, community, innovation, and conservation.   This new approach made so much sense to me that it was within a heartbeat that I applied to one of the Cayuga Collection Hotels called Latitude 10 in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.   Luckily, I did and a few weeks later I was looking out of an Edelweiss Airlines plane window onto a landscape of clouds over the Atlantic.  I did not know yet that the coming months would become some of the most memorable ones of my life.

Latitude 10° Beach House Resort
This is the former Latitude 10 Hotel in Santa Teresa on the Pacific Coast. A hidden gem of just 6 rooms right in front of the beach.

I arrived at the Latitude 10 Hotel on February 14th, 2020. A team that would soon become my new Costa Rican family warmly welcomed me on the breathtaking pacific coast and I was introduced to the daily operations of the hotel. A very exciting three months followed, learning about sustainability, becoming part of a team, how to avoid being peed on by howler monkeys (they are amazing animals but careful, they have a very good aim), and day by day becoming a little more “Cayuga”. I learned about the stories of employees who had climbed up the professional ladder by means of Cayuga empowering them and giving them the possibility to show their potential.  I saw how luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand, and I saw the shine in the eyes of guests arriving and the sadness in the ones of guests leaving.

Selfie with my colleague and friend Laura at Latitude 10 when it was still ok not to wear masks and social distancing was not a well known term yet.

In late April, Latitude 10 was sold to become a private home to a well known Silicon Valley Tech Mogul.  Therefore, this property would no longer be part of the Cayuga Collection.  Now what?   The airport in San Jose to get me back to Switzerland was closed and I really wanted to finish my internship somehow.  But also all hotels in Costa Rica had closed and I was not sure what would come next. 

After Latitude 10 was closed, we had to get it ready for the new owner and I was trying out my “maintenance” skills.

Luckily, the CEO and Co-Founder of the Cayuga Collection, Hans Pfister invited me to come and live in an apartment next to his home in San Jose to help him work on some projects.  I was waiting to see how the situation would evolve.

This was the last day of Cayuga running Latitude 10. We finished with a lunch for all the staff before turning the hotel over to its new owner.

I cannot express in words how much this meant to me, since I was stranded in a country a very large journey away from home, not knowing what would happen next.  Especially considering the circumstances of social distancing and quarantine times, for Hans’ family to take me in the way they did and to always make sure I was okay, was something I will never forget. They really showed me what genuine hospitality and kindness meant in times of a crisis like the one we were and are still experiencing now. I will forever be grateful to them.

During my time in San Jose, Hans and his family took me on hikes around the mountains of Escazu near San Jose.

I now had the opportunity to spend a month working directly with the Cayuga Corporate Team by assisting in various matters ranging from research on safety protocols to social media content management and online presence manuals. Being able to witness the behind the scenes work and management only made me more fascinated with this hospitality hero as Forbes recently named Cayuga.

After spending about a month in San José, acquiring new skills and a better understanding of the back-of-the-house processes, I received the opportunity to travel to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast and to spend the last part of my internship in the Hotel Aguas Claras.  This unique boutique hotel was one of the first Cayuga Collection hotels to reopen and I was able to assist in this process starting in June. 

This is an aerial shot of the Hotel Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo on the Costa Rican Caribbean Coast. The second hotel that I was able to work at during my internship.

As the Cayuga family continued to support me, I got to travel with Andrea Bonilla, the other Co-Founder, and owner of Cayuga, from San José to Puerto Viejo and most likely fatigued her during the entire four-hour car ride with my many questions about sustainability in hospitality.  Apart from hiring exclusively local employees, working only with local suppliers and embracing unique employee personalities, they also support beach clean-up activities, schools, and projects to empower women. Arriving in Puerto Viejo I was, therefore, more than ready to assist their cause wherever I could and to do so to the best of my abilities.

Team picture at Aguas Claras a few days before the end of my internship.

As I am writing this blog now in early August, I am living through the last few days of my internship at the Hotel Aguas Claras and get to reflect upon my time here as well as my entire journey that had its beginning in February.  During the last three months, I have undergone another completely different but just as special experience and have learned an incredible amount professionally as well as personally. There is a clear before and after for me, as I feel that the skills I have acquired, the people I have met and connected with, the nature I got the chance to explore and simply internalizing the “Cayuga Way” has changed my outlook quite significantly.

I saw with my own eyes how much people can achieve if they are given the chance, how sustainability can become the main reason that travel is named luxury, and how we can not only conserve but enhance our communities and ecological surroundings.  I believe that from the six months I spent with Cayuga, there is one word that really stood out for me at every point of my journey: family. It is not a coincidence that every team I worked with became my work-family and that I never felt left alone in the chaos amidst the pandemic. As I said, being part of Cayuga means being welcomed into a family that looks out for each other.

It’s not simply about a place, it is about a feeling, the sense of feeling like you are where you are supposed to be at that very moment and that is exactly how I felt every single day.   Thank you Cayuga, I hope to be back soon. 

This is a guest blog written by Eve Gruenert, a student at the Hotel Ecoliere de Lausanne, Switzerland that did an internship at the Cayuga Collection from February to August 2020. 

Hotel Aguas Claras
The great thing about Puerto Viejo is that the roads along the coast is flat and it is easy to get everywhere by bike.

2 Responses

  1. I am hotelier from Switzerland but raised in Rome, where we have the HASSLER, now with my brother.

    I have to say that luckily Uruguay is safe, and it is very small.
    I have a 5 room with baths and a nice old house (100 years old).
    The only country from SouthAmerica that one can travel.
    I am in the second City of Uruguay, many small hotels and I am trying to become a Relais & Chateaux .
    If you like it come on over,

    Peter O. Wirth
    Casa Wirth
    In Salto

    1. Dear Peter,
      thanks for your comment. We are glad to hear that you are well and hope to visit you in Uruguay soon. All the best from all of us at Cayuga.

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