catalinas hideaway

Successful Bay St. couple from Toronto quit their jobs to open a hotel in Panama

Feeling unfulfilled in their Bay Street careers, a couple from Toronto started a journey years ago to open a hotel in Panama, which only came to fruition during lockdowns.

Anthea Stanley and Ryan Somes bought a property in Santa Catalina in Panama way back in 2013 while still working successful jobs in Toronto's financial sector. But, they were feeling like they were in a rut and as if every day "felt like Groundhog Day."

Even while living in Trinity Bellwoods and starting a family, they still felt like their lives were devoid of passion, stuck in an endless cycle of "work, party, kids, repeat." They longed to recapture the magic of their honeymoon in Bali and international travels, and were inspired by a boutique hostel they visited in Nicaragua.

Discovering the surf town of Panama's Santa Catalina, they found a six-acre property 15 minutes outside of town, with 200 metres of beach and began the purchasing process.

"Our final trip before moving, Anthea was 37 weeks pregnant, traveling past her permitted time to travel, walking through Panama City in 38-degree weather searching for our finishes and working 13 to 15 hour days," Somes tells blogTO. 

"After our daughter was born, she spent months picking out our furnishings and interior decor for the hotel. We shipped a 40-foot container with all of these purchases the month before we moved. On Oct. 9, 2019, we left Canada with our three-year-old and six-month-old baby, and moved into our new home."

After having left everything behind, they didn't know of the forced delays that were to come.

"We immediately fell in love and aggressively began our build of the hotel. From that point on we became full on designers and landscapers creating our dream project. We slowly learned the language, parts of the culture and the idiosyncrasies of moving to a small jungle beach town from the biggest city in Canada," says Somes.

"We were in a foreign country, barely able to communicate with the locals, building a tourism business with the entire world's airports being closed."

Construction was halted for two months in 2020, and there were delays with supply manufacturing and shipping materials. Though they had planned to open in October 2020, they ended up opening in December.

"We kept on building. The final months leading up to our opening day were chaos with our team working around the clock," says Somes.

"They were phenomenal and were literally putting our final touches on the rooms, reception and restaurant as our first guests arrived for our sold-out opening weekend."

Catalina's Hideaway is now a boutique hotel with nine rooms, a 26-person capacity and a 5,000-square-foot outdoor restaurant and bar. There are beachfront casitas, garden paths and neon signs for social media moments, and rooms are equipped with outdoor showers and hammocks.

Available activities include yoga, horseback riding, volleyball, standup paddleboarding, massages and even a "clubhouse" with board games and video games. A "weekend hideaway for two" package starts at $598 US for two nights.

"From a family perspective we all have more time together and more time in nature. It has not been without its stresses, some really major ones, especially when you walk away from very stable careers, but waking up in warm weather and surrounded by palm trees and the ocean definitely makes managing your stress a little easier," says Somes.

"Also, not knowing what day of the week it is feels really good. Party Mondays and sleepy Saturdays. We work when we need to, and we enjoy life when the opportunity presents itself."

Though there are things they miss without Toronto, they're fine going years without ever stepping foot on Canadian soil.

"We miss Uber Eats, friends and family, and Ryan misses playing hockey. Other than that, we don't miss much and would never move back. We don't know if we'll live in Panama forever but right now there is no place we'd rather be. We are heading back to Toronto for our first time in almost three years this summer," says Somes.

"We are excited to show the kids the touristy parts of the city and see our family and friends, but we can't say for certain when we will be back again after this."

Lead photo by

Catalina's Hideaway

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