Bahia Escondida

A hidden bay plans to stay that way.

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Like many people, I have mixed feelings about luxury property development in unspoiled places. On the one hand, it can bring jobs and infrastructure to an area that benefits from both. On the other, the influx of new money doesn't usually get well distributed and sometimes it seems that developers are just interested in creating little pockets of wealthy America- with all the tumbled-limestone countertops, stainless steel appliances, and wrought-iron gates of affluent American enclaves-plopped on a foreign nation's beautiful beach.

So, I had real reservations about Bahia Escondida, especially after I laid eyes on Golfito, Costa Rica. (See "Simply Spectacular"). It's surrounded by nature- gorgeously wild, untamed, and unpretentious. The town itself is a little run-down and funky, with loads of history and character. Were these folks going to turn this into yet another plastic paradise?

The answer is a resounding No. James Lynskey, Bahia Escondida's president and the man with the vision, has been living in Costa Rica for over 15 years. "I love this place," he said of Golfito. "What makes it unique throughout the world are 5 kilometers of bayfront on a magnificent harbor, surrounded by thousands of acres of refuge, and its history," he said, referring to Golfito's past as a United Fruit company town.

Change is inevitable, but the Bahia Escondida plan is to minimize their negative impact and emphasize the good. That's why clean water activist Neil Ross just finished his initial study for the implementation of a Clean Marina program at Bahia Escondida. It's why they're planning to build a public boardwalk between the old American Zone and the town. And it's why a 10-acre park will be at the center of it all. Since most of the area around Golfito is federally protected wilderness, there's also zero chance that Golfito will ever look like Cancun.

Bahia Escondida's largest property will be a full-service, luxury marina with 217 slips for yachts from 60 to 240 feet. Dockwise Yacht Transport will make stops in Golfito and Galati Yacht Sales has been in discussions about starting a Viking fractional ownership program at the marina, as well.

The marina residences will feature 125 waterfront condo units and a ground floor with high-end retail businesses and public walkways. The new resort will be built in the same architectural flavor as the Key West-style "banana houses."

Fish Hook Lodge and Marina is already open. It has a brand new 20-slip marina and will be adding another 7 slips of 80 feet each. Shamrock, a gorgeous 51-foot Whiticar that's captained by Lynskey's brother Tommy, keeps a busy charter schedule for serious anglers. The marina has 6 guest rooms scattered around the palapa- style open-air restaurant and bar. Twelve additional one-bedroom suites and a private yacht club are being added to the existing property and there are plans for commercial development of the lot next door that will add shops and another restaurant and bar. There will also be a fuel dock and pump-out facility.

Bahia Escondida's other project is La Sirena. It's being developed into 15 private residences that will be centered around the house of a former banana company bigwig. Right at the base of the wildlife refuge, the house has an incredible view from the pool-both up the mountainside and down across town and out to the bay. When the three- to four-bedroom plantation-style houses are completed, they'll enjoy use of La Sirena's house and pool as their private club, as well as Fish Hook's yacht club facilities.

"From Day One, because of Golfito's small size and limited buildability, we've known that we would have to really integrate with the old town. So, with Miami-based OBM, which specializes in luxury waterfront development- we've designed a very open resort, with lots of shared, public space."

There's no doubt that, in this case, it's in Bahia Escondida's best interest to create an exceptional property- one that respects the astounding beauty and quirky history of Golfito for generations to come.

Bahia Escondida, +506-27751624; www.fishhookmarina.com