This week’s opening of El Navegante Guest House adds to Culebra’s room stock and brings to a happy conclusion longtime efforts by its two owners to develop the property on which the small hostelry is located.
The project represents an investment of $650,000, including the cost of the land which was purchased some time ago, said co-owner Gabriel “Gaby” Castro, also the owner of several apartments in Culebra and San Juan available on the short rental market since 1993 and 2000, respectively.
According to Castro, El Navegante’s eight rooms fit in neatly with the kinds of small-size developments favored for Culebra, a small island off the coast of Fajardo that is hugely popular among Puerto Ricans and foreigners alike because of its unspoiled character and beautiful beaches.
There are probably between 200 and 300 rooms available to tourists on the island, he said.
The hotel is located on land near the water, right off Ensenada Honda Bay, in a formerly vacant two-story building whose first floor served, at one time, as the kitchen for a restaurant popular in the 1980s with Culebra’s sailing crowd. It was called El Navegante.
Fourteen years ago Castro and another two partners bought the plot with the intention of developing an apartment building. Problems with permitting eventually scuttled the project. Two years ago, Castro and partner William Vázquez decided to try their luck with a guest house.
Despite his excellent credit and experience, Castro said he was unable to secure financing for the hostelry itself though the partners got a loan for $130,000 to buy out the third partner. Another $200,000 in private capital went into remodeling the building. The balance represents the money they paid for the land and building.
When interviewed, Castro said he was putting the finishing touches on five rooms in time for opening day on Dec. 15 with the other three rooms to be ready by Dec. 20. He said he’s already booked for New Year’s.
The rooms come equipped with wi-fi and a small refrigerator. Castro said that if successful, he would like to add a restaurant in about a year’s time.
“We have a lot of faith it is going to go well,” he said.
In marketing the hostelry, Castro will turn to the Internet in the same way he markets his vacation apartments. He said the rental business has changed a lot thanks to websites where people can list, find and rent lodgings.
He uses Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and Join a Join Puerto Rico. Airbnb, alone, has 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities around the world and HomeAway lists more than 1 million vacation rentals in 190 countries.
These sites, he said, have given him access to the whole world. In contrast with past years when he rented to locals and American tourists, nowadays his guests are likely to come from places as disparate as China, Norway, India and Poland.
“This has evolved a lot. It is not the same,” he said.