Pellas project raises bar for tourism

Guacalito de la Isla promises to be the flagship of coastal development projects

TOLA—After several millennia of being suckled and shaped by Mother Nature, the windswept virgin shoreline of Nicaragua’s “Emerald Coast” is now under the guardianship of Grupo Pellas, which is carefully developing this pristine piece of land into what it promises will be Nicaragua’s—if not Central America’s—premier beach resort by the end of next year.

Guacalito de la Isla, a $250 million tourism development tucked into the forested Pacific slope overlooking a series of unexplored coves that dimple the coastline, is being called a “game changer” for Nicaragua’s small yet feisty tourism sector.

“We think that Guacalito de la Isla could be for Nicaragua what the Four Seasons was for Costa Rica,” said Carlos Pellas, the controlling shareholder of Grupo Pellas, one of Central America’s largest business conglomerates and the cleanup hitter for the Nicaraguan economy.

Carlos Pellas, Vivian Pellas and staff (photo/ Tim Rogers)

On Dec. 3, one year before the luxury hotel, golf course and spa opens to the public, Pellas and his development team held a private sneak peak of the Guacalito property for a coterie of investors and friends eager to see the early phase of development, explore the property, walk through one of the model units, and test their stroke with a 3-iron on a tricky approach to a scenic par 3.

 “Today you are seeing our dream. The vision we had of creating a unique tourist destination is becoming a reality,” Pellas said, flanked by his wife, Vivian Pellas, and his development team, dressed uniformly in white golf shirts.

“We are creating a catalyst that will put Nicaragua on the world tourism map,” Pellas said.

After a century of captaining Nicaragua’s economy and cornering entire industries, it was only a matter of time before Grupo Pellas made its foray into tourism. The family conglomerate, which employs more than 25,000 people in Nicaragua, is already heavily involved in sugar, rum, ethanol, media, insurance, citrus, health-care and auto dealerships.

The Pellas name is also attached to some of the largest brand names in Nicaragua, from Flor de Caña Rum and the INCAE business school, to the Casa Pellas dealerships (which has exclusive rights to all sales of Toyota, Mahindra, Hino, Suzuki, and Yamaha) and the world-class Vivian Pellas Hospital. Pellas also founded BAC Credomatic financial network in 1985, which he finalized the sale of last year in what was the largest transaction in Central American history.

Now, instead of retiring, Pellas is setting his sights on the next frontier of Nicaragua’s economy: tourism. And of all the projects Carlos Pellas has been involved with over the years, Guacalito de la Isla is the one he wants to be remembered for.

“After everything we did at BAC, the easiest, most logical and most comfortable thing for me to do would have been to retire. Go home, smoke my cigar, fish and relax. But I said, ‘We have to do something else’,” Pellas said.  “I always had an idea in my head to leave some sort of legacy that goes beyond something that will benefit only shareholders—a legacy that will put a stamp on the country.”

In making his mark on Nicaraguan tourism, Pellas is not cutting any corners for his legacy project. From the road and sewage infrastructure to the spa and golf course details, Pellas is promising a resort that will be among the best in the world.

And he’s spending the money to get the quality he wants.

Virgin beauty: Guacalito de la Isla (photo/ Tim Rogers)

“Everything is being done here according to international standards,” Pellas said. “One of our goals is to achieve and maintain leadership through excellence. And we can only do that by comparing ourselves to the best in the world.”

To do that, Pellas says he’s assembled the best international team available.

The 18-hole golf course, which will open next December, is being designed by renowned Scottish architect David McLay Kidd, named “the hottest architect in golf” by Golf World Magazine. Kidd’s international portfolio includes The Castle Course at the legendary St. Andrews Links Trust in Scotland, Bandon Dunes, which was ranked #1 in the 2004 Zagat Survey of America’s Top Golf Courses, and  Queenwood, ranked #1 in the Golf World U.K.’s list of Best New Private Course in 2002.

Guacalito’s “Mukul Spa” will also be in a class of its own, the business tycoon says.

“We have traveled the world looking at different spas and we have taken the best elements from the best spas in the world and we have brought the best managers and administrators from the most successful spas in the world,” Pellas said. “I can’t talk about it yet because it’s a secret, but when the hotel opens remember that I told you that this spa will be the only one of its kind in the world.”

Room with a view (photo/ Tim Rogers)

The name of the Spa, “Mukul,” is the Maya word for secret.

But once the secret is out, Pellas says he expects people to come from all over the globe to visit Guacalito’s facilities and enjoy its unrivaled natural beauty.

The combination of world-class facilities and virgin natural beauty will raise the bar for tourism in Nicaragua and move the chains on the country’s development potential.

“Three percent of tourists worldwide generate 40% of tourism revenue on a global level; that’s a statistic that we have to keep in mind always because this is a country that has everything it needs to bring that type of world-class tourism,” Pellas said.

Currently, he says, Nicaragua generates one job for every tourist who visits the country. Pellas’ goal is to generate six jobs for every tourist who visits Guacalito de la Isla. Already, the development has 1,200 workers on the payroll just to get the project ready for the first tourists to arrive late next year.

Commitment to nature

While Pellas hopes to put his stamp on Nicaraguan tourism, he doesn’t want to put his footprint on Nicaragua’s nature.

Those who work on the project say Pellas’ commitment to conservation borders on fanatical.

Kidd says he’s been instructed numerous times to not cut down any trees or “move any rocks” in designing the golf course, which Pellas insists must flow with the property and not disturb the landscape.

“Every time I see his helicopter coming over the hill I get nervous that he’s going to come fire me because he thinks I’ve cut down a tree or a bush,” Kidd says with a laugh.

Wide load: 1-million pound Guanacaste was transplanted with help from experts from Texas (photo/ Tim Rogers)

Pellas demonstrated his commitment to the trees when he flew in a special team of arborists from Houston to help move a 1-million pound, 150-year-old Guanacaste tree that was where the main road into the project needed to pass.

“That’s an example of what we are doing here. It would have been easy to just cut down the tree and plant a new one that in 100 years would have looked the same. But that’s not our way of doing things,” Pellas said.

All told, the construction crew has already transplanted 1,500 trees to avoid cutting anything down, and has planted 75,000 trees in a nursery that will be used to reforest the site once construction is completed.

A first for Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s government is also celebrating the advance of Guacalito de la Isla.

“I think this project is important for the development of tourism in the country and will be a reference for other projects and future investments,” Tourism Minister Mario Salinas told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “This is a pioneer for this type of development here in Nicaragua. And now Nicaragua has to create conditions so that this type of project can develop, succeed and flourish.”

Salinas said the government’s side of the bargain in tourism development is to continue to invest in infrastructure and country promotion so that tourists come to Nicaragua and can move around comfortably and safely once they’re here.

Guacalito de la Isla is not only raising the standards for other tourism projects, but for Nicaragua itself, Salinas said.

 “Now the goal is to put Nicaragua on the same level as this project,” he said “This project is important because it gives all of us a concrete goal to shoot for.”

  • Debbie

    My husband and I live on Ometepe Island. We heard that the Pellas family bought Punta Jesus Maria for development. If this rumor is true, I am glad to hear that their commitment to conservation borders on fanatical. We live a quarter of a mile from the new airport, and kayak to the Punta frequently. We’ve said for years that someone was going to buy the Punta and make a resort eventually. If this rumor is confirmed, I am glad to hear that it will be developed with a responsibility to the fragile environment that exists on la isla.

  • Mike Quinn

    I’d be interested to hear what others think of this project. My concern is that this sort of resort that attracts only the wealthy will concentrate tourist spending in this one resort and that this class of visitor will not see other parts of Nicaragua. Also of course I presume this is the Pellas’ plan and all to their benefit. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to have a real luxury property but I wish the plan was to spread the wealth a bit more :)

    • Anastasio Somoza P.

      Dear Mr. Quinn,
      The Guacalito development and the sponsorship of the Pellas family guarantees a first class property investment and an excellent experience to any investor and visitor. As an investment, property in Guacalito carries the absolute security guaranteed by the Pellas name and integrity. I am absolutely sure that investors in Guacalito will have none of the worries that others are sure to have by taking fliers on property with shady titles and future legal disputes. Unfortunate property problems continue to occur in Nicaragua solely because of the current government’s discretionary compensation of the former owners.based solely on political and not judicial considerations. No amount of “Title Insurance” will remedy your purchasing of confiscated property in the 21st Century.
      From within the absolutely secure environment of Guacalito,I am sure that its investors and visitors will emerge to visit the wonderful surroundings Nicaragua and Costa Rica can offer..
      Guacalito will give Nicaragua a world class resort, set to international standards that will elegantly and securely provide its visitors with the best Nicaragua can offer.
      Anastasio Somoza P..

      • Mike Quinn

        Sr. Somoza, I believe you meant to address your concerns on the Pellas’ integrity to another poster on this page…I have no opinion on the validity of the titles or any other such objections.

        I am however much relieved to hear that possibly at some point the investor class may choose to leave the “absolutely secure environment of Guacalito” to see some of the rest of Nicaragua. Staying solely within the confines of the project would, in my opinion, severely limit the investor’s appreciation of the natural beauty of both the Nicaraguan landscape but also its people…and that would be a shame.

        • Anastasio Somoza P.

          Dear Mr. Quinn, I agree with you completely. There is enormous beauty and charm in many quiet corners of Nicaragua. I certainly hope that the team at Guacalito contacts those knowledgeable in the natural beauty of Nicaragua such as yourself. Nicaragua is a vast and wonderful land, I hope Guacalito visitors get to know it as well as you apparently do. Sincerely, A.Somoza P.

    • Mark


      It’s PHENOMENAL that Pellas is building a world class resort. If you start big then other niches develop. It will get more people looking. Right now people don’t think at all about coming to Nicaragua (generalized statement….the masses don’t think of it). So to build a world class spa like none other opens Nica up to spa goers who “must” experience this.

      And then it also sets the stage for others to build their own beautiful development. And then more people come. And then more people talk. And then more people hear and think – including travel agents and travel sites – “let’s look at this place in Nicaragua” ….and then more people look and begin looking at various price levels.

      But you can’t start with crappy resorts. No one talks about crappy resorts and this kind of resort by Pellas creates more jobs, better tips, better roads, etc, etc.

      It’s all good.

  • Lidia Rossi

    Congratulazioni Carlo Pellas. Ricordo benissimo il Vivian Pellas Hospital e non ho dubbi che anche questo nuovo project sarà top level. Un grande aiuto per il Nicaragua. BRAVISSIMO!

  • Pedro Arauz

    I don’t want to be a party popper but way to many people recommends not to buy there as the land was originally confiscated and true owners are waiting for the value to be way up to ask for a return or a major compensation. In other words it would be like buying stolen property in Cuba.
    Buyer be aware…

  • Luis Ramon Sevilla Somoza

    Dear Pedro and Readers
    The Pellas Family has been long time friends with the original owners, the Somoza Family. Both Families celebrated giving a receiving the rights to this land though a legal business settlement many years ago, before the development began. There is no legal problem what’s so ever in Guacalito. The Pellas Family is one of the very few groups that volunteer openly in settleing any property rights to guarantee the future buyers complete assurance that everything is legal. They work by the book! One of their first questions when buying land for whatever development is who owned it before the Sandinista Revolution and what is the legal status now. The Sandinistas completely destroyed the economy of Nicaragua and confiscated all the property the Somoza Families owned along with thousands of other properties at will. Just north of The Pellas Resort of Guacalito is Arenas Bay that also committed to a settlement for the legal rights. Further north is Iguana Beach, and Rancho Santana. Both of these beach developments have the typical foreign investor mentality and have not bothered to settle with the original owners. This is due in part by having bad attorneys, bad property insurance company representation, partnerships and strong relations with The Sandinistas. This is what you have to be careful of when buying any property in Nicaragua. As you say Pedro, “Buyer Be Aware”.
    Luis Ramon Sevilla Somoza

  • Rita Lugo

    Well,well…from what I hear in Panama, Nicaragua has just started a much worst road than the one taken in 1979. Never mind who the Somozas or the Pellas are or are not, that’s not the point.
    Thing is, some people still don’t know what the Ortega-Murillos are capable of and probably only the old Sandinista guard can guess. If they once belongued to the Moscow-Havana axis they now belong to the Tehran-Caracas axis and with current developments after the so called Arab Spring and one anti Israeli Mr.Obama the future for that axis in all honesty very dark.
    Just 50 miles from Guacalito you have Costa Rica and a bit down South Panama and trust me that if Carlos could move there, he would.
    FYI and after selling BAC, the San Antonio Ingenio is being organized into SER for selling purposes, a typical Stanford business strategy and also trust me when I tell you that Gualito is being sold as we speak.
    I agree on one thing: It takes risk to make it, go for it!
    It’s all about facts, lets wait and see.
    It all depends my dear if a tough Republican President comes to the White House and Israel doing you know what….

  • Pedro Arauz

    It’s such a pity the many question marks around Nicaragua that I would recommend to anybody to better rent before buying anything in Nicaragua except of course when it’s not your money like with the Chavistas or the Obamistas…
    For your guidance pls read the following article from someone who know the Ortega Murillo crowd:

    • Mark

      I think it’s ironic that here in the USA we see so many dirty tricks, games, and political maneuvers – but anything happens in Nicaragua or elsewhere and we call it “so corrupt.” No place is perfect, and certainly a place with so many old wounds especially. Again, only 250 years old, and the USA has plenty of those wouldn’t you say. But I don’t think major players would be in larger amounts contracting more and more to have apparel and other goods made in Nica, nor would people like Jack Nicklaus or Mr. Kidd get involved with troubled countries. They don’t need to. Is there money being tossed around to politicians for these kinds of big ventures? YES! Right here in the good old USA every day too. I can post hundred of links – at least two from the past two months within 20 minutes of where I live. But reality, as I see it, Ortega and others have skin in the game like never before. They have land and money in these kinds of ventures. Same games. Different country folks.

  • Mario

    Can someone tell me where is Guacalito island located? Which part of Nicaragua?


    • Mark

      Guacalito is a development west of Rivas, thru Tola and just south of Gigante. There are a couple big rocks that are called the isletas, but there is no real island.

  • Cesar benavides

    Dearest people, I see here lots of opinion regarding the land and the project. Acording to my experiend in the field of real states, buying a land may be a problem if you do n ot know know or not have the experience to negociate with the real owners of a property after confiscation. I had some experience with a beach property the had three owners and I negociate with the three of them and now there is any issue, why don;t you think that the Pellas conglomerate swould;t do the same. So wellcome to Nicaragaua nd wellcome to guacalito de la isla everyone from all over the globe because here is the place you have to be. Congratulation Carlos Pellas and Staffs.

  • Pedro Arauz

    Well Tim, thanks for posting articles concerning the true path Nicaragua is following under the fierce anti America if not enemies of the West specifically the US like Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Ortega.
    If anybody in their right mind (unless someone here has an interest in “selling” the Guacalito land as soon as possible…) thinks this will have a nice ending should remember the definition of insanity.
    I was present at the Nicaraguan election last Nov.6 and it was such a low life show organized by scum and was all I needed to finally realize that Nicaragua was as lost as never before.
    At least in 1979 there was plenty of crazy but honest leftist ideology but now is nothing more than a bunch of Gangsters taking advantage, Chicago style if you know what I mean.
    Sorry but I have to be honest, at least somebody has to.

  • Marty Navarro, CCIM

    I wanted to weigh in on this subject if I may. Guacalito does not seem to be targeting the small (lesser sophisticated) investor or retiree looking for a low cost of living opportunity. It appears to be aimed at the wealthier investor who can afford to take a chance. They are accustom to taking risks (after a comprehensive due diligence process). There is risk associated with any investment (gold, stocks, bonds, and yes now real estate in the US). In my humble opinion, if the price of this development (lots, condo’s) are priced commensurate with the known or perceived risk (compared to Costa Rica or Panama), then I think this would be a great place to park some money. Real estate values in the US and Europe have declined dramatically over the past 3 years and there is more pain ahead. If Pellas prices his project with a Global perspective in mind, I think he will find much success. I have 25 years experience in commercial real estate investment and development and have evaluated hundreds of these type projects and this one seems like it could be a real winner.

  • Pedro Arauz

    If you want to read the good news pls read this article, problem is Ortega will act only on instructions from Hugo Chavez so no matters how much opposition he gets from the West he will not “act accordingly” and this will go from bad to worst.
    By the way….you have no idea how much Pellas was against Somoza and that is actually the time period when Pellas made ALL his money, somehow….they just don’t get it.

    Good news:

    « Rubio apoyaría a Jacobson si hay cambios en la política de EE.UU. hacia la región | Inicio
    Rubio podría apoyar una nueva votación de Aponte:

    “Según fuentes oficiales, Rubio apoyaría la nominación de Mari Carmen Aponte como embajadora de El Salvador, luego que la administración se habría comprometió a una declaración oficial del Dept. de Estado sobre Nicaragua y las elecciones presidenciales, al igual que apoyaría la aprobación de la resolución de Rubio y el Sen. Bob Menéndez (D-NJ), que urge al presidente Obama y al Dept. de Estado a que tomen medidas para restaurar el orden constitucional en Nicaragua.”

  • JH

    Good for the Pellas emporium, bad for Nicaragua. Good for the ruling family who may be getting some kind of deal, obviously. A favor from one Jefe to another one. The way things are being designed, Guacalito will not be Nicaragua anymore but what the foreigners would expect to see, another Cancun, maybe?

  • Fred Cressman

    No question but this is a big win for Nicaragua as resorts of this nature are only found in stable countries. It’s hard for most of us to understand the target market for such an upscale development. Yes it seems very much on a par with the 4 Seasons property developed in Costa Rica which I did see under construction.

    My daughter actual works with Four Seasons in their Development Department and told me about the Costa Rica property and nearby resort where their own people stayed while property was being developed. Fascinating to see full grown palm trees trucked in and placed on Golf Course as well as huge water pipe extending for miles.

    Pellas could by the way with little difficulty obtain use of the Four Seasons name for their own resort. Few people know that Four Seasons is mostly management and not the actual owner of the majority of Four Season properties.

    What is difficult for those in the middle income group to understand is who wealthy people who frequent the class of property Pellas is developing really are and what matters to them. I’m guessing that while some benefits flow back into the Nicaraguan economy there will be less direct benefit by way of out of pocket expenditures made by visitors than seen from less wealthy tourists. These upmarket visitors will not be as likely to tour around Nicaragua visiting local bars and restaurants but stay primarily within the development.

    What I’d hope for is that a few of those well to do visitors take an interest in Nicaragua and perhaps direct some of their investment portfolio into the country which will trickle down to benefit more Nicaraguans.

  • Alessandra Mondadori

    Together with my family we looked for the best spot from San Diego to Panama and it’s all gorgeous but the one thing that made the difference is what we callin Europe the Apre Ski or what do you do after skiing all day? If you don’t have a quaint little town to go for drinks and diner you would after a few days go crazy and start howling like a mad dog. We found two last super spots one is Acapulco but way to big now and believe it or not: San Juan del Sur! The bay is perfect to keep your boat year long and you can visit from Papagayo in Costa Rica to Guacalito in day adventures.
    The trend in Europe is San Juan del Sur and here I am (even though my mother bought some land in Guacalito just for kicks). Trust me, I loved St. Moritz and Cortina but after the day’s activities you do need the crazy crowd unless if you are a monkey…go to Guacalito!

    • Andre Gripe

      Ah, the 1% has much to contribute. After skiing or boating the day away, they can find their way into the quaint villages of the real country and employ some of the local “crazy people” to serve them drinks and dinner — job creators doing what they do best. So nice to have you parking your boat here!

  • http://Nicaraguamagizine Robert Trolese

    Dear Sirs,
    The church might be able to assist in the integrated design for the advancement of the staff within the tourism industry. Setting ecological, philosophical, economic, moral and even academic standards.

  • tourist

    have been trying to plan a independent travel vacation to nicaragua. . is this a good idea? sounds like this country is unstable. paying bribes is not my idea of a vacation. don’t speak spanish. could we travel safely in our own car.
    please comment.

    • Fred Cressman

      I’m assuming you’re planning on renting a car in Nicaragua as driving through Mexico and Guatemala to get here wouldn’t be on my list of smart things to do. Guess it all depends on where you plan on driving and staying. It’s a Spanish speaking country so out in the hinterland you’d have quite a time being understood and part of the North of Country not for the faint of heart to be driving in with no Spanish.

      It’s a poor country and while majority of people are kind and helpful you have to be careful. Paying bribes ‘for what’? You mean if you make an illegal entrance to highway or run a stop sign? If a traffic cop is around you can have your license lifted (you’d have to appear at station to get it back after paying fine) or slip him half the cost of the fine to go on your way, not exactly a hardship is it.

  • Pingback: Nicaragua sets tee time for golf tourism()

  • Pingback: I Feel a Change Comin’ | Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua()


    Hello mr.CARLO
    My name is PELLAS Dimitrios
    My telefon:0030 6906275952 mod. in home 0030 2351023009



  • Pingback: Pellas: ‘Nicaragua’s hour has come’()

  • Pingback: Pellas: ‘Nicaragua’s hour has come’ : One Caribbean Radio | The Global Mix()

  • Frank

    Read my lips Nicaragua will be another Costa Rica full of a lots of Foreigners, Bad Investment for Nicaraguans.. Good for Mr. Carlos Pellas
    Pellas ? (sounds Italian/Greek)