Nina & Ryan - Featured Nomads
Nina & Ryan are the founders and owners of Gitana Del Mar, the beautiful boutique resort on the coast of Colombia, where we held our most recent yoga retreat. From their instagram and facebook pages, and the communication I had had with them to organize the retreat, I guessed they must have had an interesting story behind building Gitana Del Mar. From the outside they seemed to be the quintessential love nomads....I wasn't wrong.
In our 'featured nomads' series, we aim to take the mystery out of living a modern nomadic life. We'll often feature people whose business was born from travel adventures or who are actually living the adventure in their work. Nina & Ryan were the perfect couple to tell their story.
We loved our week long stay at the Gitana Del Mar and if you ever find yourself in the Sierra Nevada region....actually..make your way to the Sierra Nevada region and spend a few nights at Gitana Del Mar and let Nina & Ryan and their amazing staff take care of you! You won't regret it.
What was the inspiration behind building Gitana Del Mar? How did you find your location and, when you saw it did you know immediately?
After spending 10+ years working in the art world, I decided it was time to explore other passions and do a bit of self and world exploration. So, I took off on a long adventure, traveling all around Europe, living in Paris for 3 months and chasing a life long dream of wanting to learn how to surf, which took me to Costa Rica. I ended up in a small town on the North-West Pacific called Nosara and I absolutely fell in love with the small ex-pat community, the yogi and surfer lifestyle and consequently ended up meeting the love of my life, Ryan.
What started as a month long vacation in Nosara, ended up being a 3 year adventure. Ryan and I had an incredible time in Nosara and over those 3 years created a dream life there. Throughout our stay there we had a few different business ventures but ultimately were very inspired by the eco-tourism there and we both had the same dream of wanting to open a small, luxury eco-resort on the beach. However, we were not sure Costa Rica was going to be the place to try to live out and build on that dream. We were not ready to head back to the states so we decided to travel to my home country of Colombia and explore options there (I was born and raised in the states, but am 100% Colombian with most of my family still residing in Bogota).
So over the course of a year we made various trips to Colombia, exploring different areas, visiting family and getting to know the people, the culture and the land. On one of these trips to the Colombian Coast, Ryan proposed to me on the ancient walls (La Muralla) surrounding the amazing city of Cartagena. Lovestruck and excited for our future together, we headed to Santa Marta to explore our potential future on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. We absolutely fell in love with Santa Marta and even more so with the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the magical energy that is so strong where the largest coastal mountain range in the world meets the sea. We attribute much of this amazing energy to the indigenous cultures that still live and protect the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The cultures of the Kogui, Wiwa and Aruhuaco people have such a strong presence in the area and that is something we believe is truly unique and amazing!
It was during this engagement-moon, we spent a couple romantic weeks camping on the beaches and under the stars of the Sierra Nevada, and it was then that we decided....this was the place! This is where we would make our future together and fulfill our dream of building a luxury eco-resort. After searching for months, we finally found the right property for Gitana del Mar. We spend just about a year, building, remodeling and developing the project to make Gitana del Mar what it is you see today.
I enjoy putting my passions for style and design to work in the resort. I curated the decor and rustic, eco-chic design of Gitana del Mar and I continue to be inspired by all my travels and experiences. I love bringing new ideas and findings to fruition in all the design aspects of Gitana del Mar. I am also in charge of much of the programming at the resort, working to put together yoga and healing retreats, weddings and group vacations. Ryan has always had a passion for food and cooking. He won my heart cooking for me on our first dates together, and now, he is getting to fulfill his lifelong desire of having his own restaurant. Ryan is the Executive Chef at Gitana del Mar and his Chef de Cuisine, Carlos Martinez, is doing a great job bringing these delicious recipes to life for our clients!
Our dreams are unfolding before us and the universe has been right there with us every step of the way! We intend for this intimate resort to be our lifelong project and we will continue to improve, develop and grow the property sustainably and responsibly while providing the best service and experience for our guests.
What's been your biggest challenge and your greatest success so far?
I would have to say the biggest challenge up until now has just been figuring out how things work here in Colombia and getting used to the speed of how business gets done here on the Coast. It is is a world away from the US in that sense. Also, for Ryan at the beginning of the project, he was here for the first couple of months without me and had to start the construction and organizing everything with fairly basic Spanish. He was thrown into the fire and luckily we had very patient employees and builders that spoke slowly and listened carefully to him so that not much was lost in translation. That crash course though has turned out to be a big success as he is now completely fluent in Spanish.
One of our greatest success thus far has been finding great employees and building a solid team here at Gitana. We are a family and everyone here supports each other and all work with the same goal in mind...to grown Gitana and continue building our client base, provide high quality and personalized service and to make sure every client is having a terrific experience with us here. We are lucky to have found a wonderful manager Samantha Martinez, who puts a lot of dedication and love into her work. She provides exceptional customer service to all of our guests and is instrumental in maintaining harmony within our team at Gitana del Mar.
Not only did you open up Gitana in the last 2 years but you also started a family. How are you balancing work/family or have you created a business that really is your life?
Yes exactly we have created a business that fits our lifestyle. We knew early on we wanted to eventually have a family while creating this dream hotel business so we have always kept that in mind. As new parents its quite a learning experience, and we are learning that balance daily. All in all we feel pretty good about exposing our daughter Maya to life in the Colombian jungle as well as traveling and exposing her to new cultures and having her adapt to our gypsy lifestyle. It's a way we can continue to see both our families and they get to see Maya growing up.
It looks like you both travel quite frequently, do you have a (few) funny, wild, memorable or serendipitous stories you can share?
Ha! Yeah, we have had some unforgettable travels. Road tripping up and down the east coast with our Labrador Mia in our Volvo Wagon, breaking down in the middle of a hail storm on I-95. Or when traveling from the border in Nicaragua to the Colonial town of Granada, our "taxi" with one headlight ran head on into a horse crossing the middle of the highway...some how everyone in the car came out without a scratch! While living in Costa Rica we also had some amazing road trips in our Land Cruiser all the way down to Pavones, the southernmost beach on the pacific coast. Stopping along the way and staying in a treehouse community in the mountains! Also various occasions breaking down on the horrible unpaved roads of the Nicoya Penisula! Breaking down really tests your patience and strength as a couple! However, I'd have to say that the most memorable trips were our first couple times coming to Colombia together.
The first time for Ryan was life changing as it opened him up to my country and made him fall in love with the people, the culture and the way of life here. It was when we traveled to Bogota to meet my extended family and they all took Ryan in like one of their own. It was life changing and everything just felt so right about this Country for us. That is what really set the wheels in motion to start planning our move from Costa Rica to Colombia.
What are 5 essential items for travel?
Laptop (We work from all over!)
Headlamp (Never know when you will need it, and you will always need it!)
Window or aisle seat?
Window for whoever is holding the baby and Isle for the other in the hopes that no one takes the middle seat!
Your music selection at Gitana was amazing. I loved the playlists at dinner. Can you offer up some song suggestions for an ultimate travel playlist?
Thank you! We love any types of Brazilian Jazz, some Bossa and laid back house and lounge music (especially for dinner time and cocktails). Day time and post dinner calls for some reggae around here as well as Thievery Corporation and Colombian Cumbia, Electro Cumbia and Salsa (Choquibtown, Bomba Estereo, Grupo Niche, Joe Arroyo etc.).
What are a few wonderful things about living in Colombia?
The People....so caring, warm and welcoming. The amazing fresh and exotic fruits! Beautiful scenery in every corner of the country and having every type of climate. The quality of life and the services here are amazing and affordable, such as Nannies, housekeepers, Salon services, mechanical/car/construction work.
The excitement and pride of the Colombian people for them to show tourists their country. This gorgeous country has so much potential and it is an exciting time to be here watching the country grow and gain more international tourism and recognition. It is long due! We are thrilled to be a part of it here in our area of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
How important has travel been in your life?
Incredibly important! It is our main inspiration and it is what keeps us driving! We built this business so that we can live here and have time to travel the globe! We are inspired by each and every trip that we take. Now that we have Maya we want to take her everywhere so that she can grow up learning about and experiencing different cultures, adventures and food from all over the world!
What's your travel style?
Roughly planned out, but not extremely down to the last detail. Sometimes last minute and impulsive. Typically we follow recommendations from friends and others that inspire us and have traveled to where we are heading. We like to freestyle and take it all as it comes, but now with Maya we have to go at things just a little bit more organized and thought out.
Click through to read more about Gitana Del Mar or see the video below to watch our personal experience at the beautiful resort.