Ofer Ketter never imagined that yachts might become such a big part of his life, or his adopted country’s tourism industry.
The native of Israel loves Costa Rica — he’s made it his home for 15 years — and for him, the draw has always been the scenery, both underwater and above. He didn’t even know what a private yacht was until the 1990s, when he was a scuba instructor for dive boats off Cocos Island, some 330 nautical miles offshore. A private yacht would show up once in a while, and maybe another the next year, with owners who needed a dive guide.
The owner of his scuba company, the Undersea Hunter Group, looked at the yachts and saw the future: “They made a company that managed private submersible dives at Cocos Island,” Ofer says. “You could go down to 1,500 feet. It was a whole different planet. It wasn’t just going underwater. It was going where no one has been before. Way before this became something to see at the Monaco Yacht Show, we were the first to operate these deep private subs as a commercial tourism operation.”
Fast-forward to 2010, when the sub company SEAmagine sold one to the owner of the 279-foot (85.2-meter) Lürssen Pacific. SEAmagine contracted Ofer to run the tour operation as the yacht’s liveaboard submarine pilot.
“Then,” as Ofer tells it, “something really interesting happened.”
Ofer, Pacific’s captain and the owner cruised around the world. The owner wanted itineraries that nobody had ever done, incorporating not only the yacht’s sub, but also its helicopter and every other imaginable toy.
“Suddenly we became this amazing team,” Ofer says. “I would go ahead of the yacht, fly into a country, scout it and create a customized itinerary for the owner. The captain would bring the yacht, and we’d do a dry run of the itinerary. Then the owner would fly in with his family, and boom, we’d have a perfect product.”
For five years, on almost every continent, they created the itineraries. Their waypoints twice included Costa Rica, which is where Ofer got an idea of his own.
“I realized that no one was building itineraries for yachts, and Costa Rica was the perfect year-round cruising destination,” he says. “Unless you want luxury shopping—that’s the only thing I wouldn’t put on the list—but everything else that yachting clients wanted all around the world, Costa Rica had it.”
At the time, Costa Rica lacked superyacht facilities, but Ofer knew, from his global cruising, that the marina situation would likely change with time. So he and his partners, all former scuba guides, created Origen Escapes. They focused in part on building out itineraries that private and charter yachts would need once they had a place to tie up in Costa Rica.
“For people who are into this type of destination,” Ofer says of Costa Rica, “the list of experiences they can have—swimming in a private waterfall or a hot spring thermal river or hiking volcanoes or scuba diving with dolphins or spearfishing or being in a rainforest looking for exotic birds or exploring the coffee culture or the horseback culture or learning how to free dive or whitewater rafting or rappelling in canyons or sea kayaking or mountain biking—the list of options and experiences is long, and accessible at every level.”
And his instinct about the marinas turned out to be correct. Today, on Costa Rica’s west coast, Marina Papagayo, to the north, is able to accommodate yachts up to 220 feet (67 meters) long. The central coastline is home to Los Sueños Resort and Marina, which can take yachts up to 180 feet (54.8 meters), as well as Marina Pez Vela, whose slips go up to 200 feet (61 meters). To the south is the newly opened Golfito Marina Village, able to take yachts 350 feet (106.6 meters) and longer.
For every yacht that visits, Origen Escapes has itineraries at the ready. The team focuses on three themes: beach, mountain and jungle, for novices straight up through experts. From December until about April, they encourage itineraries along the southern stretch of Costa Rica’s west coast, and from May through November, they bring guests to the north, avoiding the seasonal rains and winds.
Since its founding in 2015, Origen has worked with a number of private-yacht owners, and Ofer hopes that as Costa Rica opens up for charter, more and more guests will want to enjoy similar adventures.
“My strategy is, let’s get the owners down here and show them the destination, so they’ll be comfortable leaving their boats here,” he says.
And crew will get comfortable understanding how easy it can be to show guests a good time, Ofer says. Compared with other destinations he has visited, he says, Costa Rica offers easy access to everything.
“Stepping off your boat anywhere along the coast is an amazing experience,” he says. “You can do all the land activities without having to go on a three-hour tour. It’s awesome. You can sea kayak from your boat to a jungle and see wildlife, or do horseback riding on the beach, or see turtles nesting. It’s accessible. It’s easy.”
One of the signature experiences that Ofer shows yacht owners (and hopes to someday show charter clients, too) is an encounter with mega-pods of spinner dolphins. Even for him, after all he’s seen around the world, this Costa Rica opportunity remains a favorite.
“These are thousands of dolphins in one pod, many pods at once,” he says. “They’re the most playful thing you can find. So we park the yachts right there in the middle of the ocean, and the guests are swimming with thousands of dolphins. You can do it snorkeling or with Seabobs or scuba gear or just hanging behind a tender. You can sit on a tender and watch as they jump out of the water. It feels like a circus. They’re jumping up and down and making noises, and you can sometimes see them all the way to the horizon. People say, Wow! And they laugh and they scream and they take pictures and they want to jump in the water as quickly as they can. It’s sheer, raw, natural excitement.”
For more information: origenescapes.com