Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am
As a boy, Ryan Persitza traveled to Jamaica with his grandparents and father, and he returned when he was in college. He fell in love with the tropical island and has now made at least 25 visits.
“The climate, the topography, the abundance of fresh water combined with miles and miles of Caribbean frontage, that is a dynamic combination,” he said, after returning from his latest Jamaican trip. “It’s not a sand bar with a bunch of palm trees. It’s very lush. The foods, the tropical fruits and stuff like that. But beyond that, mainly (I fell in love with) the warmth of the people and the Caribbean lifestyle.”
During a visit to Jamaica in 2006, Persitza, a vice president for Brookfield-based NAI MLG Commercial, saw a sign that said, “land for sale.”
Prior to working for MLG, Persitza has worked on a 120-area master plan seaside development in Jamaica that has yet to come to fruition. But when he saw the “land for sale” sign in 2006, Persitza saw an opportunity to work on a project in Jamaica on his own.
The property is about four acres, but is so hilly it has about 12 acres of surface area. A stream runs through the property, and the property has about 400 feet of frontage on the Cabarita River. The property is also about a 10-minute walk to a two-mile chain of waterfalls. A cave is also within walking distance of the property.
The property, located well inland from the beach and near a major waterfall was exactly what Persitza was looking for.
“During my trips to Jamaica, mostly I stayed near the beach,” Persitza said. “But I also visited these waterfalls that were up in the mountains about an hour away. After a certain amount of time of going down there, I thought, ‘Boy I love it up here (near the waterfalls) so much I’d rather be up here for a week and maybe take a day to go down to the beach.’ It was during one of those trips that he saw the “land for sale” sign.
The process of merely determining the exact boundaries of the property in the middle of a tropical forest was challenging. A surveyor could not survey the property because of the forest, and tree cutters could not figure out where the property line was.
“It was kind of this back and forth,” Persitza said. “I spent a decent amount of money before I was really sure what I had.”
After working through those issues, Persitza closed on his purchase of the property about a year ago. He declined to disclose the price.
Inspired by the spa his grandparents operated along Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Persitza wanted to create a luxury camping retreat where people can go to relax, restore and rejuvenate themselves in a natural tropical setting.
Called Camp Cabarita (www.thehiddenjamaica.com), Persitza has only added a few small buildings to the property. He has added a 100-square-foot, one-unit hut, a central bar and restrooms. He is building a two-story, 192-square-foot, four-room villa and a 168-square-foot one-unit building. He also is building a 3,500-square-foot cornucopia-shaped central lodge on the property for group activities.
The current capacity for Camp Cabarita is 40 guests, and most of them sleep in tents.
Visitors to Camp Cabarita can enjoy a variety of activities, including swimming, hiking, spelunking. A short excursion can take visitors to a beach or to see other attractions.
Less than 60 days after purchasing the property, Persitza brought 15 friends and clients to Camp Cabarita. He hired some local residents, including one Jamaican who Persitza has known for 10 years and is the camp’s general manager, to set up the camp with massage tables, food and beverage service and restroom facilities. Now Persitza has two-full time employees at Camp Cabarita and at peak times has 13 employees there
The camp attracts group excursions and individual visitors, including some locals. Some visitors heard about the camp and came to visit from Germany, Brazil, Japan and France.
Persitza says marketing the experience at the camp is difficult because one truly has to go there to understand what it is like. However, he is selling the experience to business owners for retreats.
“You’re a personal trainer, you’re a business coach, you’re a yoga instructor,” he said. “I sit down with you. And I say you’re not planning a vacation you’re planning the same six hour workshop that you’ve already given a thousand times. It’s just that we happen to be spreading it over five days and four nights in a very unique place. And because of that uniqueness you are able to charge a lot of money for it. I’m (telling) business owners, it’s a retreat in a box. You just plug in your six hours or eight hours of programming.”
The camp has a minimal amount of buildings, and Persitza wants to keep the property as natural as possible to emphasize the experience as an escape to the natural world outside of the modern rat race.
“The idea to sort of redefine luxury as waking up and swimming in a cold stream or picking fruit vine ripened on a tree adjacent and giving people some semblance of sanity considering many of the things we do don’t seem to make a hell of a lot of sense,” he said.