Extraordinary Entrepreneurs: Wild Rover
Peru - Cusco
This year, we’re highlighting some of the remarkable stories behind some of Ireland’s Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. Check out the story of Wild Rover below!
Wild Rover started in 2007 in La Paz, Bolivia. I was backpacking through South America with 3 other Irish friends; we visited Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile along the way. The plan was to fly home from Buenos Aires for Christmas but it was summer in the Southern hemisphere, the weather was about 40oC and I could not bear the thought of flying home to the wind and rain so I decided to stay and start my new adventure in South America.
I found some bar work in Peru so I made the long bus journey of 60 hours back to Arequipa where I spent a few months. Then I moved to Cusco which is a very touristy city and the starting point for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I stayed in Cusco for almost a year learning Spanish and understanding the local market a lot better.
In 2007 I went to La Paz, Bolivia as I realized a lot of backpackers were traveling between La Paz and Cusco. Bolivia was just recovering after a complicated political situation in 2005 and under their new leftist president Evo Morales things were promising and the country was becoming stable and safer to travel. Tourism in Bolivia was very inexpensive, you could do an amazing 3 day jungle trip all inclusive for under US$ 100 or you could visit the Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) for about the same price; among other tours are the famous World’s Most Dangerous road and the infamous San Pedro Prison tour.
I made a quick decision and I moved to La Paz. I wanted to start an Irish Bar but I also wanted to offer a comfortable and safe place to stay for backpackers while they visited La Paz. I found a property, which was an ex-presidents residence, located only a couple of blocks from the Presidential palace and the main square. The renovations in the property took about 3 months, working day and night until Wild Rover opened its doors towards the end of 2007. We had the most amazing Christmas with people from around the World, although we did have one too many drinks.
Our menu consisted of all the typical Irish dishes like Shepherd’s Pie, Irish Stew, etc. My mother was sending me packages of Taytos and tea bags every week although normally after the 2 months they took to arrive they were already out of date but we had plenty of Irish customers for them anyway.
A year later, I purchased the property next door, increased our capacity of beds and the size of our pub. We had over 200 beds at that time. Our Irish bar is popular with locals alike and it’s a great place for the local people and tourists to socialise and learn about other cultures.
In 2009, I decided to go back to Cusco, Peru and search for opportunities as I knew the city and the market really well. 1 year later Wild Rover Cusco opened its doors just in time for Christmas 2010. About 6 months later Wild Rover also opened in Arequipa, Peru.
Currently we have 5 properties based in Cusco, Mancora, Arequipa, Huacachina and La Paz. The pandemic has affected our business greatly like all hospitality businesses around the World but we are resilient and we found ways to reinvent ourselves.
We have rebranded our Irish Bars, which are now called “Fada” with a great Peruvian food menu and signature cocktails aimed at attracting the local market as international tourism makes its way back slowly. All of them have large outdoor spaces, Fada Cusco has a large terrace overlooking the city, Fada Huacachina has a large swimming pool and large terrace surrounded by the sand Dunes, they all are very unique. Our hostels continue to use the name Wild Rover.
With the Wild Rover brand we have about 1000 beds and we hope to keep expanding as soon as travel starts getting back to normal levels.
The most memorable but stressful time of the year for me in Wild Rover over the years was Christmas dinner. We opened Wild Rover in La Paz with a small kitchen and never imagined we would end up doing Christmas dinner for 200 + people. Every year for Christmas we would have a lot of bookings from all the Irish and English tourists, they would book in for a week and take a break from traveling.
As most of the guests/clients were away traveling for over a year, Christmas day and dinner was very important for them. My first memory of Christmas in Wild Rover was trying to work out how to defrost enough turkeys for 200 people. We couldn’t find an experienced chef back then to do all this work. Luckily we had many Irish Managers and Volunteers throughout the years helping with everything and creating amazing memories.
Describe your favourite place in Ireland.
My favorite place in Ireland would be on the local GAA field of Galtee Rovers remembering the days growing up and playing hurling and football on a nice summer evening with the smell of fresh cut grass.
How are you connected to Ireland?
I’m from Bansha, Co. Tipperary and lived there until I was 21. I loved it there but once I got the travel bug I have never been able to settle in one place since and now I have been moving between countries for over 20 years.
Share your favourite Christmas tradition and your most cherished memory of that tradition.
We organize a yearly event for the children in the neighborhoods where our properties are located. All our staff, guests, volunteers, everyone participates donating money, buying toys, dressing up as Santa and serving food to the kids and parents, each kid gets a small gift with the money raised.
Which person do you most admire, and why?
My parents. Times in Ireland were a lot tougher 40 years ago when we were growing up. But we always had everything we needed and asked for and they had to work very hard to give us all of that.
What are three words that you associate with Ireland, and why?
Tradition, Craic, Christmas – I think this speaks for itself but for me being away for so long it’s great to get home for Christmas and see my family, meet friends in the local pubs and do some shopping on Grafton Street.
If you could relive one Christmas from your past, which Christmas would you choose, and why?
I have great memories of Christmas as a child, the food, the gifts, time off school and especially if we got some snow.
What is your most treasured possession, and why?
I do not treasure anything material but I treasure all the moments I spend with my wife, she is the person who has been by my side since the start of my adventures. She has always supported me no matter what crazy ideas I have had and plays an important role in making our business successful.