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The Iconic Nico Saad: Water Skier, Promoter, Hotel Founder and Honorary Citizen

Nico Saad’s life is legendary and iconic.  He is part of Ensenada‘s historical fabric.  As his hotel, the San Nicolas, enters a new era, Nico helps move the city into the future.


Nico Saad, founder/owner of the San Nicolas Hotel, is a former water skiing champion.


Nico Saad is an Ensenada native.  His family came from Lebanon in the mid 1930’s, originally engaged in the dry goods business but eventually moving into agriculture and then tourism.  It was here, in the world of travel, where Nico ultimately discovered what would be his future.

Until he was 12 years old, Nico attended Catholic school in Ensenada, and then high school at Brown Military Academy in San Diego, California — considered by many to be the West Point of the West Coast.   He attended college in San Diego, obtaining a degree in Business Administration.  Then, returning to Ensenada, he became an active participant in the family business.  At the young age of 24 years-old, Nico — with the help of his family –started building the San Nicolas Hotel, a small and exclusive boutique facility, which was actually founded on June 13, 1968.  Today, along with the excitement Nico exhibits when talking about the extensive remodel that is underway, there is still significant pride that he exhibits when talking about the San Nicolas.

But stepping back a few years:  By the time he built the San Nicolas, Nico had already succeeded in another career.  A talented water skier, Nico had become quite famous doing stunts such as barefoot skiing and flying the giant kite.  In 1961, Nico was invited by the World Water Ski Championship Committee to join the USA exhibition team. Nico was honored and it was one of the highlight’s of his career, especially given the fact that he was the only foreigner awarded this recognition, even though there were 32 countries participating.


Nico Saad has been a major promoter of Baja and Mexico tourism and events.

With the San Nicolas Hotel in place, Nico became a very active tourism promoter in Mexico:  He spearheaded the largest boat races, international beauty pageants (including Mexico’s national pageant which the San Nicolas Hotel hosts) , a Sister City Program with Redondo Beach  ( which was recognized by the Readers Digest Foundation 1967-69 as the best such program in existence), and other projects. His efforts on behalf of tourism were exemplary and Nico was invited by Governor Milton Castellanos of Baja to direct the State Tourism Office and Federal Delegation. This appointment gave Nico the opportunity to participate in the Commission of the Californias during Ronald Reagan’s time as Governor.  He was responsible for beginning an alliance with the San Diego Cabrillo Festival back in 1971, a festival event in which still he is active today.  He traveled to Portugal with the USA delegation and met President Gen. Ramalho Eanes; a gift exchange transpired in which Ensenada received from Portugal a bust of navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo ( under the Spanish Flag ) which commemorates the discovery of Ensenada.

Over the years, Nico Saad has received special awards from the Mexican Tourism Dept., the State of Baja, City of Ensenada (Honorary Citizen),  the State of California, the City of Los Angeles, the US Department of the Interior/National Park Service and keys of the city from Redondo Beach and Long Beach CA..  As a huge promoter and supporter of the famed SCORE Baja races, he was also the first Mexican citizen to be inducted into the Off-road Racing Hall Of Fame in the USA at Reno, Nevada.

According to Nico, “Meeting and making friends on both sides of the border has been one of the most interesting things in my life.” In a life that seems packed with interesting things, it is the connection to people that stands out for Nico.

Nico Saad and his daughter Michelle

Today, the San Nicolas Hotel & Casino, with 135 rooms and suites, is still known for its exclusive traditions, welcoming new guests to live and enjoy the experience of Ensenada, Baja California.  And Nico Saad is recognized for his hospitality and the part he continues to play in Ensenada’s past, present and future.

San Nicolas Hotel & Casino are located in downtown Ensenada, steps away from the museum of art, the Riviera Cultural Center and more.  Find out more about Ensenada! is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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About Carla White

Carla White is a freelance writer, public relations/marketing consultant and event organizer based in Ensenada, Baja, California. Carla and her husband Jim moved to Baja in 2003 from the Los Angeles area believing that, thanks to the internet and satellite communications, they could continue working from home while enjoying a richer, more affordable lifestyle. So far, they’ve been right. Connect with Carla Google+


  1. gene kopelson says

    Hi Mr Saad,
    I am a historian doing research on Governor Reagan’s visit to Mexicali on November 2, 1967 to attend a meeting of the Commission of the Californias. Might you be able to email me any of your recollections of that meeting?
    Gracias! gene Kopelson

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