Cocles Beach, between Manzanillo and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Long isolated from Costa Rica’s upscale tourism market, the Caribbean side now has its first luxury hotel. Opened in April 2009 under the Small Luxury Hotels of the World umbrella, Le Cameleon boutique hotel has taken a bold first step in redefining tourism in the area.
Eight kilometers from the bohemian enclave of Puerto Viejo de Limón, Le Caméléon sits tucked within lush, landscaped gardens on the eastern side of the road in front of Cocles beach. Though discretely signed, the brushed steel frame encasing the hotel’s name etched in glass stands out among the wooden signs lining the road. Functioning as a porte-cochere entrance, a large mushroom-shaped roof lined with bamboo stalks spreads over the entrance and the open-air reception. Decorated with chic, white rattan furniture and accented with splashes of color and brushed steel, the reception area’s simplicity in design, color and lack of frills sets the modern feel for this new design hotel. Like Le Caméléon’s sign, the overall feel is a far cry from the area’s traditional rusticity.
Reception opens rearward and wooden boardwalks lead to three, two-story guest quarters surrounding a green–tiled lap pool whose waters reflect the verdant landscape. Dark wood lattice work wraps around each building’s stark white facade like tree roots, integrating the natural surroundings with the man–made structure. Howler monkeys screech, blue morpho butterflies flit and sloths hang.
Entering the room, you are transported from the nature-infused setting into a floor-to-ceiling white space decorated with white leather furniture creating a modern minimalist style. Throw pillows and twin wall paintings add a dash of primary color, and rotate daily. The changing colors add a bit of intellectualism in addition to vibrancy― Le Cameleon’s concept, like the ever–changing chameleon, is “every day is a new day.”
Guest quarters encompass three “blocks”: Block Nama, Block Chamai and Block Leon. All first floor rooms have patios and all second floor rooms have vaulted ceilings and terraces. Block Nama is closest to reception and to the street, though noise is minimal. Some rooms face west with sea views over the treetops. Rooms 15 and 16 on the second floor face east toward the forest and would be good for wildlife enthusiasts who could snap shots from the terrace. Block Chamai is furthest from reception and houses the Caméléon Suite which has a separate living area with a sofa-bed, a wet bar, and the only in-room Jacuzzi tub, which looks to the forest through large windows. Room 28’s terrace offers less privacy but it has a nice view of the forest and the pool. Block Leon rooms face either the pool or the landscaped grounds to the south. Though smoking is not allowed in the rooms, smokers will be pleased to see ashtrays on most outdoor tables.
Lit by tiki torches in the evening, a boardwalk leads to the open-air Numu bar and restaurant enveloped by tame jungle foliage. The downstairs bar brings a bit of city sophistication to these remote parts. The funky lighting and the lounge music invite both relaxation and play. The area is a nice place for pre- or post-dinner drinks and appetizers. The house mojitos made with brown sugar are especially refreshing in this open-air space. If you are in the mood for a more casual setting, dinner can be served in the lounge or right in front at one of the umbrella-clad tables on the deck built around a fountain.
The formal dining area is upstairs at Numu restaurant. Seating 35, the open-air space with vaulted ceilings invites in the sights and sounds of the forest. Dark wood and white leather furniture sits underneath a large crystal chandelier adding a sense of elegance and civility to the otherwise wild surroundings. Numu restaurant serves a variety of international dishes from a hearty tender loin with creamy pasta and foie gras to salads, all of which are well-prepared and artfully presented. The chef will also cater to individual requests. Breakfast is offered a la carte in the formal dining area and on the front deck per guest request.
Apart from lounging poolside and strolling around the gardens, you can further unwind in Le Caméléon’s small massage hut. Plans for a wellness center are in the works. A coastal swath of land has just been purchased directly in front of the hotel which will soon be home to the Le Caméléon beach club and eventually the wellness center.
For excursions further out, the hotel can arrange a number of tours: snorkeling or scuba diving at nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge, horseback riding, and a visit to an indigenous reserve. If you like to surf, you are a short ride from the famous reef break known as Salsa Brava and directly in front of the smaller Cocles beach break. Simple luxuries are abundant; you may feel encouraged to do little else besides watch the waves roll up to some of the best beaches in the country.
The staffers compliment the hotel’s sophisticated air, but like the newly landscaped gardens, they too are adjusting to their new environs and to stepped-up expectations in these parts. Not everyone is on the same page and expected touches such as nightly turndown service and attentive bellhops are hit-or-miss. At first Le Caméléon’s elegant and playful minimalist style feels out of place given the local vibe. On second glance, the hotel’s low-impact architectural style nestled within wildlife-rich landscaped grounds and set along a pristine coastline makes you wonder why it has taken so long for a high-end offering to enter the area. Compared to luxury hotels in nearby Bocas del Toro, Panama, Le Caméléon beats the competition in terms of style and sophistication. In terms of complimentary upscale offerings beyond the hotel, Le Cameleon will have to wait for others to follow its lead.
Web Address: www.lecameleonhotel.com
Total number of rooms: 23
Published Rates: $200 - $500
Review and photos by Beverly Gallagher