With volcanoes, jungles and wildlife, Costa Rica has a ton to offer. But my wife and I wanted to experience something different. Somewhere you might need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to get to. Somewhere where we could get a little further off the tourism map and delve deeper into Costa Rican culture. To do that, we decided to stay at a beautiful boutique hotel tucked away atop a jungle hillside with the perfect blend of private villas and local cuisine. It’s called Casa Chameleon, and it was perfect.
On the road to Casa Chameleon in the Nicoya Peninsula.
To get there, we drove to an area called Mal Pais – a quaint little beach town that boasts an unexpectedly bohemian culture dotted with restaurants, many of which advertise their locallysourced Costa Rican cuisine. But to experience all of these things, you have to get there and getting there was half the fun.
For one, we had to drive through multiple river crossings – and I’m not talking about the normal drive-over-the-bridge type. We actually drove THROUGH a river called Rio Bongo and quickly learned that if the water is too high, we’d basically be saying goodbye to our rental car.
A wrong turn through a dry riverbed .
Right near the river crossing, a tow truck was waiting for people to stall out in the water. This made us nervous, especially since our rental car company made it clear that the insurance doesn’t cover flooding from river crossings. Good to know! So after our little 4×4 Suzuki Jimney made it through the river crossings, we bumped along for hours on what Costa Ricans call a road. It was covered in stones, dirt, deep divots from recent flooding and very few other cars. At one point, we questioned if we were just driving through the middle of the jungle into oblivion, but eventually we reached the sea and made it to civilization. As we passed through a town called Santa Theresa, we quickly realized this was a popular surf town. All-terrain vehicles and motorcycles zoom around, often with surfboards in-tow. The town crackles with activity and everybody looked as if they were either headed to or from the beach.
Villa front door is adorned with a personalized name tag at Casa Chameleon.
But when it was time to retire, we wanted to get back to our hotel, Casa Chameleon, in the town of Mal Pais. Mal Pais is located right between the popular surf-destination town of Santa Teresa to the north and the Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve to the south. Waves and surf breaks bring most of the tourists here, but we were in search of something slightly different – a little relaxation and privacy.
So in our little 4×4, we proceeded to drive up one of the steepest roads I’ve ever seen (and we live in San Francisco), and arrived at Casa Chameleon.
Villa open-air design for enjoyment of the private plunge pool.
As an adults-only hotel tucked away in a remote part of the jungle, Casa Chameleon boasts an open-air style setting with 10 rustic villas overlooking the sea from atop a very high hill. Birds chirped hello, iguanas scurried about and as we walked towards reception, we felt like we had just stepped into a beautiful, tropical sauna.
The initial discomfort of the climate quickly turned to elation when we realized our super gorgeous villa came with our own private infinity plunge pool with color-changing lights. This was one of the best parts as we could dip in and watch the sunset right from our terrace while staying cool and protected from any hungry mosquitoes. Casa Chameleon’s 500-800 square foot villas each include a private ocean view, air conditioning (a must), a king-sized bed and a huge floor-to-ceiling glass door that opens up to panoramic views of the sea and jungle below allowing you to connect with nature. There are two powerful rain showers and cool blue accent lights both in the pool and inside the room, which of course you can turn off if you want to stare up at the stars.
Your private plunge pool overlooking the jungle.
Also included in each booking is a daily breakfast which we definitely took advantage of. Each morning, we’d head out to the main patio, where there’s another sapphire-colored pool, and broke our fast with some of the sweetest fresh local fruits along with a delicious egg dish, and plenty of hot sauce.
While we’d sit outside and eat each morning, we were regularly greeted by the unofficial mascots of Casa Chameleon, Norton and Osiris – two huge wild iguanas that have made a lifestyle of getting guests to toss an occasional piece of fruit out for them to munch on. My wife and I both had a great time feeding them, especially since they seemed to have an insatiable appetite (much like myself).
– Start the day with a poolside Costa Rican breakfast .
During the day, we headed out to Playa Hermosa to play in the waves and enjoy the beach. We ate delicious organic food in nearby Santa Theresa, and shopped a bit. It was so nice to come back to our comfortable private little villa on a jungle hill to watch the sunset and enjoy a few drinks made with fresh fruit juice during happy hour. Sitting on our terrace, we noticed that within the plants, the birds, the flowers and everything within eyesight, literally every color of the rainbow was represented right there from our villa. We almost didn’t even need to go out exploring. Waking up each morning and watching the nature come to life outside our private pool was one of my wife’s favorite parts of staying here. While she enjoyed the early morning scenery, I blissfully slept in our super comfy bed.
All the toiletries provided were organic (which my wife loved). Even if we had forgotten something, there was a sign in the bathroom letting us know they would provide any extras we had forgotten at home. They even put a fresh bottle of mosquito repellent in each room for guests. This was a nice touch. Luckily, we didn’t need to use it on this trip!
– Optional bug nets and luxurious bedding ensure a comfortable night sleep.
At Casa Chameleon, we’d wake up each morning to the sounds of various chirping birds as if we were in our own snow white cartoon. While we were there, we were lucky to get to experience the first rain of the season, which provided a fantastic light show. I woke up around 3am to an unfamiliar but amazingly pleasant sound of a super intense rain falling on the tin roof above. It made a constant whooshing sound that was occasionally
interrupted by a loud cracking thunder and a bright blue flash that lit the entire area outside our villa. It was fantastic! I woke up and watched the rain for awhile because it was so exciting! Unfortunately, my wife slept like a rock and missed the whole thing and by morning It was completely gone and sunny again.
Along with the first rain of the season came the crabs. This unexpected spectacle was like nothing we had seen before! On our way out to dinner, we noticed a strange crunching sound as we drove. On closer inspection, we noticed hundreds of red crabs making their way across the road to the beach! We asked the hotel staff about this, and apparently these crabs migrate by the thousands every year after the first rain. I did my best to avoid crunching these little guys as we drove, which was not an easy task!
– Culinary delights served up daily.
Speaking of crab, Casa Chameleon’s dinner options were incredible! We ate a locally caught smoked yellow fin tuna appetizer, honey and oregano-crusted chicken and a citrus-glazed red snapper that rivals some of the best restaurants we’ve frequented back home in San Francisco (and that says a lot).
One of the most incredible parts about staying at Casa Chameleon though, was the feeling of isolation which was done by design. Gone are the days when my wife and I would want to go and party when we’re on vacation. We wanted a romantic up-scale setting where we could indulge in the local culture while still being able to focus on each other and Casa Chameleon delivered just that. We felt like we were the only people there and that’s exactly how we wanted it.
Indulge in custom-made spirits without leaving the hotel.
The staff at Casa Chameleon really gave us our space as well. They were there when we needed them, but made sure to give us tons of privacy so we could feel at home in our own personal paradise.
Casa Chameleon’s laid-back vibe beckons those searching for an upscale jungle oasis that capitalizes on local traditions, sustainable organic foods and an ideal setting for a romantic
The Villas at Mal País each feature an intimate ocean-view pool and complete privacy. All reservations include daily breakfast and the choice of either lunch or dinner. Room Size: 67 square meters / 721 square feet
Casa Chameleon – Mal Pais
Feature and photos by Josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure correspondent.