Keen to have a contrasting view to our Manuel Antonio experience of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, we took on a 7-hour epic drive through mountainous roads, thunderstorms and some of the worst pot-holed roads ever encountered, to spend a few days in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of the country. And despite the treacherous, nail-biting nature of the drive, we thankfully got to have an experience much more in-tune with the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle we’d heard so much about.
There was only one problem: tropical rainstorms. We hit torrential rain halfway through our drive from Manuel Antonio and it ended up being an unwelcome guest for the remainder of our stay.
Our home in Puerto Viejo was Le Cameleon resort, set in immaculately maintained tropical gardens approximately 3 km outside the main town hub. Billed as a 23-room boutique hotel, the exterior flora and fauna were full of hidden delights; elaborate tropical flowers, multi-colour birds and dozens of indigenous neon frog species. We weren’t a fan of our room, although we did get the design concept. Each completely white room is intended to be a blank canvas for enjoying the riot of colour and greenery just outside your window. The reality is, an ‘all-white’ design sensibility is an acquired taste and not very practical. Worst of all, every mark and scruff just gets further heightened to make the interior look tired and worn out.
The rooms at the Le Cameleon are set around a decent sized pool and the private beach and beach club are situated across the road, a perfect retreat if the sun had been shining. Staff are competent, yet nothing to write home about. The service we got at Numu – the open-air restaurant, was indifferent at best and perhaps my frustration with the weather may have infiltrated my impressions of the resort itself. Who knows.
We ended up spending our days walking along the beach in the rain, reading in our room, sipping cold drinks at Koko and driving around to create little excursions, taking in the animal sanctuary and chocolate museum (I use the term lightly). The highlight of the trip was finding a restaurant, which served what I would bill as the best Italian food of my life. I’ll probably associate this leg of the trip with Italian food, and the omnipresent, enormously varied natural scenery; wild orchids bursting out of roadside shrubbery, exotic ferns of every shade of green you can imagine and lush, tropical flora that’s enough to make a horticulture enthusiast weep with joy.
Monsoon rains cleared to glorious sunshine the day we were heading back to catch our flight to Mexico (typical), offering up a cruel glimpse of what our time here could have been. Puerto Viejo is a slice of heaven – laid back , bohemian and fitting to the spirit and casual atmosphere of this part of the country. I’m so glad we at least got to experience the Caribbean coast.
The biggest hurdle Le Cameleon needs to overcome is fully committing to being a true ’boutique’ resort. Without striving for a shiny veneer, there are other ways to appeal to discerning travellers heading to the area, as there are very few accommodation options here that fall into the upmarket category. For fellow travellers I’d say chill out, switch off and adjust your expectations to allow yourself to be engulfed by the bohemian spirit of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. I’d love to see what happens to this resort in a few years time, and ditto the area. I hear the Four Seasons are opening a resort in the north of the country, which just might provide the perfect excuse to give Pura Vida a second go.
Hotel – 6/10
Experience – 7/10