San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Caribbean Luxury Hotel Shows Its Colors

Stepping onto the grounds of the new boutique hotel Le Caméléon on the southern Caribbean coast, the stress of traveling immediately fell away from me.

Taking a seat on a half-egg-shaped chair in the stylish, whitewashed, open-air reception area, I could hear the soft background music of crickets and watch the breeze ripple through the plants in the gardens.

The hotel is being pitched as the first luxury hotel on the southern Caribbean coast, so I knew this visit would be different from the typical cabina or bungalow accommodations of the region.

Opened just weeks before my visit, the boutique resort had already made it onto the select list of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, received media attention from a slew of publications and travel sites here and abroad, and hosted the Costa Rican president.

There is an untapped clientele that never makes it to this side of country, explained Ligia Vargas, the resort’s marketing director.

“It’s a shame,” she said, “because there are beautiful beaches, a different culture and a relaxing environment here.”

The idea of Le Caméléon is to give upscale travelers an option in the Puerto Viejo area. It’s not just the personal service and fine furniture that make this 23-room hotel a find. It’s the chameleon theme – the images laced through the wall hangings and restaurant decor and the daily color-changing rituals – that make staying here a truly unique experience.

The rooms are dressed in white, from the marble countertops to the bare floors to the fluffy comforters. But a handful of colored display pillows and wall paintings change daily, in chameleon-like fashion, with a new color theme.

“We wanted a theme to attract guests,” said Ben Abdelkader, president of Le Caméléon and a 30-year veteran of the hotel business.

“And we thought the chameleon works because it represents change, not only in the natural environment, but in life, too.

“Swapping out color themes every morning represents that every day is a new day,” he added.

Le Caméléon and its sister hotel, The Ocean Boutique Resort & Spa in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast, were both launched a little over a year ago under the umbrella group Fashion Hotels. Ocean, a $20 million investment constructed in the Spanish colonial style, will be finished later this year. Le Caméléon, its Caribbean counterpart, required a $5 million investment and opened quietly in April.

For those who worry that a new luxury hotel on this rustic coastline might threaten the character of the area, the hotel lives up to its name: Not pretentious or overly extravagant, it simply blends in with its environment.

The jungle seems to grow out of the heart of the hotel, with lush plant life lining the wooden walkways and shielding the structures from the street. Palm trees bow over the pool and Jacuzzi, creating a tangible fusion between the luxurious decor and the natural environment.

According to Vargas, the buildings were sited to leave as many trees standing as possible, and the hotel uses a water treatment system that cuts down on water usage.

In the evenings, the atmosphere transforms as hotel guests are joined by nonguests for dinner or drinks on cushy patio chairs laid out in front of the bar. The gardens are lit by candlelight, and a sound system strung around the grounds plays a soothing soundtrack.

Though the chef was still shaping the menu when I visited, I was impressed with the variety of dishes – both local and international – and with the sensitivity that went into crafting each dish. Every plate the waiter placed before us was carefully designed with a conscious effort in the balance of flavors. But, like the character and decor of the hotel, the chef took a minimalist approach to the food, and I contemplated ordering another plate to satisfy my appetite.

The bar scene was very much alive when I retreated to my hotel room that night. Not a rowdy crowd, but somewhat mellow, matching the mood set by the music and the dimmed lights.

While Le Caméléon had offered a unique stay up to that point, waking up the next morning to the sound of waves crashing against the Caribbean shore was a whole new experience. The purity and simplicity of awaking surrounded by whiteness was a wonderful final touch to my Le Caméléon experience.n

Location, Rates, Info

Le Caméléon is in Cocles, a few kilometers south of the popular southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo. The hotel offers four room types, all with air conditioning, cable TV, wireless Internet, safe box, telephone and hair drier. The second-floor superior rooms, with one queen or two full beds and a private balcony, are priced at $200 year-round. Deluxe rooms, on the first floor, feature the same amenities with a private terrace instead of a balcony for $225 to $250, depending on the season. Junior suites include a living area with a full-size sofa bed, along with a king-size bed and private terrace, for $250 to $300. And the Le Caméléon Suite includes a living space with an adjacent half-bathroom, a private balcony, king-size bed and a larger bathroom with a bathtub for $450 to $500. Rates are for double occupancy and include à la carte breakfast, but not taxes.

For information and reservations, call 2750-0501 or visit


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