On a hillside above the Guanacaste coast, Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas is a cluster of villas with the romance levels set to high. Each stand-alone suite has a plunge pool and soul-stirring sunset views, with handmade international additions including ornate Moroccan lights and furniture from Indonesia. There’s an impressive infinity pool that’s also perfectly placed for sundown – but two of the best beaches in Costa Rica, with their endless opportunities for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and snorkelling, are a short drive away.
Get this when you book through us:
One welcome cocktail for each guest and a selection of snacks rustled up by the chef
Double rooms from £635.45 ($801), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of 10% per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually include American-style breakfast.
There’s no spa, but a series of scrubs, massages and salon services can be performed in your villa. Yoga instructors and training equipment can also be delivered on request. The hotel can put on wow-inducing destination weddings for brides and grooms to-be. Entomophobes may be alarmed to discover something sporting antennae in their bed at night, but staff will come to the rescue at any hour.
The hotel is in the midst of a makeover, noise disruption will be kept to a minimum and – as a thank you for your patience – resort credit will be offered during your stay. As a result of the construction, certain rooms aren't available, but renovations should be finished by June 2024.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout. In rooms: beach bags, air-conditioning, free bottled water, a minibar and a Bluetooth speaker.
Our favourite rooms
Those who favour plummeting into water to cool off while travelling in the Tropics will be pleased to hear that plunge pools come as standard in every suite, as do impressive views – for the best of the best though, go for a Villa Sunset, which offer the finest glimpses of the Guanacaste coast.
The saltwater infinity pool is impressive at any given point in the day, but especially so at sunset and after-dark, when fire pits are alight on the surface.
An array of ikat-patterned activewear, to navigate sunrise swims and swinging through the trees on a zipline in style.
The hotel is not accessible for wheelchair users.
This stay is for adult Smiths only.
The hotel is committed to protecting its local environment, with initiatives such as water conservation, locally made bath products, monthly beach clean-ups, non-toxic cleaning products, solar-heated pools and energy-efficient lighting in place.
The restaurant is set above the pool with uninterrupted views out to sea – get as close to the edge as you can; for something casual and cosy, stake out one of the sofas in the bar.
Beach-ready by day but jazz it up after-dark.
There are two restaurants. The chef at Sentido Norte champions the best of local produce and Costa Rican cuisine while always adding a creative twist – we loved the cashew-crusted yellowfin tuna in a spicy coconut-milk-caramel sauce; seabass marinaded in miso; octopus and mussels tossed in wine butter and smoked paprika; and grilled fish of the day. In the morning, don’t miss the energy-providing chia bowl. La Pampa Grill, helmed by chef Jose Lopez, serves field-to-table fare for dinner, with a classically Costa Rican menu of dishes that have been slow cooked and seasoned on an open-fire barbecue (we love the ribs that fall off the bone with little argument, garlic-butter shrimp and gorgonzola mushrooms). Pair all with rum.
The bar is in a corner of the restaurant with sunset-facing sofas. There’s an extensive cocktail menu, but be sure to try one of the especially delicious ones made using fresh juice and coconut water. If it's wine you're after, Grotto 12 has a well-loved list of local wines and often hosts private tastings for the oenophiles.
Breakfast is served between 7am and 11am; lunch is on offer from 11am until 3pm; dinner service is between 6pm and 11pm (9pm at La Pampa Grill). The bar closes at midnight and serves food from 11am to 10pm; Grotto 12 is open from the afternoon till 11pm.
Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas is on the north-western Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a four-hour drive from the capital, San José.
The closest airport is in Liberia, 40 kilometres away. The drive should take around an hour. Connections are available via Los Angeles and San José. The Smith24 Team can book flights or hotel transfers on request; be aware, the airport’s a hefty 260 kilometres away.
There’s free valet parking when you arrive, but be sure to book a four-wheel drive as not all the roads are paved. From Liberia airport, take a right and join the highway, then follow the sign for Sardinal, taking a left after the petrol station (marked by a Congo Trail billboard). When you reach the football pitch at Nuevo Colón, drive around it and take a left onto a dirt road, ignoring the Las Catalinas sign, as this takes a different route and the road isn’t safe during rainy season. The nearest town is Playa Potrero, five minutes away by car.
Worth getting out of bed for
Staying in your villa all day won’t be frowned upon, but active sorts will want to get ziplinining, rafting, hiking, biking, surfing, swimming, diving and stand-up paddleboarding, all of which can be arranged. Board a catamaran cruise for sunset with Lazy Lizard; or zipline from tree to tree on a Congo Trail canopy tour.
On Sugar Beach Road, perch at a picnic table on the sand at laid-back Limonada and order cocktails, tacos and tostadas as the sun goes down (+506 2654 6150). For Italian-inspired pizza, pastas and sustainable seafood, head to Angelina’s in Playa Flamingo, and save room for some locally-made artisanal cheese. Close by, Coco Loco is another beachfront spot for sunset – watch it with your pick of the salads and ceviche.
I don’t know what it is, but Mr Smith and I seem to have a strange habit of accidentally going on other people’s honeymoons. Even when we were in the very first throes of dating and trying to retain some semblance of chill, we’d somehow find ourselves surrounded by newlyweds, anniversaries and engagements, being serenaded by a pianist under starlight (shout out to Carmelo).
Adults-only Casa Chameleon, designed around intimacy, privacy and sunsets, with ocean-view tables for two, poolside double daybeds, oddly evocative tiki torches and a proclivity for rose petals, has got lovers’ retreat written all over it. Welcome to honeymoon number nine.
Having already made ourselves oh-so-at-home at Chameleon’s sister property, expectations are high. Car valeted away, bags traded for cool towels and pre-perforated coconuts to drink, we survey the scene from the bamboo-roofed reception.
Casa Chameleon is in a most privileged position above north-western Costa Rican town Las Catalinas (more on that later). This lofty height gives you the smug sense of being king of the castle, which is exactly how I like to feel at check in.
Things only get smugger. We head to our villa: one of 21 hillside hideaways with an expensive, ornately engraved wood, ikat-patterned Balinese beach house look. All with plunge pools, all with ocean views – and some, like our sunset villa, set up to salute, well, yes, the setting sun.
Between a wall of windows facing the canopied king-size bed, the lushly planted terrace and the saltwater plunge pool perched over the Pacific, every element makes you feel as though you’ve got the best seat in the house. Which – I think, as the exalted hour arrives and I hit the welcome Champagne and charcuterie platter, my feet dangling in the water as I gaze out at a big, red setting sun and Mr Smith’s very white bum – I absolutely do.
Thus we while away the evening, our ninth honeymoon getting off to a smashing start, until dinner at Sentido Norte calls. Lest there was any question of this being anything other than St Valentine’s supper club, Sentido Norte has literally been voted one of the 10 most romantic restaurants in the world. I kid thee not.
We let its Latin American-meets-Mediterranean menu sweep us off our feet. Ceviche, crunchy calamari and steak with chimichurri, topped off with some sort of delicious caramel-y, banana-y tart situation that neither of us can fully remember because of the Champagne-Malbec combo – and obviously the giggly, giddy effects of heady romance.
Day two begins with coffee on our terrace. There’s an almost-enticing yoga class at the rooftop shala, my personalised app tells me, but the wraparound infinity pool wins. Floating under the morning sun, flanked by Buddha statues, the sea on three sides and the mountains on the other, I am in heaven. Mr Smith, on the other hand, is having a staring match with a vulture. To each their own.
After a restorative round of fresh coconut milk coffee, juice, fruit, pastries and breakfast burritos, gazing out at the horizon, we wander down the winding steps to explore Las Catalinas.
Costa Rica’s most loved (and Instagrammed) beach towns share a certain ‘look’: pin-up beaches and palm trees; shack-style bars strung up with festoon lights; howler monkeys, banana bikes and pura vida signs on surfboards. It’s a formula that keeps you coming back.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that Las Catalinas is absolutely nothing like that. Yes, it’s got festoon lights. And a beautiful beach. There are surf boards, restaurants, and a couple of cheeky monkeys. But its architecture, its pretty, fountain-filled plazas, winding stone stairs, ornate tiles and colonnaded terraces are markedly Mediterranean.
Las Catalinas is so distinct from the rest of Costa Rica that it feels a bit like a fairytale kingdom sprung up between salty surf towns. And variety being the spice and all that, this makes for a very special – if slightly disorientating – stay.
We skip through its cobbled streets, marvelling at Italianate architecture (‘In Costa Rica! Can you believe it?!’ ‘I absolutely cannot!’ etc.) as polo-shirted staff zip by in golf buggies.
Las Catalinas is not, of course, a classical Italian village – but it has got plenty of charm. And a picture-perfect Pacific beach from which you can snorkel, paddleboard, kayak and do all sorts of other energetic things which we do not because we must immediately go back to Chameleon to collapse on a double day bed.
We spend the afternoon by the pool, easing into fabulously fuerte mezcal cocktails and then sunset. Up by the hotel pool, this magic hour is positively ritualistic. As the sun burns orange above the islets in the bay, a couple of couples gather in their two-by-twos. Then, as the sun dips below the water and the sky turns red, literal fire shoots out of the pool, flaming along its infinity edge. It’s astonishing.
I should add that while these events have unfolded, a wedding has taken place up on the shala – as if Casa Chameleon’s amorous creds were in any doubt.
Breaking from our usual habit of hanging out with honeymooners, we inadvertently follow this wedding party all night – from the sunset ceremony at Chameleon to dinner and dancing in town, sneakily peaking at the speeches from the Italian restaurant’s terrace, tucking into dessert in time for dancing and, I think, a clandestine courtyard kiss.
And who can blame them? Las Catalinas is like Disneyland for lovers. And if my very British allergy to sincerity has stopped me from expressing quite how enamoured I am with all the unadulterated ardour, forgive me – we are smitten. If Aphrodite has a holiday home, it’s here.
We leave the next morning, quite unready to re-enter the real world, but still the happiest non-newlywed newlyweds in the land. Long live the honeymoon period.