Tagged boutique hotels

Chambers eat + drink: Perfect for rainy day dining and nighttime indulging

Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez

It’s taken me nearly two years, but I think I’ve finally found peace with the amount of rain in SF. Growing up in San Diego, we barely ever got rain. Now that I’ve accepted the fact that SF literally gets flooded every winter, I’ve found ways to embrace it. I recently spent an evening at Chambers eat + drink at the Phoenix Hotel and found that it was a perfect place to enjoy cocktails, a meal, and watch the rain.

Be Amazing sign at Chambers SF
Don’t forget to check out the back bar at Chambers.

Located in the Tenderloin, Chambers has always been one of those spots where the cool kids go for drinks and to be seen. But it’s also a place where you’d see a bunch of suited men sitting around a long table talking shop. And by far, you’re going to see A LOT of woo girls posting up in front of the “Be Amazing” sign at the back bar.

Equally as popular as Chambers is the neighboring Phoenix Hotel, in which it shares patio space. On a SF summer day, you might see guests taking a dip in the pool or lounging outside during a guest DJ set. But during winter, grab a seat by the windows and enjoy the show – both inside and outside of the restaurant. Rows upon rows of vinyl line the walls of Chambers, which would put any local record store to shame, and there are nooks all over the place to cozy up with friends.

cocktails at Chambers
Just a sampling of the signature cocktails at Chambers.

We started our meal with a couple cocktails. Start with the Chambers 75, a flute of gin, champagne and elderflower – all of the best things a cocktail could ask for. My man is a whiskey drinker and I always go for gin so the cocktail menu appealed to both of us. Go for the Midnight Rambler with whiskey, scotch “essence,” and rhubarb bitters, or the Harlem Shuffle with lemon-infused gin, lime juice, agave, and a malbec float. Or, you can tell your server what you’re in the mood for and they’ll whip something up for you.

Octopus Confit at Chambers.
Octopus Confit at Chambers.
The Brussel Sprout Salad from Chambers.
The Brussel Sprout Salad from Chambers.

Whether you’re visiting for dinner or just a couple small bites before you continue your night, the food menu is definitely worth checking out. We tried the Brussel Sprout Salad with herbed goat cheese, spiced walnuts, Asian pear, and arugula, which paired nicely with the Confit Octopus served with chorizo, butter beans, and olives. If you’re one for different textures in all of your bites, these starters are perfect. Other options include items like Sizzling Kobe Tri-Tip, Tuna Tartare, and Pan Seared Foie Gras if you feel like indulging.

Pork Chop from Chambers
Pork Chop with all of the fixins’ from Chambers.

If you stick around for dinner, the Short Rib and Pork Chop are winners and are both served with complementary vegetables and starches. And to round out the evening, we finished the meal with a Chocolate Pâté served with a matcha whip cream, berries and pistachios. The meal was totally decadent but we didn’t feel weighed down by the meal.

The attention to detail and service at Chambers is striking. Along with the cordial hellos and niceties, our server and her helpers took note of my man’s left handedness and actually paid attention to how they were dropping off utensils or serving cocktails. It’s the little things like this that make for fantastic service.

For more information, visit http://chambers-sf.com/.

Hotels in Chicago: Places to Stay and Play

The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.
The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Chicago is one of those cities where you can find a perfect blend of old and new; modern and traditional; super luxe and tastefully simple. I’d like to think these dualities are also found in Chicago’s food, people, neighborhoods and hotels. I decided to take a solo trip to Chicago where I wasn’t going to meet up with a group of friends and colleagues, or travel with girlfriends or my main squeeze. This trip was perfectly timed so that I could clear my head after turning in some crazy projects at the office and also reflect on personal relationships and whatnot.

I visited Chicago right before the start of the warm season and found hotels that not only offered comfy places to rest my head after touring the city, but also offered enough amenities on-site where I’d actually want to just chill out and enjoy the property. All three of these hotels are situated among the hustle of the city, but also offer nooks and crannies where I could just get away and forget I was in a major metropolitan area. If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago that are perfect for the young at heart or the business person who wants to add some extra excitement to their accommodations, look no further.

For the hip, tech-savvy crowd

I was initially intrigued by the Acme Hotel Company when I started reading about how this property made news with all of its in-room gadgets and techy toys. Oh, and these guys are also touting the fact that they’re the first hotel ever to offer Google Glass to guests who book directly with them. Whether you’re an international traveler or just more cognizant about how much data your smartphone is using, you’ll absolutely love the fact that you can ask for a Hotspot To-Go so that no matter where you are, you’ll always be connected while a guest at the hotel. This perk is only offered to guests who book a room directly so make sure to keep this in mind if you plan on using a third-party vendor to book your stay.

And if that wasn’t enough gadgets to keep you connected, you can now borrow an Apple Watch from the front desk during your stay!

Located in the River North neighborhood and just a couple blocks away from the Mag Mile, the Acme is a great place for guests of all ages. My room was the perfect hideaway when I had to take a couple conference calls and it was also walking distance from some awesome Chicago eateries. My room had all kinds of smart TV hookups, both Apple and PC hookups, wireless audio systems, and super fast Wifi. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the adorable bathroom with the lipstick neon light. So freaking cool.

If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago with all of the conveniences, the Acme offers one of the coolest morning coffee services. I ordered my coffee service the night before with my specific delivery time and the cutest coffee thermos showed up at my doorstep in the morning. There’s no more putting on of real clothes to go to the hotel lobby to retrieve your caffeine, or having to fumble with an in-room coffee maker. You have your own thermos! (Just don’t forget to leave it behind everyday, or you will get charged extra.) Also, don’t forget to bring workout clothes and your bathing suit because the caged gym (yes, caged!) and hot tub are definitely worth checking out.

The Berkshire Chicago
Grab a seat at the Berkshire and booze it up with locals.

The hotel’s bar, The Berkshire Room, is definitely not one to miss. I grabbed a nightcap after checking in on the first night and I highly recommend going for the Dealer’s Choice (where you tell your bartender the spirit, flavor profile and glassware you want) and ordering up a couple light bites. The hotel’s cafe, West Town Bakery, offers coffee, pastries, sandwiches and snacks to get you through the day when you’re not stuffing your face with pizza, beef sandwiches and hot dogs from Portillo’s.

This art installation might catch you off guard if you're not expecting it.
This art installation might catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it.

Although the pièce de résistance might be the hidden art installation which is only seen if you have an interior room. Ten painted mannequins, which resemble colorful flying trapeze artists, are suspended from different heights and it’s absolutely beautiful. If you have a room facing the window, ask one of the front desk workers if you can get a peek of this thing. The juxtaposition of color and brick is definitely something you want to ask about.

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For the business professional who really knows how to play

I’m a very loyal customer of Virgin America so when I found out that their only hotel was in Chicago, there’s no way I would have missed spending a couple nights at the property. The Virgin Hotel, located right in the Loop, is one of those hotels in Chicago that is designed for the traveler who needs to get a little bit of work down during the day and who wants to party at sun down.

Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Commons Club at Virgin Hotel Chicago
Just one of the many seating areas at the Commons Club.
ommons Club at the Virgin Chicago
An adult-sized swing greets you as you enter the Commons Club at the Virgin Chicago.

I can’t say enough nice things about this place. The check-in was super easy, the service was impeccable, but the best part of the hotel is its communal areas. If you’re trying to get some work done while traveling, make sure to find a spot on the second floor at The Commons Club. One side of the floor is where you can belly up to the bar for a cocktail (did I mention there’s a daily hosted social hour where the hotel picks up the bill?!). But the other side offers a library with plush seating, outlets, desks and all kinds of nooks where you can take phone calls, hold meetings and have a quiet space to get work done.

I was lucky enough to stay at the property on one of the warmest nights of the month so it’s no wonder why the rooftop bar, Cerise, was going off. Apparently there was a line to get up to Cerise in the lobby, but the DJ was starting up, craft cocktails were pouring, and the crowds were thoroughly enjoying the weather and the company.

Virgin Hotel shower
Shower buddies and awesome bath products found inside the shower at the Virgin Hotel.

The guestrooms at the Virgin Hotel were so incredibly comfortable. The linens, the huge bathroom, the dressing room, the adorable messages, coffee station and everything were perfect. Drinks and snacks in the mini bar were actually priced the same as any other convenience store so it was a godsend not getting charged up the wazoo for items. And don’t forget to download the Virgin Hotel app to order room service from anywhere on the property, set your room’s temperature, communicate with concierge, and more.

For the person who really just wants luxury

Thompson Chicago
The view from the room at the Thompson Chicago.

I’ve stayed at luxury hotels all over the place and it’s definitely a treat and vacation all on its own. There’s nothing like opulence in your guestroom and five star service and the Thompson Chicago sets the bar pretty high. Located in the Gold Coast neighborhood aka Viagra Triangle (Google it!), The Thompson is perfectly perched in the middle of amazing restaurants, shopping and people watching. I was only able to spend one night at the hotel at the end of my trip, but I definitely found myself not wanting to leave. Rather, I spent most of my time in pajamas enjoying the amazing King-sized bed and stellar city views from my Superior Cityview room.

Salone Nico Chicago
I could have spent the entire day and night at Salone Nico.

Upon check-in, I received a couple drink vouchers to use at the hotel bar, Salone Nico. Just steps away from the check-in desk lies the most beautiful hotel bar I’ve ever seen. Salone Nico has an impressive cocktail list, but what’s even more impressive is the actual design of the bar. An entire living wall makes up for the main centerpiece of the space, along with a second level that overlooks the bar and its patrons. Velvet seating, dim lighting, light bar bites, I mean, how could you go wrong? I found myself hanging out at Salone Nico in the morning and evening and you’ll probably find yourself doing the same.

The service at the Thompson was bar none. I wanted to explore the hotel and lobby late at night and enjoyed conversation with the concierge for awhile. We chatted for close to 30 minutes about places I should walk to for coffee and lunch the next day and it honestly felt like I was just chatting with a friend.

While food, tours, shopping and drinking are plentiful, staying at amazing hotels in Chicago might have been my favorite part of my stay. Not only did I find time for leisure and relaxation at each of these properties, but all three of these places offered their own special perks and amenities crafted by their own distinct design and style.

Thank you to all of these hotels who really rolled out the red carpet!

Rad hotels in Portland — Take a peek at my favorites

Written by Nadia Ibanez

Portland is one of those cities that I’ve been so eager to learn more about, especially since it’s only two hours away by plane. From what I’ve seen on that silly Portlandia show, to all of the amazing shots coming from the #eatPDX Instagram feed, Portland has been on my mind for months. I finally got the chance to explore the city and made it my job to eat everything in sight and stay at the coolest spots. If you’re planning a trip to PDX, I highly suggest you check out my guide to some of coolest hotels in Portland.

Before you even start planning all of your meals or make reservations at all of the restaurants you’ve been salivating over, lock down your hotel reservations. There are pockets of trendy restaurants, food carts, arts districts and shopping scattered all across the city of Portland so find a hotel in the middle of everything you want to see.

For a hip, party vibe with a dash of live music

Jupiter Hotel
This place is SO Instagram worthy. Photo courtesy of the Jupiter Hotel.

The Jupiter Hotel is located on the Eastside of PDX, walking distance from amazing restaurants, shopping, strip clubs, coffee shops and so much more. The Jupiter offers everything that I could want from a boutique hotels in Portland: Locals working the front desk who can give you the inside scoop on restaurant and entertainment recommendations; quirky decor in all of the rooms, a super rad music venue next door, and a perfect location.

And not to mention their extremely affordable rates. If you’re partying in the area and need a place to stay, available rooms are only $99 if you try and book after midnight.

Centrally located on East Burnside Ave., the Jupiter is a party in itself. You can stay at the Jupiter and within the blocks around the property and have the best time ever. From breweries, highly acclaimed restaurants, strip clubs and everything in between, I guarantee you’ll find a way to occupy yourself.

Jupiter Hotel condoms
Props to the Jupiter Hotel for thinking of everything…

During our stay, an art show featuring local artists was held in the lobby while live music played nearly every night at the neighboring Doug Fir Lounge. Rooms are spacious, uniquely decorated and you can even personalize your space with the chalkboard-painted door. Cheeky additions to the nightstand include ear plugs and condoms (because rumor has it that the Jupiter is where, let’s stay, the sex positive come and play).

If you’re looking for a super quiet place to rest your head while traveling through PDX, this might not be your best choice. Although, ask the front desk for a “chill” room when you book as these books are slightly away from the hotel lobby and bar hi jinx. But when you’re in Portland for the weekend, who has time to sleep anyway?

For a beautiful place to treat yourself and your honey

I absolutely love all of the Kimpton Hotel properties I’ve ever stayed at or visited. They’re always beautifully designed yet somehow have their own distinct styles. There are three Kimpton properties in Portland and we had the absolute pleasure of spending an evening at Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland.

If you’re looking for a hotel in Portland with spacious and luxurious guestrooms, a full bar, game room, a nightly hosted wine hour, live music, bike rentals, and restaurant, the Hotel Vintage is your one-stop shop. We checked in on a Saturday afternoon and missed the hosted wine hour by a hair. The front desk graciously gave us drink tickets to use at the bar, so keep this in mind if you’re planning on a late check in.

Hotel Vintage PDX
Stick around the lobby at the Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland for a hosted wine hour and live music on the weekends.

If we didn’t have dinner reservations, I’m fairly certain we would have spent our entire night at the hotel. Live music was playing from the lobby bar from 6-8 p.m., guests were tapping into their inner child at  the game room, and the entire hotel was bustling with energy. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, this spot is such a fun place to check out.

Our room was AMAZING. Make sure you sign up for the Kimpton rewards program, Karma, for some extra perks. Our King Suite was enormous and was so warm and cozy that we had some serious problems leaving our room. We could have seriously hosted our own party with the amount of square footage in our suite.

Hotel Vintage Portland lobby
You might just find that you’ll check into Hotel Vintage Portland and then never actually leave the property. There’s so much fun to be discovered here. Photo courtesy of Hotel Vintage.

If you do find yourself leaving the bed, spend some time at the hotel bar, Bacchus Bar. Our bartender poured us some stiff drinks and he proudly took our drink vouchers from earlier. If you get hungry, the hotel’s Pazzo Ristorante will satisfy your pasta and pizza needs.

There are some great bars and restaurants that are walking distance from the Vintage, not to mention Mary’s and Voodoo Doughnut. Once you get your fair share of vices and sin, Hotel Vintage will be a wonderful refuge.

For a history lesson in Portland rock and roll

Portland is no stranger to great musicians and music venues and the Crystal Hotel perfectly glorifies rock and roll from generations before us and today. The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, started their business in the brewing industry before trying their hands at transforming historic buildings into amazing hotels. The Crystal Hotel, located across the street from the legendary Crystal Ballroom, is in a rad flatiron building with 51 guestrooms inspired by previous bands who’ve played at the Ballroom.

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If these walls could talk…at McMenamins Crystal Hotel in Downtown Portland.

We stayed in the Flogging Molly room, which was beautifully decorated in their music lyrics, but if you’re lucky, you’ll score a night in the Grateful Dead or Marvin Gaye rooms. There’s a bit of a hip hostel vibe here and most rooms share communal bathrooms on each floor so keep this in mind while you’re looking for hotels in Portland.

Crystal Hotel pool
Grab a robe from your closet and bring a local brew down to the underground soaking pool at the Crystal Hotel.

The Crystal Hotel is definitely something you need to see in person. They’ve got all kinds of amenities like their own restaurant, Zeus Cafe; their own line of coffee, which is brewed every morning; a rad below ground bar and music venue called Al’s Den; and an underground, saltwater soaking pool. (Say what?! Don’t forget your bathing suits!)

If you’re looking for a totally off-the-grid place to rest your head while you’re visiting, you have to check this place out. And if you find out that you absolutely love this place, ask about the McMenamins Passport where you’ll be awarded handsomely for visiting all of the McMenamins properties and pubs.

There’s seriously something for everything when it comes to looking for hotels in Portland. Whether you’re looking for a luxe place to lavish with your babe, a trendy place in the middle of everything, or a property with a cool story, Portland has got it all.

Looking for the Best Bed and Breakfast in Washington? Check out Domaine Madeleine!

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Spacious Bedroom

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Cozy Fireplace
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3 complimentary Harbinger bottles of wine for March’s Wine Month
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Spacious Bathroom with bidet
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Deep jacuzzi in 4 out of 5 of the rooms

 

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Beautiful spacious private deck overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca and CanadaDSCN6563
Beautiful spacious private deck overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Canada 

 

 

Written by and photos by Michael A.

Domaine Madeleine is truly a 5-star Bed and Breakfast for an unbelievable price. In my opinion, it’s the best bed and breakfast in Washington — if not in the U.S. Never have I been so blown away by a stay at a hotel, resort, or a B&B. I’m legitimately having withdrawals writing about this place knowing that I can’t be there right now. I often don’t travel to a place more than once, but I’ll definitely find a way to get back there as soon as possible. This is truly the perfect weekend/week/month/year-long getaway spot. Now that you’ve seen the pictures, please do yourself and your significant other a huge favor and go their site right now to book your stay as this place fills up fast!

The Rooms at Domaine Madeleine

This quaint B&B is nestled right on the northern edge of the state of Washington overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Canada. All but one of the rooms has an absolutely gorgeous view of the water and the vast well-maintained green lawn that precedes the bluffs. Each room is very spacious with huge windows facing the water to make sure that each guest can constantly admire the beauty of Domaine Madeleine’s location and experience the beauty that the Olympic Peninsula of Washington has to offer. Each room has a very earthly feel to it and comes with a beautiful painting above the bed that represents one part of the Olympic National Park.

There are five different rooms on this property. They are all nicely spread out so that you have complete privacy and it really makes you feel like you have your own little apartment. I stayed in the Hurricane Ridge Suite and it was absolutely stunning.

As I walked into the main house, I immediately fell in love with the place.  The beautiful dinning room had a chandelier hanging over the table and a huge window opening up to the beautiful green lawn, which hangs above the Straight of Juan de Fuca. There was a bowl of chocolates waiting for me as well as freshly made cookies at all times.

This room is fully equipped with a beautiful wood fireplace and lots of firewood, huge windows with an amazing view, a jacuzzi in the bathroom, flat screen TV, bidet, robes, slippers for him and her, binoculars (to see the wildlife from your room), a spacious balcony with lawn chairs and a table, and the most comfortable King size bed I have ever laid on, making this easily the best bed and breakfast in Washington.

With all of these amenities, this room made it so incredibly hard for me to leave and actually explore the area. I think I had the most relaxing stay I’ve ever had in my life. I would just hang out in the room with the fire going and drink wine all day while looking out at the gorgeous view. Book this place now!

The Food at Domaine Madeleine

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1st course
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2nd course
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2nd course
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3rd course
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4th course
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1st course
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2nd course
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3rd course
4th course
4th course

 

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Where much of their food is grown on the property

During those few hours that I was able to pull myself away from my room, I headed downstairs (you can also have it delivered to your room) for a four-course breakfast prepared by Brian, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Needless to say, if you’re going to have the best bed and breakfast in Washington the food has to also be amazing; and it definitely was!

The really cool part of the eating experience though was Brian himself. As he served each course, he would describe what was on the plate as well as where the food came from. The ingredients from each dish were truly hyper-local as just about every ingredient came from within a five mile radius of the B&B. In fact, I want to say that roughly 25 percent of the food is actually grown on the Domaine Madeleine property.

The ingredients are fresh, the food is delicious, and Brian really makes the experience wonderful and worth leaving your beautiful room for an hour or two.

Domaine Madeleine’s Location

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Olympic Game Farm; 4 feet away from our car
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Olympic Game Farm
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Olympic Game Farm; I smell Hot Cheeeeetos!
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Spruce Railroad Trail
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Spruce Railroad Trail

If you’re able to actually make it off of the grounds of Domaine Madeleine’s, unlike me, you’ll realize that this B&B is perfectly situated next to many of Olympic National Park’s main nature attractions. This is just another reason why this was easily the best bed and breakfast in Washington.

Domaine Madeleine is only 15 minutes away from the Olympic Game Farm which is a truly unique experience where you will have everything from peacocks to Bison, and Elk fighting for your attention as they swarm your car. If you drive a few minutes further, you’ll reach the Dungeness Spit & Lighthouse. In the other direction, Ediz Hook is only 30 minutes away. Go 15 minutes further and you’ll stumble upon Spruce Railroad Trail.

I stopped at Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles on Friday night as I had heard wonderful things about their food. It definitely didn’t let me down and you should book early to get a reservation here.

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Kokopelli Grill
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Kokopelli Grill

If you played your cards like me and barely left the property, explore the grounds of Domaine Madeleine as it is very well kept and right in the middle of nature. They have a garden and the stunning views overlook the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Canada. Plus, you can check off your wildlife sightseeing adventure as there is a family of Bald Eagles living in the trees right outside the Domaine Madeleine property.

From the second I booked this place, Stephen, the Innkeeper, was absolutely tremendous. He not only gave me recommendations for where to eat and hike, but he reach out to every restaurant I considered just to make sure they would fit me in on a busy night. Stephen has a lot of pull in Port Angeles and the restaurants seemed to all know and value anyone staying at the Domaine Madeleine property.

Stephen not only showed me the ins-and-outs of my beautiful room, but he actually gave me a tour of the entire property. When I was out of wood for the fire (because I was using it all day), he had someone come up with more wood and set up the fire again. Stephen also made sure that my room always had wine from Harbinger Winery (DELICIOUS). I was even lucky enough to be treated to a private wine tasting in their main room with Harbinger Winery.

I really can’t say enough good things about the room, the food, the location, and the absolutely wonderful customer service and experience. This is easily the best bed and breakfast in Washington if not in the US. This had to be one of the most relaxing weekends of my life and that’s all thanks to the beauty of Domaine Madeleine. Do yourself, or your significant other, a favor and make a trip out here no matter where you are in the world. Don’t think of Olympic National Park as your travel destination and Domaine Madeleine as your place of stay, but rather make Domaine Madeleine your destination and you will be in for a great treat. This is truly a gem unlike any other.

Red Eyed Tree Frog

Things to do in Costa Rica – An Adrenaline Junkie’s Oasis

Written by and photos by Michael A.

COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA! As you can tell, I’m just a tad bit fond of my recent adventure in this beautiful country that really has everything for all types of travelers. I’d love to write a book on all you can do in this small country, but I’m going to try to keep it as brief as possible and let the pictures do the talking as words just won’t do this place justice. If you’re looking for things to do in Costa Rica, let this be your guide.

For those tired of exploring cities, Costa Rica really has it all for you. Just to name a few things before I get into my recommendations, Costa Rican highlights include: volcanoes, natural hot springs, beautiful beaches, rain forests, jungles, some of the most diverse wildlife of any country, all classes of whitewater rafting, zip lining, canyoning, rappelling, waterfall jumping, surfing, scuba diving, big game fishing, massages to knock your underwear off, and most importantly AMAZING customer service and knowledgeable guides.

I’d love to go on and on about how great the country is, but I really want to focus this article on a few companies that you absolutely must use when traveling to Costa Rica, or at least still searching for things to do in Costa Rica. I assume that you’re all smart people and have already decided that Costa Rica is the perfect vacation so I’m going to just tell you what you should do there. The customer support and service at all these below mentioned places are truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and that’s what really sets Costa Rica apart from the other 40 something countries I’ve traveled to. All of these guides or owners never seemed to be catering to its guests because it was part of business. Rather, it seemed as though each company really enjoyed its guest and was legitimately having a great time with each of us. I really recommend all these companies below!

Where to Stay Near Arenal Volcano – Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel


Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Bedroom
Spacious rooms with very fine wood giving the room a very earthly feel.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel bathroom
Spacious bathrooms with large windows to keep you constantly surrounded by nature.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Patio
Spacious patio to lounge on in the middle of the rainforest.
Private hotel homes
Private hotel homes
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Pool
The beautiful pool right next to the restaurant/bar
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is truly a unique stay and a vacation within a vacation in its own right. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is smack dab right in the middle of the rainforest while still relatively close to La Fortuna (the very touristy town next to the Arenal volcano). Personally, I couldn’t imagine staying in La Fortuna as I just didn’t find it very nice because it’s really just a place for excursion companies to operate. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is just a 25 minute drive away which allows you to really experience the rainforest of Costa Rica while still having access to all of the fun excursions that Costa Rica has to offer.

The rooms are beautifully kept and are built out of very high quality wood. Furthermore, as you can see in the picture above, each room comes with a beautiful patio with furniture and a table so that you can relax in the morning as the rain comes down or watch a sunset while listening to the hundreds of different species chirp. The rooms are very modern yet they still do a great job in keeping its natural feel of being in the middle of the rain forest.

The landscape of this property is absolutely stunning. This hotel owns a lot of the land and they have trails on their property, which are perfect for horseback riding, night tours, bird watching, day hikes and more (all of which you can purchase for a very affordable price through the hotel). You really don’t have any reason to leave the property between your beautiful room, gorgeous landscape, pool, wildlife, and a good restaurant all on premises.

The rooms are beautiful and the landscape is unreal, but my favorite part of my stay was getting to talk to one of the owners and hearing about how this is a hotel for the community. More times than not, business is all about money and getting the most out of each visitor. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel has done something extremely unique in this aspect which really makes this place extra special and gives it a very real Costa Rican vibe. These owners want to make sure that each of their guests really gets a true Costa Rican experience while still making sure to not turn the area into another resort where Americans visit and wipe out the culture to the point where you don’t even realize that you’re in a foreign country anymore. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is a very self-sufficient hotel where they grow a lot of their crops, recycle (obviously), and hire only those from the local town to ensure that this property remains not only a profitable business, but also a major contributor to the lives of the locals. You’ll see brothers and sisters working together or a uncle and nephew and so forth. I thought this was something truly special as you don’t have this authenticity elsewhere in Costa Rica.

Bottom line: Do yourself a favor and spend at least a few days here so that you can really enjoy Costa Rica for what it is and not just stay in the tourist trap of La Fortuna.

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5
TripAdvisor link

Arenal Combo Volcano Hike with Red Lava Tourist Service Center

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View of the famous Arenal Volcano at the start of the tour
They allow you to take a dip halfway through at this waterfall
Take a dip halfway through the tour at this waterfall

 

Natural hot springs
Nightcaps and mud facials in the natural hot springs.

The guides at Red Lava Tourist Service Center are knowledgeable and friendly! GREAT customer service! They have amazing reviews all over TripAdvisor for a very good reason. The company’s big seller is the Combo 2 Volcano Hike which I strongly recommend. I unfortunately only was able to do the second tour but it was still a great treat. The combo hike compared to the one I did are pretty different from one another. During the Combo hike, the morning hike is a bit rigorous as you climb the Chato Volcano, which is right next to the Arenal volcano. Make sure you bring solid hiking shoes; anyone in decent shape shouldn’t have any issues with the hike. I opted for the second hike as it’s much more leisurely. You could probably get away with wearing tennis shoes as there isn’t really any climbing. Your guide will take you to beautiful locations where you’ll have stunning views of the Arenal volcano. You’ll also visit a beautiful waterfall and end the day with shots in natural hot spring. The nature aspect of this trip is obviously stunning. However, the most impressive part of the hike was all of the knowledge our guide provided. We weren’t just walking from location to location. Every so often, our guide gave us facts about the plant life or a beautiful bird call we heard echoing throughout the rain forest. He made the trip very educational and fascinating. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this hike.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Rappelling and Whitewater rafting with Pure Trek Canyoning

 

175ft waterfall rappel
First Rappel of the day; 175ft down a waterfall
waterfall rappel
Rappelling through waterfalls

PIC (82)

Oh boy! If you want adrenaline, look no further. Start your morning off with a 185ft rappel down a gorgeous waterfall with Pure Trek Canyoning. Not your cup of tea? Well, I didn’t think it would be mine either since I’m kind of afraid of heights and I’ve never rappelled before. Somehow though, these great guides wiped away all my fear and got me to go through with the tour.

Although this trip is great for those seeking thrills, this actually turned into a big growing experience for many of us on this tour. These guides face customers with my similar fears on a regular basis. They are nice and friendly and really help you believe in yourself to overcome fears. Before you know it, you’re rappelling down 100ft waterfalls like it’s absolutely nothing. I think we went down a total of around nine amazingly beautiful waterfalls. Also, there is a zip line/monkey drop where you essentially zip line about 50 ft. At that point they stop you and then you just drop another 50 ft or so right before the stop you a few feet above the ground from your free fall. SO MUCH FUN!

Although the guides were having a great time with us, we constantly felt safe in their hands.

Whitewater Rafting the Balsa River (Class 2 and 3)

Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.
Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.

Once the rappelling in the rain forest wrapped up, Pure Trek Canyoning then took us to the Balsa River where we went whitewater rafting. Much like the rappelling, I didn’t really have much experience with this extreme sport. Once again though, I felt perfectly safe. They made sure to keep the guides/customer ratio very good at around one guide for every four people. Although I thought a Class 3 was going to be a bit easy, these rapids actually turned out to be a lot more fun, adventurous, and continuous than the Class 5 that I did previously.

At this point in the day, we were all pretty hungry as we’d been moving around since around 8 a.m. This tour thankfully comes with lunch. This was no ham and cheese sandwich type of lunch though. They took us to a restaurant where we had an authentic Costa Rican meal and even got to try freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. Once we finished eating, they showed us how sugar is produced from sugar cane. This trip was much more than just an adrenaline rush, but was also an educational trip leaving us a bit more knowledgeable and cultured about the country.

typical Costa Rican food
An authentic Costa Rican meal

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

 

Night Jungle Tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge

 

Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
There's a SNAKE in my boot!!
There’s a SNAKE in my boot!!

DSCN5886

DSCN5880

Tarantula Tarantula
Tarantula

I strongly advise going on a night jungle tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge as the jungle really awakens with some amazing creatures at night. This is pretty much a real life Planet Earth experience. As night became dark, we were led through the jungle with nothing but our flashlights. Our guide Issac was extremely knowledgeable and seemed to know just an unfathomable amount of information about each insect, reptile, amphibian or plant. He also taught us about their calls, behavior, and why certain traits evolved the way they did. The tour was around two hours and we saw a ton of wildlife, including poisonous snakes, Banana spiders, and the only Red Eye Tree Frog that I saw my whole time in Costa Rica. I told Issac how important it was to me find one of these and he was thankfully able to come through. This was a surreal experience and a true bargain. Make sure you do at least one night jungle hike while in the area.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Desafio Gravity Falls

rapelling in Costa Rica
Literally stepping off of a cliff
One of your rappels
One of your rappels
canyoning
Canyoning through the beautiful Costa Rican Rainforest

I think we all grew up with the love of jumping in rivers off of rocks or swinging into lakes by a rope. Well, this takes those loves to the next level with Costa Rica’s newest extreme excursion which combines waterfall free jumping and some rappelling. You must be in at least decent shape for this one and love a good rush! This was definitely the excursion that I was worried about the most during my time in Costa Rica. Rappelling down 150ft waterfalls and jumping without ropes over waterfalls 30ft down can easily make your skin chill. However, Desafio makes you feel extremely safe as they take you through beautiful canyons deep in the rainforest. They had three guides for the four of us on the tour so that we each had individual attention throughout each jump and rappel. They really emphasized safety with every single jump. Plus, this company had a professional camera that was able to take some amazing photos of you in action as you conquered your fears. They also took us out to a very nice lunch once our goosebumps finally settled.

Desafio Cooking Class

homemade tortillas
Making tortillas from scratch
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
A typical Costa Rican meal
A typical Costa Rican meal

Although Desafio definitely prides itself on being extreme and for adrenaline junkies, they also cater to those that want to get a little more sophistication and culture out of their Costa Rican experience. For a rather small fee, they take you up to the mountains to a restaurant where 80 percent of the food is grown on that property. They walk you around and show you all the plants to give you a better understanding of spices and medicines in their natural state. Once our small group finished walking around, we headed to the kitchen where we had two Costa Rican ladies help prepare a traditional  meal. By far the coolest part of this excursion was learning how to make tortillas from scratch. Culture is often deeply rooted in food and this was a very cool experience.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Manuel Tour of Manuel Antonio National park

Concerned monkey
Concerned monkey
Howler Monkey
Howler Monkey

 

I'm going to steal your Taco Bell
I’m going to steal your Taco Bell

Photo 10-2-16 8 52 02 a.m.

 

I'm a proud iguana
I’m a proud iguana

Let me first start off by saying, Manuel is the man! I wouldn’t be surprised if the city of Manuel Antonio were named after him ;). Manuel runs his own operation, Manuel’s Tours, and he usually keeps his tour groups very small. He is unbelievably knowledgeable and very well respected amongst all of the guides of Manuel Antonio. When you hire Manuel to guide you through the national park, you actually hire 100 guides as all guides help one another out to make sure that their customers can see as much wildlife as possible and boy did we!

I’ve never spent money on a guide when going through a national park as I just didn’t think it was ever worth it. After trekking with Manuel, please take my advice and hire this man. Otherwise you are completely throwing away your $16 entrance fee down the drain. The animals in this national park are obviously hard to see as animals should be. Manuel let us look through his spotter scope, which made finding all of these animals crystal clear even when far away. Manuel was an absolute godsend and I can’t imagine my time in the forest would be as great had he not been our guide. There is so much more to see than just monkeys, but you won’t see it unless you have a guide like Manuel with a trained eye and his spotter scope.

Manuel’s Night Jungle Tour

A beautiful butterfly
A beautiful butterfly
Ribbbbet anyone?
Ribbbbet anyone?
scorpion-spider
Your worst nightmare; a scorpion-spider
nighttime crawlers - a scorpion
nighttime crawlers – a scorpion
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica

Once again, let me start off by saying, MANUEL IS THE MAN!! Did I mention that he fought off Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake right in front of me? Yeah, that happened. As with the day tour, it was an incredibly small group (me and one other person) so he was able to answer all of our questions and taught us a lot about the evolution of the landscape and life within it. He taught us some neat tricks on how to spot these creatures in the middle of the night. Among other things, we saw snakes, toads, scorpions, and the hideous scorpion spider. Manuel is truly a good man that cares deeply about his guests having a great time and you will when learning all of the cool facts that he has to offer.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

ADR Adventure Park

waterfall zip-lining
Zip-lining through a waterfall. Yeh, that’s pretty damn cool
Rapeling through the rainforest
Rappelling through the rain forest

Eight extreme activities all wrapped up into one excursion! Although the name is a bit confusing, this is NOT a park. The guides at ADR Adventure Park took us into the middle of the jungle for the activities. This is a great value for the amount of different things you get to try, like zip lining through a waterfall (Yes, you read that correctly!). There is quite a bit of zip lining in this excursion which is one of Costa Rica’s main attraction. So, if you’re looking to do some zip lining which I’m sure 90% of you are, then take this tour. You get a taste of a lot of different activities such as a high rope swing, rappelling, a good amount of hiking, a waterfall jump, and more all included in one. The location is absolutely stunning and the photographer they bring is amazing! I had to buy these pictures as these action shots were just so unreal.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Surfing in Manuel Antonio with Coconut Surf and Skate

Your Surf scene
Your surf scene
surfing in costa rica
Costa Rica Surfin’

Surfing is big in Costa Rica. Although Jaco and Dominical are supposed to be pretty big surf spots, the town of Manuel Antonio has so much more to offer than these other towns.  Shoot Coconut Surf and Skate an email as his surf setup is right outside Manuel Antonio National park on the free public beach. If you’re driving toward the National Park from Quepos, it’s one of the first parking lots to the right you can enter and you’ll see him right there. He both rents out his boards and gives three hour surf lessons that I was told were pretty good by others. So, make sure to send him an email to get his prices and scheduling.

H2O Adventures (Class 5 Whitewater Rafting EL CHORRO)

With good reason, I was definitely nervous about this Class 5 rafting trip with H20 Adventures since I’ve only been rafting twice and the highest class I’ve ever done was a 3. It’s important to know how the classifications work though so you have an idea of what to expect. Class 5 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rapids are 10 times tougher than a Class 2 or 3 would be. In fact, the Class 3 might even be tougher. Rather, a very important factor in determining classification is based on the danger level and the magnitude of how badly someone could get hurt. Once again though, this company really emphasizes safety (of course after making you sign your life away via a waiver!). We had a 3:1 rider to guide ratio, which was perfect not only for getting down the river, but also learning logistics on the strategy of taming the beast. We saw a couple of wipeouts as some of these rapids get pretty intense as you drop 8-10 ft followed by hard rights and left turns to avoid slamming into boulders. I felt completely safe the entire time (that could also be because I had a secret plan to ride the body of any of my boat members in case we tipped). This company also had a professional photographer with us.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5

TripAdvisor link

As I’m sure you figured by now, I was a bit worried about many of these excursions due to my lack of experience and fear of heights. But, that’s what’s so great about Costa Rica; it’s a place far enough from home where you can be whatever you want to be, conquer your fears, get a rush like never before, and really grow as a person. If these words and glowing recommendations on things to do in Costa Rica haven’t convinced you to book a flight to Costa Rica immediately, I sure hope the pictures get you there because this is one special place.