Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Overview: If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging.

Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat
Yelapa
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
+52-322 209-5246
losnaranjos5@gmail.com

When I learned that a retreat I was interested in took place at the edge of the jungle in Yelapa, Mexico, I was hesitant to go. Cabins without walls? Mosquitos? Possibly snakes? No thank you. But looking at photos of Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat gave me some peace of mind. The rooms were wall-less, but they were surrounded by beautiful flora. After gaining reassurance that the chances of seeing snakes were low, I decided to go.

I flew to the Puerto Vallarta airport, caught a cab to Los Muertos beach, then rode a water taxi to Yelapa. I was reassured to see tourists on the boat with shirts reading “Yelapa.” So this wasn’t the middle of nowhere. On the shore, there were restaurants and people sitting on the beach, where Los Naranjos’s owner and his dog met me to bring me to the “eco hotel.” As we left the beach, a dog bared its teeth, people passed by on horses, and we waded through a pond. We also passed a little store where I bought conditioner for my hair. We were still within civilization.

los naranjos jungle retreat treehouse

When we got there, I entered an (also wall-less) common room with a kitchen, a hammock, and cushioned benches. The dining tables were just outside. Then, the owner showed me to my room, which was up a ladder and had a thatched roof. Inside was a table and three beds covered by mosquito nets. Not exactly luxurious, but I wouldn’t be roughing it either. I got the only full-sized bed in the room (the others were twin-sized), and while the mattress was firm, I could sink into it a bit. The blanket was thin but warm, and the pillows were comfy. There were two lights hanging from the ceiling, a fan, and an electrical outlet by my bed.

The closest bathroom was up another ladder, with two toilet stalls, two showers, and two sinks. There weren’t any problems with the bathroom, though one quirk was that you had to throw the toilet paper in the trash. The staff explained that anything that gets flushed down the toilet has to be dug up from underground, since Los Naranjos tries to minimize its impact on the environment.

los naranjos jungle retreat treetops

There was a WiFi connection, but it wasn’t quick enough to get anything done. It took several minutes just to load my emails. There were a few cafes nearby with slightly faster WiFi, but none were adequate for fast-paced work. If I had to send an email, my best bet was to use my phone. The data connection was decent decent enough to do this but not to use my personal hotspot. Lesson learned: Don’t try to get work done in Yelapa.

My first night in Los Naranjos was rough. Even with my earplugs in, I heard roosters (which, it turns out, make noise all night), howling dogs, and music from a nearby house. Every time one of my roommates walked, the ground slightly shook. I woke up many times throughout the night and got up in the morning with a sore back. But my second night was better: My ears were getting used to the jungle already. The only remaining annoyance was having to navigate through the dark (and I do mean dark — I needed a flashlight) to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The mosquito net protected my bed, but I got my share of bites during the day. Thankfully, I didn’t see any snakes.

The surrounding village was adorable, with little Mexican shops and restaurants owned by local families, the beach a 15 minute walk away, and a hiking trail leading to a waterfall. I had all my meals at Los Naranjos, though. They were a delicious mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs from chickens on the resort grounds, and fish caught from a nearby river.

If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging. Personally, I enjoyed jogging past wild dogs in the morning and seeing the stars at night, but I was counting down the days until I got a quiet room and private bathroom again.

 

Rooms:
Tech:
Family-friendly amenities:
Food options:
Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Adopt a Manta Ray on Vacation

Adopt a Manta Ray on Vacation

What would it take to adopt a manta ray? I love those sleek rays with their impossibly cheery grins. I dream of gliding across the sea floor with such grace.

And staying in one of those dreamy overwater bungalows on a Pacific island is one of my #travelgoals.

Baros Maldives overwater bungalows

Now there’s an eco-friendly resort, Baros Maldives, that really could not have chosen a more attractive combination of features for the manta ray and bungalow lover. The five-star resort has taken a proactive approach in luring guests beyond the beach with its Manta Ray and Coral Reef Rehabilitation programs. Working alongside the resort’s Marine and Diving Center, Baros Maldives encourages its guests to not only embrace and enjoy the lush tropical paradise but to also give back to the underwater creatures that make it such a natural beauty.

divers look up at manta raymanta rays frolickingManta Ray Surveying & Adoption System: Baros Maldives has a Manta Ray program that invites guests to photograph the underwater gentle giants at the resort and then follow along on their migration even when they return home. A diver who photographs a Manta Ray not seen before is offered the opportunity to give it a name and “adopt” it, which means the diver will receive regular reports on the Manta’s whereabouts and habits. Guests who re-visit the resort have a good chance to have a reunion with a Manta Ray they have seen on their dives in previous years. The best times to visit are from May to November and from January to April, when sightings are frequent.

Coral Reef Rehabilitation Program: Guests are also able to aid in a coral conservation initiative by sponsoring a coral frame through Baros Maldives’ Reef Rehabilitation Program. In addition to sponsoring a frame, guests learn about the coral propagation process and are escorted in a swim to the house reef, where they collect broken coral fragments and reattach them to specially designed structures. These provide a stable substrate elevated from the sandy seafloor. The coral frames not only give artificial reef-structure corals a chance to grow, but also creates new homes for various marine animals. Additionally, the Baros Maldives marine biologists keep participants up-to-date by e-mail every six months about the growth of the corals as they develop on the table.

diver and colorful coral reef

If you are interested in learning more about Baros Resort, comment below or send me an email. Some of the links on this page are sponsored to help keep this website afloat. Thanks for reading!

Go Ape in Northern Virginia

Go Ape in Northern Virginia

Go Ape in Northern Virginia

For years we’ve been looking for a place to go ape in Northern Virginia – a place to climb trees, inch across hanging bridges, and swing from the branches. You know, just like the apes do.

Finally, Go Ape has opened at the South Run Park in Springfield, Virginia. I recently took my daughter and her friend to try it out. Do I even need to say that we had a blast? We had a blast. ​

When you arrive and check in (15 minutes early, please!) you’ll be fitted with a safety harness that you’ll wear through the entire course. After an introduction and a safety presentation, you’ll try out a couple of stations that are close to the ground under supervision of the staff, to make sure you understand the basics.

Once you’re done with that, you’re on your own to try any of the series of platforms and bridges and ziplines. Of course, there are staffers all around to help if you get stuck, which is more of a psychological issue than a physical one. The park is designed around safety, and it’s virtually impossible to get physically stuck, but if you’re afraid of heights or if you have a panic attack in the middle of a bridge, staff members are on hand to talk you through it, and if need be, they will come and help you down. But tha happen because you will love it and it feels very very safe.

Allow 2-3 hours to complete all the activities.

Requirements for Go Ape

For the Junior Course, which has 20 obstacles and 2 ziplines, with a maximum platform height of 27 feet, there’s no age limit, but you must be 3’3″ to participate.

For the Adult Course, you must be 10 years old AND 4’7″.

What to Wear

Wear closed toe shoes that are flat, and flat-bottomed. Grippy hiking shoes with a chunky tread are not the best option, because you won’t be able to feel your way along the rope bridges and obstacles as well.

Wear slim-fitting shorts or pants, or leggings. Looser clothing can get caught as you go through.


Have a harness or zippered pocket for your phone or camera, or just leave it on the ground while you’re in the trees. If you bring a GoPro, use the chest harness, as some of the other placements might interfere with the safety lines.

Our Experience at Go Ape

As captured in our Instagram Story:

Our Recommendations

We recommend wearing some kind of gloves, especially for the ziplines. Despite our best efforts – and we were really, really talented with the zip lines, believe me – two of the three of us ended up with nasty blisters.

Dudes – be careful on the Tarzan swing. I’m not sure exactly how you should prepare for it, but every male I saw on this one experienced a very uncomfortable crotch squeeze that kind of rained on the adrenaline rush of the swing itself.

We were guests of Go Ape in August 2017.

 

Adventures on the Caribbean Coast – Part I

Adventures on the Caribbean Coast – Part I

After leaving the Buena Finca in Saripiqui, R and I decided to cross from Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola-Guabito border crossing. We felt that this border crossing had some advantages. First, given its remote location in Costa Rica, far from the Pan-American highway, we hoped it would be quicker than crossing at one of the other two available crossings. Second, it would put us in a corner of Panama that is only accessible by one road, which we likely would not have traveled at all if we entered Panama on the Pan-American which provides a more direct route to Panama City and the Canal Zone. Finally, it would require us to travel to the Caribbean coast, which we’ve not been able to do so far in eight months of driving Mexico and Central America.

The trip through the lowlands of Costa Rica took us through banana plantations grown under the Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte flags. Thousands of banana bunches had bags hung around them to keep off the birds and presumably to hasten the process so they can be cut and exported. Bananas are like a delicious but worthless currency and we haven’t purchased one in months because the places we’ve been have had a bunch hanging from the rafters and you can walk by and help yourself.

This wild toucan helped itself to the bananas that hung at the Buena Finca

This wild toucan helped itself to the plantains that hung at the Buena Finca

Rows and rows of banana trees for as far as the eye can see. At one point, this area of Costa Rica was all owned by the U.S. Corporation United Fruit Company.

Rows and rows of banana plants for as far as the eye can see. At one point, this area of Costa Rica was all owned by the U.S. corporation United Fruit Company.

Follow that truck!

Follow that truck!

One of the things we’ve enjoyed is the ability to scavenge from the fruit-bearing trees that grow everywhere – tamarindo, orange, guaba, lime, water apple, star fruit, coconuts, and mangoes – and often have a pile of rotting fruit underneath.

Mangoes are delicious and free mangoes are even better! Here, R gathers the sweet fruit from where it has fallen, unloved, along the road side.

Mangoes are delicious and free mangoes are even better! Here, R gathers the sweet fruit from where it has fallen, unloved, along the side of the road.

 

I got this Star Fruit before it hit the ground. These fruit get their name because when cut, the pieces resemble stars.

I got this Star Fruit before it hit the ground. These fruit get their name because when cut, the pieces resemble stars.

We set foot on the palm fringed, black sand shores of Cahuita, Costa Rica, 514 years after Columbus, but the indigenous tribes he encountered remain. Now, however, they are sprinkled liberally with descendants of the Africans and Caribbean Islanders who were brought to the mainland to work the banana plantations. Given this blend of cultures, the coast has a different look and vibe to it than the rest of Costa Rica and plays to a Bob Marley soundtrack.

After our three-hour tour, we ended up on this deserted island where we ate some watermelon.

Water droplets on the camera lens smudged this shot, but I think you get the idea.

It was here that the pre-trip contact lens fitting I had finally paid off. We snorkeled Cahuita National Park and one of the last living reefs in Costa Rica and I was actually able to see the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors.

J and I prepare to plunge into the icy waters of the Caribbean in search of fish.

J and I prepare to plunge into the icy waters of the Caribbean in search of fish.

J was very excited to be snorkeling. Here, he points to a major discovery.

J was very excited to be snorkeling. Here, he points to a major discovery.

R confirms it is nothing more dangerous than a reef shark

R confirms it is nothing more dangerous than a reef shark

We survived our three-hour snorkeling tour unscathed. Coconut, noticeably absent from this photo, was the only casualty.

We survived our three-hour snorkeling tour unscathed. Coconut, noticeably absent from this photo, was the only casualty.

After coming in under our daily budget for two weeks running while at the Buena Finca we had a little extra cash in our pockets so at our next stop down the coast we decided to travel like we are on vacation and Puerto Viejo is the perfect place for a gringo tourist to blow a wad of cash. We splurged for a room at a small hotel with a beautiful garden, went to a sushi buffet, and paid to have our laundry done. We also went to a jaguar rescue center where there are no jaguars, but lots of other jungle animals waiting to heal and be released to the wild. The monkeys were having a blast and I’ve got it narrowed down to coming back as either a spider monkey or Mick Jagger in my next life.

Baby sloths, even ones that have been electrocuted by hanging on wires, are cute!

Baby sloths, even ones that have been electrocuted by hanging on wires, are cute!

But monkeys are cuter! This fellow as a baby and had a crib to himself, but put them in a bunch and they were wrestling, and swinging, and having a blast.

But monkeys are cuter! This fellow was a baby and had a crib all to himself. He looks a bit frightened, but put monkeys together and they wrestle, swing, and seem to have no worries at all.

Costa Rica doesn’t have seasons (actually, it does, the dry season and the rainy season, but both are hot and humid) but it does have times of day when it is possible to be outside and not have sweat droplets form behind your ears. As I sat on the beach in Puerto Viejo center watching the day wind down while a cool ocean breeze blew the mosquitoes and worries away, I regretted our small, stuffy room and wished we were camped in Wesley at water’s edge. We haven’t done much wild camping (or any), mostly because we don’t have a toilet, but this would have been the place to squeeze our cheeks together and tempt fate.

Locals try their hand at catching dinner at the end of a hot day.

Locals try their hand at catching dinner at the end of a hot day in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

Sunken barge or fishing pier? Or both?

Sunken barge or fishing pier?

With our plan to cross to Panama the next day in mind, I reflected on the time we spent in Costa Rica. We didn’t expect to like it much, (mostly because of the cost, and it’s true we didn’t like spending $40 every time we went to the grocery for milk, eggs, and canned tuna) but we did end up having a great experience.

Yes, the natural beauty, whitewater, beaches, and other ways to spend your cash that it offers helped us make some memories, but whenever we talk about Costa Rica now it will always be defined by the time we spent with Tom and Esteban, Tom’s family, and the other good folks we met at the Buena Casa. Whether we ever see them again or not, we’ll still have that time together to remember.

But, now, Panama beckons. There are other adventures to have.

Panama! Here we come.

We won’t be the first American adventurers in Panama, or the last. But we will be adventurers in Panama!

 

Le Boat Houseboat Rentals in Europe

Le Boat Houseboat Rentals in Europe

Our guest author, Martha Hepler, took over our Instagram feed during her family’s recent boat trip on the Canal du Midi. We are happy to include her story and photos here as we participate in Instagram Travel Thursday.

Le Boat in the Canal du Midi

It was a fine early May day in the south of France as a new captain and his crew of three set off from the Le Boat station at Trebes. They were nervous, as they weren’t overly familiar with the ways of the water, and the party consisted of my husband, myself, our five-year-old, and our two-year-old. It felt daring and vaguely hair-brained, since we’re generally overwhelmed by our kids on land. But it also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  The Canal du Midi seemed like a civilized sort of waterway, a staff member had given us a good lesson, and our Royal Mystique could only go but so fast–plus it conveniently had bouncy rubber things all around it for playing bumper boats!

We all ducked to clear the first bridge with minimal bumping and no head injuries. That stone arch glided over us like a harbinger of success. 

Canal du Midi

The first lock was what really intimidated us, but after reading our instruction book over and over, tethering the two-year-old to the deck next to my husband, and receiving help from a neighboring boat that had experienced crew to spare, it went perfectly and we relaxed a bit. The second lock was a three-stepper: no worse because of that, and photogenic to boot. 

A lock on the Canal du Midi

We settled into a rhythm of relaxed cruising interspersed with focused lock maneuvers. By the time we reached our goal port of Carcassonne that night, we were feeling downright casual about the whole thing—with a side of accomplished self-satisfaction, of course. We spent two nights there, giving us time to visit the castle and the Tuesday morning market.

Carcassonne

By then, we were all itching to cast off again.

Little captains on a Le Boat adventure

Our days thereafter were filled with floating downstream (and learning lock maneuvers in that direction), waving at other boaters, breaking for lunch in the sweet canalside silence and riding bikes through the countryside, spotting wildlife in the water and the air overhead, strolling through sleepy towns in the cool evening, and obsessively cataloguing every adorable lock house. We even found the occasional playground. Our nights were filled with sleeping really, really heavily wherever we happened to moor. 

Canal du Midi from Le Boat

According to Instagram, the kids played nary a video game and watched not a single movie, so that must surely be the truth. In fact, we spent all our free time in educational pursuits.

Games on board Le Boat

The two-year-old insisted then and still does now that his favorite part of the trip was standing on the sun deck and staring at the bikes strapped at on the stern—he will forever call it “da boat wiff ow bice’cles on da back”. 

Bicycles on Le Boat

My husband was spared his usual case of the Vacation Ants in the Pants because he always had piloting to do. Eventually I was enticed to put my camera down long enough to learn how to drive the boat myself. It was easier than it looked. 

The author as captain of Le Boat

Our turnaround point and accommodation for night number six was Le Somail, a town with no shortage of charm. After a delicious dinner out, we cuddled on the top deck under a blanket and watched the sun set as we read bedtime stories. 

Exploring on land and returning to Le Boat

The final cruising day was hot and sunny as we turned back upstream. With snowy Pyrenees to our left, exotic birds flitting through plane trees to our right, and vineyards all around, we soaked in every precious moment.

A girl in a hat in France, on a boat

Too soon, we glided into port and stretched our legs before one last night in our bunks. 

Disembarking Le Boat at Homps

It almost feels like a joke with no punchline: two rookies, a flighty five-year-old, and a burly toddler set off on a boat…and no one and nothing fell in, no crashes happened, the boat didn’t get hung up on the side of a lock, we didn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no drinking water or run out of clean clothes or suffer from a stinky boat bathroom…in fact none of my fears came true! And I’m perfectly fine with not having or being a punchline; we are already dreaming about our next canal cruise. 

Two kids in the Canal du Midi on a Le Boat trip

 

Le Boat has been offering European canal boating trips for over 40 years. They have rentals available in France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. There are routes for all types: from completely suitable for beginners to those requiring knowledge of river navigation. There are also boats for all budgets (as low as $500, though keep in mind that there are other costs–clearly spelled out on the Le Boat website) and all group sizes, from 4 people up to 10. You can make anything from a three-night reservation up to 14 nights. You can do a one-way or a return trip. I think my point has been made: Le Boat offers an option to meet anybody’s needs. The staff is very helpful and makes sure that you know just how to contact them in case of any need for assistance.

 

Disclosure: We were guests of Le Boat, which offers houseboat rentals in Europe.  They provided us with a complimentary week on one of their boats. All opinions are emphatically my own.

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Thailand by Campervan: A new way to experience Thai culture

Thailand by Campervan: A new way to experience Thai culture

When you think of Thailand, what comes to mind?

Maybe gleaming golden Buddha statues in chalk white temples. Or idyllic beaches with karst cliffs edging bays full of clear blue water with a white sand rim. Or spicy street food on a steamy Bangkok soi…

How about campervans? No?

I have rented campervans for family vacations in Hawaii and New Zealand, and loved the experience of driving wherever we wanted and camping near the beach.

But Thailand? It’s so easy to get around Thailand, whether by train, bus, minivan, songthaew, taxi, scooter, or tuk tuk. And nice hotels are cheap and easy to find.

The cutest tuk tuks ever in Trang, Thailand

But then again… there’s the waiting for the transportation. The stress of sitting powerless in the back of a stinky, sweaty minivan as the driver swerves across the center line around a blind curve.

And then again… wouldn’t it be nice not to have to lug a suitcase or backpack from one hotel to the next in the steamy heat of Thailand?

Wouldn’t it be great to stash your bags in a nice air conditioned campervan, and let the very considerate and safe driver be responsible for getting you where you want to go, when you want to go there?

Campervan Thailand is a new company with a fleet of shiny new RVs available for rental by the day, week or month. Their smallest camper sleeps 4, while the largest can sleep up to 8. They include air conditioning, bathroom and shower, sound system, microwave and refrigerator, and the beds are some of the most comfortable I have come across in my travels. In fact, when I recently traveled with a group of bloggers in the campers and we were given the option of sleeping in a hotel one night, we all chose to sleep in the vans.

The smallest camper rents for $200 per night, the largest for $400 per night, with discounts available for weekly and monthly rentals. Though the rental price of the campervans is not cheap, it could make sense for a group traveling together, especially if you’d like to get far off the beaten tourist path.

You can drive the campervan yourself with an international driver’s license, and the company will give you a 30-minute lesson on how to drive. But unless you are comfortable reading Thai road signs, you might want to hire a driver.

Thai traffic sign

 

On a recent trip, our driver not only drove us carefully and safely (which means a lot in Thailand) from central Bangkok into the countryside, he assisted us out of the camper on arrival at our destination, kept watch over the locked van while we toured around, and when he converted the benches to beds in the evening, he also turned on the air conditioner to cool down the van for us. It would be well worth the additional $50-70/per day for these conveniences. (The driver sleeps in a tent near the camper overnight.)

The infrastructure for RVs in Thailand is minimal; there are no campgrounds with power and water hookups like those you would find in the US or Australia, and very few campgrounds overall. Instead of chain campgrounds like KOA or Top Ten, Campervan Thailand works with a network of small hotels or guesthouses with space available for campers to park. The hotels charge a small fee for use of their power and water hookups and use of their facilities. These hotels are charming, small, and offer a glimpse into native Thai culture.

Campervan Thailand by the river at Baan Suan Krua

 

On our recent trip, one hotel brought in a masseuse to perform traditional Thai massage for us. Another invited us to participate in a very special Thai tradition of making a morning offering to a monk who paddles down the river every morning collecting donations.

Morning offering in Thailand

 

As in other countries, one of the greatest benefits of RV-ing is being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want. If you need help figuring out where to go and how to get there, the staff at Campervan Thailand will assist you in developing an itinerary.

On our trip, we explored the Samut Songkram and Ratchburi regions southwest of Bangkok, where we

 

    • joined clam-diggers in the mud in Klong Kone

digging for clams in Thailand

 

  • took in a traditional shadow-puppet show at Wat Khanon,

Shadow puppet performance at Wat Khanon

 

  • visited Chok weavers in Baan Koo Bua,

a weaver of chok fabric in Thailand

  • watched local potters craft their wares in Ratchburi,

Thai potter

  • made flower garlands from a special clay in Amphoe Bang Khonthi,

 

  • and shopped in local markets in Mae Klong and Photaram.


Campervan Thailand will deliver their RVs to any major city in Thailand, so you can explore anywhere from the mountains to the coast (though there is a 500km per day limit on how far you may drive the campervan). Our friends from Tieland to Thailand include lots of detail about renting a campervan in Thailand on their blog. And you can read more about my adventure on Huffington Post.

Thai beach near Ao Nang