The Garden of Eden in Bocas del Toro is a hidden, pristine and very private getaway, that feels very remote in this archipelago of ten islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama - yet it is easily accessible. Only a few places around the world have been able to retain the particular atmosphere and authenticity of Bocas del Toro: seductive, primitive and unforgettable. It is a haven for snorkelers and divers, with crystal-clear impossibly turquoise waters and rainforest ecology; it's also one of the most multi-cultural places in Panama. In Bocas, you have the option of staying on the main island, Isla Colon - the site of the only real town, Bocas Town, and its selection of bars, restaurants and shops. Although Bocas del Toro has become quite popular with indie travelers in recent years, relatively low-key development has left an authenticity an unpolished vibe that is highly appealing to those looking to escape beach destinations full of mega-resorts.
Or, you can take a water taxi out to one of the other islands which are quieter and more secluded - some more than others. A 20 minute water taxi ride from Bocas Town will bring you to the Garden of Eden on Isla Solarte - a small three-room property that offers a true getaway-from-it-all in paradise. Technically, Garden of Eden is not even an actual part of Isla Solarte, but its own tiny island connected to Solarte by mangroves.
Stepping out of the boat onto the Garden of Eden dock, you will likely be met by Kip the owner and Zeus, the exuberant dog. The grounds are small but lush and gorgeous, with little paths that wind up to the rooms, dining area, pool, game room, and also down to a boat dock on the back side that is good for swimming and kayaking.
The three rooms are simple but comfortable, and offer private decks with that essential island item: hammocks. At Garden of Eden you can have all the remote downtime you want; but it's also relatively easy to make your way around the Bocas archipelago to do activities. Keep in mind that it's a 20-minute water taxi ride to Bocas Town if you want some shopping or nightlife, and you need to arrange for a ride ahead of time. You can also take boats to neighboring islands for beaches and other restaurants, or if you're up to a 30-45 minute kayak trip you can take the property kayaks across to Isla Bastimentos where there is a marina, restaurants and several beaches. Isla Bastimentos is also home to the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, Panama’s oldest marine park. Tours of all sorts are available for snorkeling, diving, fishing, jungle exploration and cultural experiences with indigenous villages.
And of course, just hanging at the peaceful Garden of Eden or swimming in the pool are laudable pastimes. The property is Adults Only, and with just three bungalows it's easy to rent the whole place with a few friends. The Garden of Eden offers quiet, upscale accommodations , free hi-speed internet access, and a full service bar and restaurant. Two cabanas are located adjacent to the pool, with queen size beds and a futon that can open to a full size bed; private bathroom with hot and cold rain water showers; and a veranda with a hammock and chairs to enjoy a fabulous panoramic view of the bay. The third room is a suite with both a king and a queen sized bed, private bathroom with hot and cold rain water shower, and a large deck with a hammock, lounge chairs and a ceiling fan.
Rates are $150-170 per night for two people, including continental breakfast.
Casa de Las Rosas is a charming little six-room guest house that was once the family home of its owner, providing a family museum as well as perfect place to stay in Cuenca.
The small, family-run inn Casa de Las Rosas in Cuenca, Ecuador did not come by its name lightly. This was the home of the Tapia family from 1952 until 2008, and today is run as a six-room boutique hotel by Rosa Tapia Peña, daughter of Luis and Rosa Tapia who built the home. With both mother and daughter named Rosa, and the fact that Cuenca is the rose capital of Ecuador (exporting flowers all over the world), and the name seemed appropriate.
"I was trying to find an appropriate name, for me it was important," says Rosa Tapia Peña. "My mother was named Rosa, like me, so it was two generations of Rosas."
Roses also feature predominantly throughout the hotel, with vases of them in the lobby and dining/sitting rooms. When I arrived at Casa de Las Rosas and was shown to my room (The Celeste), rose petals were scattered on the bed as well as the bathroom counter, giving a very nice touch. The Celeste room was extremely spacious and comfortable, with a king-sized bed, large wardrobe, windows overlooking a quiet street and a nice bathroom.
Other rooms include Esmerelda on the ground floor, with two double beds and access to the interior garden; Naranja on the second flopr, with two twin beds and originally the room of brothers Genaro and Telmo; Suite Verde offering a double bed in the larger room and one single bed in the smaller; and Suite Amarilla with rooms overlooking the courtyard and into the garden. This suite is a small independent apartment with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a wide corridor. It offers a double bed in one bedroom and a second bedroom with twin beds. It is ideal for two or three people or a family with two children. The yellow suite occupies three different areas of what was the old house; the toy room, a guest room, and the darkroom where the father developed his photos.
The last room is an Apartment Suite on the third floor, Suite El Tejado. It is the largest of guest rooms and perfect for a long-term stay, with a warm and delicate ambiance. It has two bedrooms with two bathrooms separated by a convenient corridor. It also offers a unique environment with a full living room, dining room and kitchen. The smaller room has a single bed and offers a wonderful view of the characteristic tile roofs of the historic center of Cuenca. The larger room with the double bed offers private access to a large terrace, an ideal place to rest and sunbathe in peace.
All original spaces of the mansion have been preserved while being enhanced in their new role within the modern and stylish hotel. Each room has a private bathroom, cable TV, telephone, and Wi-Fi internet.
It is a house with a story; the entire inn is filled with items and momentos from the Tapia Peña family, such as a sewing machine, books, chests, tea sets, photographs and much more. Rosa Tapia Peña says that at the time her father Luis built the house, in 1952, it was on the outskirts of the city. "But Cuenca has grown a lot since then, up around the house. We are in the middle of the city now."
Casa de Las Rosas does offer a good location, a bit outside the hustle and bustle of tourist central, but easy walking distance to the major sites and attractions of Cuenca, only blocks away. The entire city of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and extremely popular with both Ecuadorians and foreigners alike. Besides tourists who are just visiting, there is a large expat community of people who have found Cuenca so charming, livable and affordable that they have moved here permanently.
"I was born here," Rosa told me one morning after breakfast, as she gazed around the renovated home with obvious affection. "My parents came here when they already had six children; I was the 12th and last child."
This was the family home until 2008, when Luis and Mama Rosa grew elderly enough that it became hard to navigate the stairs, and they needed to live in a place easier for them. The parents initially wanted to sell the house, but daughter Rosa rejected that idea. "To me, it was important to keep it, to have it," she says. She and her husband, who live in Italy, bought the house from her parents in 2011 and spent a year lovingly restoring it, to be both updated and modern while still retaining the original footprint and character of the home. "We tried to keep it like it was; these are the same areas we used. I used to play here," she says of the sitting area where we are talking.
Casa de Las Rosas then opened as a hotel one year ago today, in July 2012. Today brings the inn's one year anniversary, and the entire family is celebrating with a special inauguration. Rosa and her family are in Cuenca from Italy, along with all of her 11 siblings and their families from all over the world - one is in the United States and another in Belgium. "It is a very special day for us."
The rates at Casa de Las Rosas range from $60 to $140 USD for two people; with three or four people, the rates are $110-160. All rates include a delicious, extensive breakfast spread.
Nearby places in Cuenca worth a mention:
Quito, Ecuador made big travel news in February 2013, when it opened a brand new airport just outside of the city. The new airport was much needed, and is beautiful and state-of-the-art, but it presents one new travel challenge: It is quite far from the actual city of Quito.
While the old airport was right next to downtown Quito, the new airport lies to the north of the city and it can take anywhere between one and two hours, depending on traffic, to reach the Old Town city center. This can present a special problem for travelers with very early morning or red-eye flights, or those who arrive on late night flights. Fortunately, a few hotels have begun to spring up around the new airport, making a quick layover for those flights much easier.
Hosteria Rancho San Carlos is one of these: a comfortable family-style guest house and hostel by the new airport in Quito. It is very close to the airport, only seven to ten minutes by car (and the hotel offers airport transfer service for $5 per person, each way). The place has a bit of a feel of a Swiss chalet, with a cozy, colorful downstairs dining area, places outside for relaxing and a comfortable sitting room upstairs. Breakfast is good, coffee and tea available all the time.
The rooms are simple but comfortable and extremely clean, offering private baths, television with cable and wi-fi access. Separate quarters, across from the main building, offers hostel-style dorm rooms with shared baths. The property is large and green, with a pool and plenty of room for walking around and exploring.
Tababela is a sleepy little town which is very pleasant to spend a day in. There is not much to do, but a walk around town and to the pretty, immaculate park in the middle of the town square next to a church is very worthwhile. There are a few small shops, and a couple of other places to get something to eat. Hosteria Casa Maria just down the road has a good pizzeria and pool tables.
If you spend an entire day or the better part of a day here, there is a gem just two blocks down the street from Rancho San Carlos, a large recreational park where you can go hiking for a $5 entrance day fee.
Overall, Hosteria Rancho San Carlos is a lovely place and experience, and if you need to be closer to the airport for an early morning or red eye departure, or a late night arrival, this BY FAR beats driving an hour and a half into Quito proper.
Ecuador has a lot of history, culture, traditions and arts - and with a stay at Morenica del Rosario in one of the country's most charming cities, Cuenca, your accommodations encompass all of that.
Morenica is almost as much a heritage museum as it is a hotel. Sprinkled throughout its four floors are artifacts, handicrafts, antiques and other pieces from Ecuador's cultural timeline. Part of the pleasure of arriving into the hotel is wandering through the place taking it all in; even the stairway is filled with treasures.
This also creates some wonderful common-area spaces in which to relax, work, or socialize. In addition to the K'ipa cafe/bar on the ground level, the second floor has a beautiful, large sitting area. Around the corner is a hidden stairwell to a hideaway nook just beckoning to guests.
Another impressive thing about Morenica del Rosario is the view from the upper floor windows and rooftop terrace; its location right by the Iglesia Santo Domingo allows for stunning views of the cathedral's twin domes from on high - even more dramatic at night, when the church is lit up.
The location can't be beat; Morenica is in the midst of all that is happening in Cuenca, just steps from the main Nueva Cathedral and central plaza, along with top restaurants and shops. Guest rooms are luxurious and comfortable, each with its own unique decor. Amenities include:
Full bed with 2 types of pillows
Digital safe box
High speed wireless
Desk and chair
Rates include breakfast, which is a fairly extensive buffet including fresh fruits and amazing fresh-squeezed juices, hot/savory items and a meat and cheese plate. Every morning there seemed to be a different local specialty also on hand.