A new tented camp in the Costa Rican rainforest, our (updated) winter escapes list, the couple we want to plan our next trip to India & a few precision packing tips
Nayara Tented Camp, Costa Rica
One of the first things you notice from the jungly vista behind your tent—as lush and colorful as a Rousseau painting—is that there are no mosquitoes in a place where you would normally be slapping yourself silly. The second thing you realize is that this exuberant tableau, backed by the cloud-ringed cone of Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano, is rippling with life—busy hummingbirds, darting butterflies and plopping frogs (peek over the edge and you might spot an armadillo). It is arguably this huge population of frogs—including the red-eyed tree kind and the Kermit-y green glass frogs—that account for the miraculous lack of mosquitoes, which they eat for dinner. And the very presence of the frogs (and birds and sloths and even a howler monkey or two) here at Nayara Tented Camp is another sort of miracle.
Costa Rica is, of course, known for its wildly progressive pro-environmental policies, with more than 50% of the country now covered in green. But when Nayara founders Leo and Ruthy Ghitis acquired this hilltop a few years ago to add to their portfolio of eco-lodges—the original Nayara Gardens and the (adult only Relais & Chateau) Nayara Springs down the hill—it was a barren cattle ranch. They planted 40,000 indigenous trees, which exploded under the 139” annual rainfall and quickly enveloped the 38 tented suites that were fully unveiled this year. (To call them tents is a stretch—although they are modeled on safari tents the couple scouted across Botswana, they all have A/C, canopy beds and giant tubs; some have 2 or 4 bedrooms and kitchens.) The Tented Camp is the most elevated of the three (in both senses), and each one has its own hot spring pool fed by the volcano’s heat that is so private you can skinny dip in broad daylight. If you feel like being more social, you can also plunge into the camp’s seven public hot spring pools that burble down a hillside, where a bartender stands by to mix your guaro sour.
There is little incentive to leave the 61 acres of connecting properties. You can walk the twisting paths with a guide to spot any of the 15 resident sloths that loaf in cecropia trees, venture out at sunrise to clock scarlet-rumped tanagers and keeled bill (aka “kill bill”) toucans, or join a chorus-filled frog hunt at night. There is an open-air yoga shala in the treetops and a spa with private cabanas on stilts, where a volcanic mud massage leaves you feeling as slick as a baby seal. The resident coffee house hosts workshops on the Costa Rican pour-over from locally harvested beans. But it is definitely worth heading out for a day with Nayara’s guides to explore the wobbly crossings of Arenal’s Hanging Bridges Park (unless you’re acrophobic!), or for the typical Costa Rican adventure fare of ziplining or trekking across lava fields.
With so much else going on, it’s easy to forget the food, which was truly good and healthy, and super varied between the six options at the 3 connected resorts. Ayla, the new restaurant at the Tented Camp, is overseen by an Israeli chef who turns out fresh Mediterranean cuisine; La Terraza serves typical Costa Rican fare like casado (black beans, rice, fried sweet plantains and eggs), Amor Loco is more Michelin-y fine dining, and there’s also a Japanese place, which at first makes you wonder why you’d come all the way to Costa Rica to eat sushi, but of course the super-fresh fish with local twists like coconut milk or plantains make it feel of place.
The property is carbon neutral and treads lightly and all that good stuff, though it doesn’t boast enough about its impressive social programs. Nearly all of the staff are from the local towns around La Fortuna (including the Resort Manager, Jairo, who rose through the ranks from receptionist). In addition to supporting a local orphanage and offering day care to all employees, the owners bought a parcel of land nearby and teamed up with a local bank to offer female staff, many of them single mothers, low-interest loans to buy a home there. Everyone walks around greeting each other with “pura vida” (pure life, the Costa Rican motto) like you’d hear “aloha” or “ciao,” and soon enough you find yourself saying it too. Which would sound like a put on if every single person didn’t all seem genuinely friendly and eager to share their enthusiasm for their country’s natural bounty. —Alex Postman
P.S. The last thing to say is that it is a super-easy trip from the East Coast. I flew nonstop to San Jose from Newark; there are also plenty of flights from Atlanta and Dallas and the hotel is a twisty 2-plus hour drive from there. I would pair this with a stay at the beach, like the Harmony hotel in Nosara, Florblanca in Santa Teresa, or the Four Seasons in Papagayo, which people swear doesn’t feel chain-y. Nayara also has a newish over-water bungalow property in Panama Nayara Bocas del Toro, which you can get to via a short flight.
P.P.S. Listen to the sounds of the rainforest—like all your snooze buttons in one—in Moodboard!
HOW I PACK
My friend Chris Mitchell (co-author of the new design book, Patina Modern) used to be on the road all the time when he was a publisher at Condé Nast. He not only perfected the art of packing in a carry-on no matter how long the trip, he has impeccable style that is actually comfortable. Here are his super-precise tips!
What’s your go-to luggage and why?
First off, there is no question of checking. Never, not for any duration of trip. It’s not so much that I dread the airline losing my luggage (although there are few things more disconcerting and utterly destabilizing than arriving in a strange place without any of your stuff). It’s more that I dread waiting for the thing at baggage claim. Once I’m off the plane, I want to get out of that airport as soon as humanly possible.
For years, I swore by a duffle. Easy to pack a lot into it; easy to squish into the overhead bin. My go-to was the Goyard Boeing 60cm. Technically too big to check on most airlines, but deceptively sleek looking, so it passed unnoticed every time. I resisted the roller with monastic zeal, priding myself in my ability to dash for a plane balanced with my tote in one hand and my Goyard in the other (no shoulder strap for me–I was a travel machine, I told myself). But finally, eventually, I succumbed. I think it was equal parts my aching back and the fact that the Rimowa caught my eye as the first good-looking roller I had seen. Suddenly, I totally coveted other people’s signature silver cases. I haven't looked back since, with my fancy duffle sitting in its dust bag, flat and forlorn, for a few years now.
How do you approach the basics?
In this regard, my wardrobe is incredibly easy. I am all but allergic to color and pattern, seeking an Einstein/Steve Jobs-like simplicity to my wardrobe. Lots of navy blue, some grey, and white.
By way of explanation, I believe in the art of tailoring, but worn casually. So always full suits (never separates), mostly double-breasted, with side-tab trousers (no belts to pack) – all made-to-measure by my Aussie friend and brilliant menswear designer, P. Johnson. And I'll wear them, pretty uniformly, with an open collar shirt or knit t-shirt, and white sneakers. I take pride in helping to pioneer this look a few years ago, and while I’m sure it is no longer seen as cutting-edge, for me it's a mainstay. I feel eminently relaxed, but I feel sartorial at the same time. I wear this look straight on the plane, and every day and night thereafter.
For any trip, I bring the number of days’ worth of button-down shirts, in a 2-to-1 proportion of white vs. blue bengal stripe. And then 2 to 3 fine merino or cashmere crewneck sweaters, which do double-duty as a knit t-shirt or a layer. I pack half as many suits as days I’m there. At least a couple are virtually identical lightweight navy wool. And depending on the season, either a medium grey flannel, or a tan or olive cotton. And then one pair of really broken-in Levis or APC jeans to round out my outfit choices. That’s about it.
Are you a roller or a folder?
My wife, Pilar, jokes that I’m just a frustrated Gap employee because I am a really dedicated folder. Despite what others swear by, I’m convinced really efficient folding holds more, with fewer wrinkles. Also, half the battle is spatial relations–figuring out how to stack so you use every inch of every corner of the bag. I’ve gotten 10 days’ worth of clothing into my Rimowa, and that includes the running gear.
What’s your shoe strategy?
The Adidas or Common Projects are generally on my feet when I travel, and I don't believe in doubling up there. But I’ll grudgingly pack a pair of black JM Weston loafers so I'm suitable for a slightly dressier occasion, or the rare restaurant that will turn away sneakers. And in warmer months, suits-with-sandals is one of my all-time favorite looks, so I’ll bring a pair of black Birksenstock Arizonas, or custom Rilleau sandals I had made decades ago by the late great Barbara Shaum. And I need to run every day, including after an overnight to Europe, so I have a pair of Nike running shoes that live in my bag at all times. I curse the precious space they take up, but it is what it is.
How do you think about accessories?
Drake’s knit ties in black and brown are a must, because nothing beats a knit tie, and brown is a chic alternative with navy and white. Add in a few white linen, hemstitched handkerchiefs, and a polka dot wool pocket square by Ralph Lauren Purple Label that I’ll wear either in the pocket or tied around my neck.
I don't wear socks, so at most I'll pack some loafer socks for my sneakers, ample underwear, a few white or navy t-shirts, and my Nike running kit. I have some lovely watches, but I'm too chicken to travel with any more than the one on my wrist, so I try to change it up with a different old Rolex for every trip.
Do you have a great travel hat?
I have had a shaved head for 20 years, which makes grooming ridiculously easy, but makes for a chilly pate. I wear a knit cashmere beanie on the plane, and have it with me for cooler nights almost all year round.
What’s always in your Dopp kit/toiletry bag?
For a guy who cares about clothes and appearances, surprisingly little. I am embarrassingly lazy when it comes to skincare routines, and I don't have any need for hair care, so I usually just rely on hotel soap for most things. My one concession to high quality product is that I have always loved Kiehl’s, and carry their lip balm, shave cream, and light moisturizer with me everywhere. The rest is pretty basic: a single-blade razor to barber my head and clean up my beard; toothbrush and baking soda toothpaste, grooming stuff like tweezers and nail clippers; and a spare pair of sunnies—gold folding aviators by Garrett Leight.
On a plane, what essentials does your carry-on bag always contain?
I always have a book, a pair of Beats headphones, and my MacBook Air. I go nuts if I can’t zone out with my own noise-canceling headphones, so I’m pretty religious about making sure they are charged. And I’ll try to remember to buy a big bottle of water at the airport, but if I’m honest, I’d say I’m batting about 500 on that.
What’s your pharmacy kit? How do you deal with sunscreen?
I have a 20-year old Rx for Ambien that is more of a safety net than anything. I’ll pop one if I’m on an overnight and I have to go to a meeting straightaway, but otherwise I’ll rely on a generous scotch to help me sleep. As for sunblock, I have to have Shiseido Sun Protector for my poor, bare skull. But it’s carry-on approved, so I'll just drop it in the Dopp kit anytime I'm going somewhere tropical.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WINTER ESCAPES
As usual, we are feeling anxious that we still haven’t booked a warm-weather trip for the coming months (when will we ever learn?!). So we dug up our Winter Escapes: Caribbean Edition from last year (and gave it a little update), which has a bunch of lesser-known and also affordable beach options. Only paid subscribers can search our archives—hit the button below if you want access!
Bertie and Victoria Dyer, owners of India Beat
Whether you’ve been to India a few times or never, it can be a daunting place to organize a trip—and especially hard to strike that right balance between earthy and elevated. Too many agents just want to put you in five-star hotels so your feet barely touch the ground—but we’re also not up for roughing it. When we began working with the Dyers of India Beat in our Traveler days, we knew we were in great hands, as they have a deep knowledge of the country as well as both daring and excellent taste. As we think of the big trips we’re dreaming of in 2023, we wanted to check in with them!
Tell us about you/your company.
We moved to India in 2005 and spent the next ten years living in Jaipur. Bertie's family have always traveled to India, so it was already a second home. Our trips are all planned by us personally; we work with a very tight-knit team, the majority of our staff have been with us since the beginning, we've all seen each other through a lifetime of experiences, parties, marriages, children and Covid! We're incredibly close and they are all amazing.
What’s the entry level to talk to you?
No entry level! We'll happily talk to anyone who is interested in visiting India and if we can help, brilliant. Most of our clients tend to be looking for a good mix of luxury, experiential and heritage hotels.
What is the sweet spot of your expertise?
Everything we do is based on personal experience and meticulous planning. Our trips include our favorite restaurants, walks, people and shops. We recommend activities and excursions that we love to do ourselves, from hiking to jewelry-making and tiger safaris. Now that we have children, we have an even better insight into how important it is to be able to understand
and adapt ideas to suit individual needs, no itinerary we plan is ever the same.
A favorite experience/trip you’ve planned that best represents your philosophy…
Dinner for 20 with the incredible head chef at Indian Accent, Manish Mehrotra. Indian Accent is one of our all-time favorite restaurants and so when we had a group of friends traveling together—all real foodies—we planned this evening as a surprise. The venue was a magical private garden in Delhi and the food was absolutely incredible. I don't think any of us will ever forget it.
A favorite hotel/lodge/house you love and go back to again and again…
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur. It’s an iconic hotel with fabulous gardens and peacocks roaming the lawns. The lychee margarita at the polo bar is amazing (if you have more than two you'll be dancing on the tables).
The most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling…
Eating under the stars in the desert outside Jodhpur. We were cooking Lal Maas (a kind of lamb curry) over an open fire with Rabari tribesmen playing traditional music and singing nearby. The atmosphere was hypnotic and the food that night was some of the best we have ever tasted.
A not-to-be-missed favorite experience in your region of expertise…
This has to be our block-printing workshop, which takes place just outside of Jaipur. Meeting and learning with this specialist artisan community is always one of the highlights of our trips. The printers are true craftsmen, having a go at designing and printing your own fabrics alongside them is fantastic, we've seen some real works of art being produced.
A shop you always stop in for bring-backs…
Anokhi for beautiful hand-block printed tops. I also love their quilts.
Ecru for dresses and homewares.
Idli for extraordinary designer wear.
Andraab for incredible pashminas.
Gem Palace for jewelry.
What is a place we should consider traveling to that could really use our dollars, and what is a place we should put on hold because, even though we love it, it sees too many tourists?
Indian tourism, particularly in rural areas, was hugely affected during the pandemic. Now is the time to travel wherever you have been dreaming of and especially off the beaten track. The fantastic guides and drivers in particular really need all of our support.
Underrated location, overrated location, personal favorite, recent discovery?
Underrated location: Chand Baori, the huge and stunning stepwell at Abhaneri between Agra and Jaipur.
Overrated experience: eating jalebis! A kind of street food made of flour, deep fried and then soaked in sugar syrup…way too sweet!
Personal favorite: Amanbagh for peace, tranquility and the world's most beautiful pool.
Recent discovery: The Johri in the The Old City of Jaipur. The rooms are serene and beautiful (I'd like our house to look like this), and the restaurant is fantastic.
Also Villa Palladio, which just opened in September and is going to be fabulous.
The hardest-working item you always pack…
One of the giant block-printed scarves we make in Jaipur. So useful for dressing appropriately in the temples, mosques and markets of India. This applies to men too! Shorts are not allowed in some places.
What is something you wished we all knew or were better at as travelers?
Plan well but not to the minute. Allow time for flexibility and to savor the unexpected moments that take you by surprise.
How do you want people to reach out to you?
Our favorite Instagram account of the week.
The Dewberry in Charleston unveiled a John Derian suite, featuring signature pieces by the artist.
The newish Oasy hotel—cabins set in a 1,000-acre nature reserve—is a bit of the Adirondacks in Tuscany.
Pia Riverola’s new book is a love letter to Mexico, where she spent the last decade.
Watch whales migrate from almost every room in this house to rent on the Northern California coast.
Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Rose Noël’s new Chelsea restaurant takes inspiration from the African roots of modern Black cuisine.
Sound on: The Costa Rican rainforest
Hi, I'm a newbie to substack (but not to writing) and I'm doing travel based posts that I thought you might find interesting/amusing. Not sure on the etiquette on contacting people so sorry if I got that wrong!
Hallo! Do you have recommadations for Trl Aviv? Best regards! Unfortunately the Archiv non works well!