Guests can relax in air-conditioned treehouses at Aqua Wellness Resort. // © 2015 Aqua Wellness Resort
Feature image (above): Horseback riders unite at Rancho Chilamate. // © 2015 Rancho Chilamate
Good to Know
While many of these properties offer some creature comforts, remind clients that they will be exploring a developing nation. They should expect to encounter wildlife — from monkeys and parrots to geckos and spiders — and spotty electricity and Wi-Fi access. But, after all, it wouldn’t be truly wild without a little unpredictability.
Though tourism to Nicaragua has grown vastly in recent years, it still remains a somewhat unknown land to outsiders. The nation’s warm climate, biodiversity, tropical landscapes, expansive beaches and 19 volcanoes, many of which are still active, are a draw for travelers who want to get out of their comfort zones and experience nature in a truly up-close-and-personal way.
Here are four accommodations throughout the country that drop clients (safely) into the wild.
Aqua Wellness Resort
Near Playa Gigante on Nicaragua’s western coast, Aqua Wellness Resort has all the makings of paradise: air-conditioned treehouse bungalows set into a tropical hillside, an oceanside yoga platform, a spa villa, an ample white-sand beach in a secluded cove, spectacular views and fresh, organic food.
At Aqua’s beachfront restaurant and bar, guests can enjoy light fare such as smoothies, as well as freshly baked bread from the property’s wood-burning oven, chimichurri steak and local fish caught daily. They can follow up their mouthwatering meals with a variety of watersports and day trips.
Perfect for couples or solo explorers, Aqua is also best for those who are active and in shape — it’s a hefty climb up the many gravel-lined stairs from the beach to most treehouse villas.
The resort’s rooms and property will be getting an extensive makeover in 2016, when luxury hospitality company Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas takes over operations. Plans are to create more accessibility and double the number of villas to 110 units, as well as develop a travel circuit of multiple luxury resorts, spas and residence properties around the country.
Rates range from $170 to $555 per night, depending on the season.
Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge
Located on a 4,000-acre swath of land 30 minutes north of San Juan del Sur, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge brings barefoot luxury to the jungle. Guests will feel like Robinson Crusoe as they cross a suspension bridge to reach the property’s 15 ocean-facing, sustainably constructed bungalows nestled within the tropical forest. With only mesh screens for windows (and no air-conditioning), the rooms — which feature dark wood flooring and furnishings and a stone shower — are simple and unpretentious, though not without touches of comfort.
Visitors can get a heaping dose of nature with one of the lodge’s daily tours, which include everything from sailing on a wooden fishing vessel to hiking and horseback riding. The most popular tour is Breakfast at the Farm, a hands-on, farm-to-table experience at the property’s farmhouse, which supplies roughly 60 percent of the resort’s food products. On my visit, our group milked cows and picked eggs straight from the chicken coop, ingredients which were then used to create our freshly made Nicaraguan breakfast of cafe con leche and eggs with rice and beans, handmade-on-the-spot tortillas and pico de gallo.
Guests may choose from a tier of rate options. The Discover package, which includes all meals and drinks, some alcoholic beverages and one tour per day, is recommended. Room rates, based on double occupancy, begin at $265 per night in the green season (June through October) and $327 per night in the high season (November through May).
Jicaro Island Ecolodge
This nine-casita resort, rated one of the top 35 eco-lodges in the world by National Geographic Traveler, is situated on a tiny islet in Lake Nicaragua, just a short boat ride from Granada. Each treehouse-style lodge is built entirely from local materials and reclaimed timber, and the land dictated the form of the resort; no large trees or boulders were removed from the island during construction. Visitors are almost exclusively couples, according to general manager Howard Coulson, and the serene setting is perfect for partners looking for some bonding time. Guests can relax at the small on-site spa, kayak or paddleboard among the 365 nearby islets, do yoga on the outdoor deck, arrange a guided bird-watching or fishing tour or venture inland to Mombacho Volcano.
Rates are $520 per night in the green season and $800 per night in the high season (all-inclusive). Children under 12 are not allowed.
Owner Heather van Doorninck — known as Blue, or Dona Azul, to her staff and guests — has created her own horseback-riding heaven in Escamequita, about 7 miles south of San Juan del Sur.
With just four guestrooms, the eco-friendly Rancho Chilamate is intensely intimate, perfect for social adventurers. Each 2.5-hour horseback-riding tour, offered once per day to coincide with low tide at the beach, takes riders through the jungle, into open fields and over hilltops to a secluded playa. My group galloped through the waves as Blue snapped photos of us in our borrowed western wear, then we rested in the shade with some complimentary homemade granola bars and cold Tona Cerveza.
Depending on the season, rates range from $140 to $250 per night (with a three-night maximum) and include all drinks and meals, served family style; rides begin at $69.