A Latin Lover

Visitors get to know Nicaragua at Morgan’s Rock Ecolodge

By: David Swanson

We ascended a dirt trail, crossed a 350-foot-long wood bridge, passed signs for rooms 8, 9, 10 and then climbed steps carved into a steep ridge. Fortunately, a porter carried my suitcase over his shoulders to room 14 at Morgan’s Rock, for it was the longest trek I’d ever made to a hotel room.

“It’s worth it,” said my host. “You have one of the best bungalows.”

Opening the door to my room unveiled a sweeping, 180-degree panorama of the Pacific Coast with almost no other structure in sight. Straight below were the hacienda and restaurant and pool where I had checked in; beyond that was a beach that snuggled into a perfect crescent almost a mile around.

Situated on the coast near the fishing and surfing town of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge is a serious entry into the growing category of sustainable luxury accommodations. Fifteen years after revolution and civil war, the now peaceful country is throwing its energy into tourism.

Many Americans assume Nicaragua is still dangerous, yet it is safer than most countries in Latin America. And the scenery is stunning, ranging from rainforests, to impeccably symmetrical volcanoes. The architecture of two colonial-era cities Granada and Leon rivals better known cities like Antigua.

“One way Nicaragua has come to differentiate itself from other Central American destinations is that it’s culturally authentic,” explained Maria Nelly Rivas, the country’s Minister of Tourism. “We’ve been lucky to preserve cities like Leon and Granada. You see people there with their doors open sitting in their rocking chairs that’s the way they live.”

San Juan del Sur has become the Pacific Coast’s pre-eminent tourist destination, and during a March visit, the scrubby foothills surrounding the town looked like California’s Central Coast in August parched, tanned and lovely.

Morgan’s Rock provides a tantalizing perspective on what Nicaragua’s future in tourism might be. The lodge is owned by the Poncons, a French family that has been in Nicaragua for three decades managing coffee farms and reforestation pro-jects. They acquired the nearly 4,500-acre property and began planting 1.5 million trees for lumber and fruit. Inspired by the Lapa Rios Ecolodge in Costa Rica, the family hired Englishman Matthew Falkiner to design Morgan’s Rock.

The result is dramatic. The 15 rooms feature the best in upscale lodge living, with king beds, quality linens and in-suite bathrooms. A large deck wraps around the structure, with private sun patio, an outdoor shower and a mattress suspended from ropes.

Though wrapped by screens open to the breeze, the structures are memorable for their use of renewable hard woods, including eucalyptus, almond and teak, plus hand-cut volcanic stone for retaining walls. All face west, positioned at different elevations above the sea. The bellow of howler monkeys provides the eerie morning wake-up call, followed by coffee delivered to the room.

Activities include kayaking, walking tours, horseback riding, trips to the Masaya volcano, canopy tours and surfing lessons. Clients can even snorkel for lobster with a local fisherman.

Although the meals could use improvement most portions were small, selections limited and the entrees hit-and-miss many of the ingredients are sourced fresh on-site, and the stone-and-thatch dining room was a beautiful venue that almost surmounted the culinary liabilities.

Where Morgan’s Rock most succeeds is the comfort level of the accommodations, which are unusually high for a low-impact, environmentally sensitive property. The lodge is a perfect fit for clients exploring what is sure to be the next “it” destination.

The Details:

Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge

Bungalows at Morgan’s Rock are priced $170-$195 per person (double occupancy), including three meals daily, snacks on request, non-alcoholic beverages, tax and service charges. Most activities are priced as an additional charge. The lodge is a 30-minute drive north from San Juan del Sur.

Managua is served by American, Continental, Delta and TACA airlines (nonstop from LAX).

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