Link to original AOL Travel Article – http://travel.aol.ca/2011/10/04/nicaragua-a-jewel-in-the-rough/
Nicaragua is at once beautiful and gritty. However, I could overlook the dusty roads because this is a country steeped in so much culture and rich in lush, unspoiled natural beauty. Nicaragua is still a developing country, about two decades behind Costa Rica’s thriving tourism industry. The country has undergone internal strife and its politics have made headlines for decades. Over the past two decades, however, Nicaragua has transformed itself into one of the safest and fastest-growing countries in Latin America. In one day, we drove past miles of verdant rainforests, rows of active volcanoes, freshwater lakes and wild coastline.
We did what most tourists do – congregate in the Pacific coast towns of San Juan del Sur and Las Penitas, where the surf rides high and jaw-dropping beaches run to infinity. Then we stopped along the way for a bit of culture in the historically rich colonial cities of Granada and Leon. But I want to tell you that Nicaragua is fast making its mark in the eco-tourism sector. These aren’t the “eco-lodges” of yesterday, where you might have slept alongside mosquitos and beds were made of recycled corn husks. Today’s eco-lodges are just as stunning as North America’s five-star resorts, yet they are located in distinctive natural surroundings which are truly beguiling.
Here are five that we checked out …
Jicaro Eco-Lodge: (www.jicarolodge.com)
After a short boat ride over, we arrive at Jicaro Eco-Lodge – on Isleta on Lake Nicaragua – a secluded island getaway. It begs to luxuriate in a simple, unsophisticated natural environment. Here, the luxury eco-resort seems to blend right into the breathtaking natural beauty that surrounds it. Guests stay in one of nine private casitas overlooking the lake. Each one has canopy beds, private bathrooms and verandas. Both the casitas and the furniture are locally made with Rainforest Alliance certified wood. While at the lodge you can choose to simply relax and indulge in the pristine surroundings, or take part in a yoga class or have a masssage in an open-air treatment room. The 30-minute boat trip over to Jicaro is only rivalled by the culinary delights and stunning views.
Morgan Rock: (www.morgansrock.com)
Located just 20 minutes north of San Juan del Sur, Morgan’s Rock is situated along a crescent shaped beach with an estuary leading into an exotic rainforest. A suspension bridge carries visitors over a canyon to rustic, wood and stone bungalows overlooking miles of private beach, each open to ocean breezes on three sides. As part of its eco-mission, Morgan’s Rock has its own farm for an authentic Nicaraguan breakfast – guests are invited to milk the cows and collect eggs for their meal. You can also horseback ride through the forest and down to the beach. The grounds and beach are home to howler monkeys, sloths, giant sea turtles and a variety of birds native to the region.
Pelican Eyes Resort & Spa:(pelicaneyesresort.com)
After a sightseeing tour of the quaint little town of San Juan del Sur, we head up the hill to our home for the night – the Pelican Eyes. We are greeted with a delicious mango drink and as we toast each other we take in our surroundings. Imagine this scene: The sun is setting and we overlook the whole San Juan del Sur and the Pacific Ocean. Directly in front of us is an infinity pool. Heaven … Guest can choose between five lodgings – haciendas, cabinas, studios, townhouses and casas. We stayed in our own private white casa, a two-storey, fully equipped villa seemingly right out of the Flintstones cartoon, complete with its own colourful hand painted sink and tiles.
The hotel is constructed and operated using environmentally friendly materials and fair trade practices.
Situated on its own private and pristine white sand beach on Redonda Bay, this eco-lodge blends in with the trees and natural landscape of the bay. With an hour to roam before dinner, Dennis and I decided to go for a quick jog through the trails, past the howler monkeys attempting to camouflage themselves in the gnarly tree branches. Soon, we are at the fishing village of Gigante. We sit mesmerized as we watch as the night takes possession of the sky’s arc. The blues of the ocean waters and the white light of the moon replace the final glow of the sun. The sounds of people walking the beach are replaced by the sounds of the howling monkeys as they leap from tree branch to tree branch and the waves lapping against the sandy beach. The resort is the inspiration of California native Dr. Daniel Rubano, who first visited Arenas Bay in 2000. He envisioned a place where people could come together and reconnect with each other, themselves and the earth through yoga, meditation and other wellness therapies. Rubano succeeded. Set atop the trees high above the forest floor, experience eco-luxury as it should be.
Orquidea del Sur:(www.orquideadelsur.com)
After spending an exhilarating morning horseback riding on the Pacific Coaast beach made famous by Survivor: Nicaragua, we head for long, leisurely lunch at Orquidea del Sur. Tucked away above the stunning shores of Nicaragua’s Playa Yankee, one of the country’s premier surfing spots, this eco-lodge is a unique, intimate boutique retreat. Amenities include a 50-foot-long infinity pool with a whirlpool, a 15-foot waterfall, a fire pit, lounge and library, several indoor and outdoor dining areas, and a two-story gourmet kitchen. The hotel can arrange for ecotourism, deep-sea-fishing, surfing and kayaking excursions, as well as in-room spa treatments and transportation to the Managua International Airport. The boutique resort has enacted a number of eco-friendly initiatives such as a facility to capture rainwater for watering the plants and a rooftop garden, where a variety of herbs to ensure fresh organic ingredients for the Orquidea cuisine.