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Get Off the Grid in Nicaragua

Words by Susan Moynihan

Nicaragua is getting lots of buzz of late, and with good reason. It has the same attractions as its more famous neighbor, Costa Rica. Think volcanoes, eco-adventure and miles of Pacific coastline, but less traveled, so Nicaragua feels off the beaten path (and also offers great value). The country recently opened a new airport on the southern coast, Costa Esmeralda. This Pacific region is home to surf breaks and a cool boutique hotel scene that’s ideal for honeymooners looking for something different. Here are three of my favorites.

 Luxe Life: Mukul Beach, Golf and Spa

This 37-room hotel put Nicaragua on the luxury map when it opened in 2014 near the popular surf town of San Juan del Sur. Families love the two-bedroom beachfront villas, which have their own pools. But honeymooners are better served by the sexy Bohios: stand-alone rooms set on the bluff for more privacy and optimum views from the plunge pool. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors embrace the vistas and open to a wide terrace. The in-room rum amenity allows you to taste owner Carlos Pellas Chamorro’s other passion; he’s the man behind Flor de Caña, the country’s top rum. 

Down by the beach you’ll find a sleek, scalloped pool and two restaurants – La Terraza and the more formal La Mesa, which showcase Nicaraguan-inspired global cuisine. But the real star is Manzanillo Beach, which stretches for more than a mile and has a beach club offering kayaking, SUP and surf lessons from TropicSurf. Crave something quieter? Shuttle over to Guacalito de la Isla, a perfectly deserted cove where the only amenities are a few thatched palapas with chaise lounges. Whatever you do, don’t miss time at the spa. In lieu of standard treatment rooms, each salon has its own theme and amenities, from a Turkish-style hammam to a plunge pool overlooking the Pacific. 

Hacienda Style: Rancho Santana

Set in the Pacific-facing hills midway between Managua and the Costa Rica border, this expat residential community added the charming 17-room Inn in March 2015, ideal for shorter stays or visitors who don’t want to rent an entire home. The two-story Inn has an old-world hacienda vibe, with wood-beamed ceilings, tile floors, local art and furnishings made on-site from local materials. It also serves as the social heart of the ranch and is home to the main restaurant and bar, as well as an art gallery and small pool with a bar, all set shoreside on stunning Playa Santana. Of course, you can also rent one of the luxury homes, which range from beachfront condos to elaborate multi-bedroom enclaves with full kitchens, open-air living rooms and swimming pools – all set high in the hills for an optimum breeze and view. (The latter are ideal for destination weddings.)

Rancho Santana spans 2,700 acres, so you’ll need a car to get around; in fact, the ranch requires 4x4s for guests renting homes. Explore the ranch’s five gorgeous beaches, as well as restaurants like groovy La Taqueria, with an open-air kitchen set on a beachside deck at Playa Los Perros. Surf lessons are a natural here (neighboring Popoyo is one of Nicaragua’s top breaks), as are nature hikes. Befitting a ranch, Santana has a fantastic stable; riding a horse along the hard-packed sand of Playa Santana is a must.

Island Find: Jicaro Island Ecolodge

Just a 15-minute boat ride from the historic city of Granada, in the collection of small isles that dot Lake Nicaragua, is the gumdrop islet of Jicaro. A member of the Cayuga Collection (which operates seven sustainable hotels in neighboring Costa Rica), this private-island lodge is eco in practice, but not experience. The vibe is Swiss Family Robinson, with just nine two-story casitas set around the isle’s perimeter. They feel more like treehouses, with upper-level lofts, mosquito-netted king beds and downstairs living areas that open to a hammock-stocked porch. Being eco, there are no TVs and no A/C – the breezes keep you cool and the sounds of birds provide your entertainment. The bi-level pool and bar is where guests gather to sun, swim and share the day’s adventures. The open-air restaurant is superlative, with tasty multi-course menus using ingredients supplied by local farmers and producers – many trained in sustainable agricultural practices by the Cayuga Collection.

 Activities range from easy (kayaking around the surrounding islands) to adventurous (zip-lining and hiking on a nearby volcano), and Granada is just 15 minutes away if you want to shop or dine. That being said, you may be tempted to just stay put – and with a setting this relaxing, who could blame you?

THE 411

Nicaragua is in the heart of Central America, so prep for heat any time of year. Rainy season runs from May to October; expect higher humidity, daily showers and discounted hotel rates.

 LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HONEYMOONIST, SUSAN MOYNIHAN (a.k.a TRAVELER IN CHIEF), AT THEHONEYMOONIST.COM

 Photo Credit: Mukul Resort (1st), Cayuga Hotels (2nd, 5th, 6th) and Rancho Santana (3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th)

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