Nicaragua: Reinventing Luxury Travel

4 December 2014
Read Time: 4.5 mins

Move over backpackers, Nicaragua is officially getting the attention of luxury travelers. With new restaurant openings, luxury hotels and copious amounts of rum, Michelle TCHEA finds out why Nicaragua deserves the world's attention.

If you’re one of those I- want- to- eat- with- locals kind of people and are constantly seeking out non-tourist spots when on holiday, you really must visit Nicaragua. Unlike many of its neighbours, Costa Rica and Honduras, which have attracted Americans, European backpackers and Aussie’s brave enough to withstand the long-haul 30 hour flight, Nicaragua is slowly gaining momentum as a top travel destination.

 Sunset on a beach in Nicaragua (Credit: Dick Washburne)

 

But cast your mind away from starving Americans from Reality TV show, Survivor as your next holiday destination. Sure there are active volcanos, savage wild life and dramatic landscapes but that’s all part of the draw and beauty of this tiny Central American country. With slow political stability in the last 10 years, Nicaragua is slowly reinventing itself and with this change, a whole new (and safer) way of travel specifically targeted for luxury seekers.

Touching down at Managua Airport, I imagined poverty to hit me hard after doing some research on a place I had little expectation of. Yet, my driver, perhaps reading my facial expression of surprise and immediate liking to my surroundings ensured me that Nicaragua was in a ‘rebuilding’ phase and completely safe for travelers.

A rocky and violent history of Somoza dictatorship that began in the 1930s to almost five decades of revolutions and consequently, counterrevolutions amidst devastating earthquake and other natural disasters that shook the country to extreme poverty is only just bouncing back. The younger generation perhaps didn’t live through the crime and devastation but still to this day live the methodology which is driving the country to new heights.

Surrounded by volcanos, untouched wildlife, and of course friendly locals, Nicaragua is perhaps an Aussie’s dream destination. But really, Nicaragua as a holiday destination? Why not just go to Costa Rica? Accordingly to my friend and local photographer, what makes Nicaragua so attractive is the affordability. “It’s safe, affordable and the locals are truly hospitable,” says the resident of 20 years.

 This could be your home for less than $100 a day (Credit: Ryan Forbes)

 

What the guidebooks don’t tell you is that Nicaragua has reinvented itself as the next great eco-destination. Not only has it become the second-safest country in Central America, just trailing Costa Rica according to a recently conducted Global Peace Index study, but it’s an absolute bargain.

It’s the Bali for Americans. For less than 100 dollars, you could easily live and eat like royalty for a day, which is exactly what I did. From what I found out, phrases like ‘budget’ and ‘lodge’ normally associated with horrible memories in family-friendly motels in Australia are completely the opposite here in Nicaragua. There really is no reason to live like a backpacking pauper when here in Nicaragua. The following properties are my favourite and come highly recommended by friends that now call Nicaragua home. But by all means, step outside of the box you live in, you are after all in Nicaragua where luxury doesn’t have to break the bank.
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Being Eco-friendly In Nicaragua

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A short 15-minute boat ride will get you to one of the best: Jicaro Island Ecolodge. Hidden among hundreds of isletas formed from the Mombacho volcano eruption, the Costa Rican owners have expanded their eco-property range into Nicaragua. Sustainable living is literally taken to a whole new level at Jicaro. All nine of the tiny houses, known as casistas, are suspended in trees, with natural sediments from the volcano being the foundation of the resort. During 2007, when Hurricane Felix landed on Nicaragua’s North Atlantic coast, over one million hectares of rainforest was destroyed. Builders and designers including the owners of Jicaro worked with indigenous communities to help make use of all the damage, producing Jicaro Island Ecolodge as one of the biggest initiatives from the natural disaster.

 Dipping into the plunge pool at the Aqua Wellness Resort (Credit: Aqua Wellness Resort)

 

Sustainability moves into the spa world with Aqua Wellness Resort. Located on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast, just north of Costa Rica is the luxury property touted as the best for immediate relaxation. Built into a hillside, a series of 18 sustainable wooden tree-house villas are connected by suspended bridges, leading down to your own private paradise off Redonda Bay. If you are not a yoga fan, skip the private sessions on your deck and head straight for the Wellness spa for some R&R. It’s not possible to leave Aqua without feeling anew with Meditation classes, as well as food consultations to help you tackle mindless eating habits that we all secretly have.

 The beach at Aqua is one place worth lounging hours away (Credit: Aqua Wellness Resort)

 

For those looking for more adventure in their trip, book yourself a boat and head straight out into the water. Not only is fishing primed as a skilled sport in Nicaragua, but the small-scale commercial fishing includes mussel and lobster safaris, as well as hand-spearing your lunch the old fashion way. Surfers shouldn’t miss a chance to ride some of the best waves outside of Hawaii with Colorados and Manzanilla, North and South of Aqua to explore. Be sure to book yourself at least a week at Aqua to make the most of all the activities and events the resort has to offer.
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Luxury At Its Best: The Ultimate For Splashing Out

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Flor de Caña may be on everyone’s lips when in Nicaragua. The country may have a strong link to coffee but let’s face it; you can’t leave Nicaragua without tasting the national beverage: Rum.

The same family that owns Rum distillery and my drink of choice, Flore de Cana, has a vision to put Nicaragua on the map. With a lot of money to play with and lots of ambition, entrepreneur Carlos Pellas is moving in the direction of doing just that. Last year, Pellas finally opened Nicaragua’s first and only luxury resort, Mukul Beach Golf and Resort.

After a cool 250 million dollars, Mukul now features 37 spacious accommodations, each with its own ocean view, pool and private staff. Of course, if you do get bored on your private beach, there is also an 18-hole Gucalito Golf Course and Private Spa-house to get you out of bed.

 Afternoons are simply better when seated on Mukul's dining terrace (Credit: Mukul Beach Golf & Resort)

 

Talking to the staff of Mukul, I found that the Pellos family legacy reflects Nicaragua’s new direction to reinvent itself as a top tourist destination. Despite all luxury found in the villas and fancy tree-top casistas, the Pellas family have built this resort to connect the land, people and culture of Nicaragua for international growth and development.  “We are creating a catalyst that will put our country on the world tourism map,” said Pellas. “Mukul will be a game changer for Nicaragua,” he adds with sternly but enthusiastically.  With hundreds of jobs created within the Mukul Resort, as well as many more luxury and eco-lodge resorts planned for Nicaragua, the future of small Central American nation seems to be moving in the right direction.
“We are doing everything at Mukul to the highest standards so that we can attract the most sophisticated travelers in the world,” said Pellas, “I want them to feel like guests in my family’s home as they discover the Nicaragua that I love.”

 Colourful cocktails at Mukul Beach Golf & Resort (Credit: Ryan Forbes)

 

As I contemplate another glass of seven year old Flor de Caña rum in my Macua cocktail, I secretly hope with all my might that the next season of Survivor portrays more than just crocs and danger in a rainforest. But if not, I guess I will just have to have Nicaragua to myself.

Michelle Tchea

Michelle Tchea is the bestselling author of Building a Perfect Meal, Signature Dishes and My Little SoHo Kitchen.Born and raised in Melbourne, she currently bounces back between Europe and the US working with the world's best restaurants and hotels. Specializing in luxury travel and gourmet escapes, she can't imagine anything better than vegemite on toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner.