You've been selected to participate in a beta for a new release of our website. If you do not want to participate in this beta,please click here >
Buena Vista Surf Club (BVSC) is a tropical modern eco-lodge nestled in a hill overlooking Playa Maderas. Guests stay in free-standing tree houses with magnificent views of the lush jungle and Pacific ocean. BVSC was built by a Dutch couple, Marc and Marielle, who left Amsterdam behind for the sun and surf of Nicaragua. The hotel is off the grid and rooms do not have electricity during the day and use solar powered energy at night. Rates include mouth-watering family style breakfasts and dinners. Those who do not surf can enjoy the swim-friendly beaches up from Maderas or spend time reading or doing yoga on the lodge's sprawling sundeck. The most memorable parts of my stay though were the amazing owners and guests I met at BVSC.
A two-hour drive from Granada, in the village of Gigante, 16 sustainably built treehouses with plunge pools and outdoor showers await guests. Classes are held on a huge beachfront platform. Every stay includes one wellness class (meditation, yoga, or a raw foods consultation). Throughout the year, visiting yoga gurus lead retreats. Seven-night yoga retreats from $1,850, including meals, activities, and workshops. (509) 456-7737, aquanicaragua.com. Image courtesy of Aqua Wellness Resort. This story appeared in the January/February 2012 issue. Find other yoga retreats:Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga InstituteKripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Massachusetts Jicaro Island Ecolodge, NicaraguaGaia Retreat and Spa, AustraliaComo Shambhala Estate, BaliAnanda, IndiaDomaine de la Grausse, France
Dense jungles and white-sand beaches have turned a 30-mile stretch of Pacific shoreline into a hot spot among in-the-know wellness seekers. Located north of the beach town San Juan del Sur, the Emerald Coast began attracting yogis with resorts such as Punta Tenoste and Aqua Nicaragua. In February, Mukul resort opened, with 12 villas and 23 treehouse-like bohios. Six spa casitas offer rituals inspired by ancient healing traditions from around the globe. Photo courtesy of Mukul Resort. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
It’s easy to be zen at this secluded sustainable resort located on a tiny island in Lake Nicaragua. Guests arrive via a ten-minute boat ride from the colonial town of Granada. Once on island, activities range from kayaking around the lake to lounging in a hammock on the deck of one of the nine casitas. Yoga is offered every day on a lakeside platform that looks out to the Mombacho volcano. Well-known yoga instructors host week-long retreats throughout the year. From $290 per night. 50/(5) 2558-7702, jicarolodge.com. Photo courtesy of Jicaro Lodge. Find other yoga retreats:Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga InstituteKripalu Center for Yoga and Health, MassachusettsAqua Wellness Resort, NicaraguaGaia Retreat and Spa, AustraliaComo Shambhala Estate, BaliAnanda, IndiaDomaine de la Grausse, France
Unless you rent a car, arriving at La Sombra Ecolodge way up in the mountains of Matagalpa requires a couple of rides in packed chicken buses followed by 45 minutes in a bouncy cab along a semi-paved road. But just look at this little, green guy - he alone made the trip worthwhile! In addition to the ranario ("froggery") where you can see these green tree frogs, they have a butterfly observatory, and coffee groves where we saw several varieties of toucans and parrots on an early morning birding walk. The lodge is comfortable and the food is delicious. And if you are a coffee geek like me, it's also a great place to learn about coffee (and drink it too, of course). The staff is more than happy to give you a tour of the coffee groves and processing facilities.
Perched high above a breathtaking rock masterpiece in the town of Las Salinas sits Magnific Rock Hotel, an inviting wooden lodge with the best sunset view on the Pacific coast. Surfers flock here for the legendary Popoyo break, but also for Santana's, both of which are easily scouted from the 270-degree panoramic view from the top. Rice and beans can do for only so long. By the time you arrive at the Rock, you've likely forgotten that fresh, organic food is an option. From lobster curry and spinach salad to rib eye steak and cous cous, the food is nothing short of orgasmic. Featuring farm fresh, organic herbs and vegetables from the hotel garden, fresh fish and lobster from the ocean below and locally sourced meat and grains, the healthy, creative fusion menu of the Australian chef will undoubtedly make the one of the best meals you have in Nicaragua. Sunset cocktails & dinner at the Rock is a must. Stay a night – or 10 – and indulge in the warm, uncrowded waves. Before you know it, you'll be one of the many long-term guests. With a staff so friendly you'll soon feel like one of the family, it's not hard to imagine settling in for a few weeks. Yoga retreats, guided surf trips, massages and excursions are all available. From $20/night. +505 8608 5818. From Rivas, take a taxi (about 45 mins.) or hop a chicken bus into Las Salinas. Photo: Charlie Brown
Definitely off-the-beaten path, the Treehouse requires precise directions, good pronunciation and a firm will to find. Hop on the bus or take a collectivo from Granada towards the coast about 15 minutes from town, ask to be dropped off at "Poste Rojo" and you'll find a road that goes through a field and up into the hills of the jungle. You'll know you're on the right path when you reach a staircase on a steep vertical. The company is eclectic, the staff are demonstrably having the time of their lives, a fantastic playlist is always provided and the hammocks are a-swinging. Playtime has arrived. Welcome to the treehouse! A long, suspended footbridge runs from the main hangout area over to a beautiful yoga deck that overlooks jungle with a killer vantage point. No matter how hard guests seem to jump, the bridge refuses to snap, so have at it. Howler monkeys can be heard in the not-too-distant trees and colorful birds spotted swooping in arcs, while the frogs' and toads' beeps and beats weave together for a surprisingly apt rendition of the Star Wars theme. The treehouse offers hammocks and dorms, and private rooms, casitas and treehouses, from $4.50/night. The non-hammock options feature gorgeous wooden beds with incredibly comfortable mattresses. The intimate community, family-style dinners, attentive staff and playful vibe is a refreshing experience from your run-of-the-mill stop.
You may not know it, but in the middle of Lake Nicaragua – a lake that makes Lake Tahoe seem like a swimming pool, lies the magical island of Ometepe. It’s home to not one, but two volcanoes, a seemingly endless shoreline and a plethora of organic farms. The island is both an agricultural hub and tourist destination. Many families here are members of cooperatives which give them the opportunity to grow their own food and sell what they don't eat. Much of the coffee grown here is of the highest quality, according to US and Canada standards, and is exported and sold abroad. While you're here, you have to climb the Maderas Volcano -- a six hour grueling climb. At the summit you can cool off in the lake at the center of this dormant volcano. Don't expect a view from the top, as the top of this volcano is almost always shrouded in clouds. When you're not climbing the volcano, I recommend checking out El Punto, a local swimming spot in Balgue. Just ask a local where it is.
A string of random events had landed me with a house/dog sitting gig in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Every morning at 5am, before the temperature climbed well into the 90s I took the dog for a walk up the dusty road, greeting happy workers biking into work and children waiting to go to school. One morning a mare appeared out of nowhere. Hooves pounding the ground at a full gallop, she disappeared as quickly as she'd appeared, in a cloud of dust. A beautiful morning in Nica.
Guests at Jicaro Island Ecolodge, a nine-casita resort in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, can kayak around the lake's 365 islets which formed when the Mombacho volcano erupted thousands of years ago. Early morning is the best time for spotting birds like Montezuma’s Oropendula, Ringed Kingfisher, Purple Gallinule, and Northern Jacana. I took this shot just after sunrise. Mombacho is looming in the background and two local kids are casting nets for fish.
The Cathedral of Leon should be a must see when you are in Nicaragua. As an architect I loved this site and really appreciated the stories behind the historic architectural design. The Cathedral was constructed between 1747 and the early 19th century and most of it's historical integrity is original. It's the largest cathedral in Central America, and was designed to withstand the earthquakes. I could write more about the architecture, but would suggest the UNESCO site where they describe it accurately enough for an expert or hobbyist. Side note: the famous poet Rubén Darío has a tomb here, and he seems to be extremely (underlined) popular among all the Nicaraguans. He also has a home in Leon which has been turned into a museum, another great historical place to see in Leon.
Playa Maderas is a popular beach for surfing in San Juan del Sur. The unruly winds this day created choppy waves that were not ideal for surfing.
Our neighbors and friends in Nicaragua must have been bemused as my wife and I took note of every plant, flower, and fruit; imagine someone oohing and aahing over apples, right? But we SHOULD ooh and ahh when we learn the origin of things--THIS is how cashews grow. See the comma-shaped appendage dangling on the end of the bell-pepper-like fruit? Inside that shell (which is toxic, by the way), is one raw cashew. Late March in Central America, red, orange, or yellow 'cashew-apples' (called 'marañón' in Nicaragua) hang like ornaments on these evergreen trees. You can eat the fruit--juicy and astringent--but the treasure is in the hard end-piece: one nut per fruit, and it must be roasted to de-toxify it... (Botanically, cashew-trees are related to poison-ivy!) [Brief Spanish-language lesson--where to say what: in Spain, these nuts are called "anacardos," in northern Mexico, "nuez de la India," and in some parts of South America, "castaña de cajú." From southern Mexico through most of Central America on into the northern Andean countries: "marañón.")
With my rudimentary Spanish, I hadn’t understood why a local suggested wearing long pants to the night’s festival. “Because of the fireworks,” she had said (I thought). The recommendation seemed odd considering the stifling heat and humidity. But a few hours later, I was glad I complied. Standing in a frenzied crowd in front of the cathedral in the main plaza of León, Nicaragua, balls of fire from roman candles shot past me, and I was thankful for the extra coverage. The throng was gathered around three men who danced around the square wearing wooden, box-like contraptions on their heads with roman candles protruding from all sides like quills on a porcupine. A long fuse linked the pyrotechnics, which blasted into the crowd from all angles. The three men were a glowing blur of fire and sparks, all brilliantly mirrored in the wet pavement from a recent rain. The entire plaza was a riot of flashes, shrieks, smoke, marching band clatter, and the gut-rumbling booms of larger rockets. León’s unique la Gritería Chiquita (“Small Shouting”) festival gets off to a surprisingly low-key start each 14th of August at dusk. Mass is held in the majestic Spanish Colonial cathedral, which is flanked by imposing statues of the town’s namesake lion. The somber start befits a festival that began as a symbol of penitence after a local priest’s prayers were allegedly answered in 1947 when nearby volcano Cerro Negro was threatening certain doom. León survived, and a colorful festival was born.
I've never seen avocados as big as the ones that come from the 'fincas' (rural farms) around León (map in the background). Just this one fruit--large enough for an entire bowl of guacamole! Nicaragua's volcanic soil--about as fertile as it gets...
Either relax high in the tree's watching monkeys from you verandah or swing your day away in a hammock by the surf. Agua is a true gem and one of the nicest places I stayed while in Nicaragua. The treehouse resort sits high above it's own private cove but is walking distance to the tiny village of Gigante. It's extremely relaxing and private in the low season and I understand it can be quite lively and fun during the high. The treehouse and villas are stunning, and are the sustainable structures are connected by wood bridge's and narrow stone path's The restaurant and bar sit down on the private beach and yoga is practiced high on a platform above the sea.
The Merced Church offers visitors a quiet respite and bird's eye view of the magical city of Granada. As first European city in America, Granada was founded in 1524 and today is filled with color, music, activity, cafes, restaurants and a thriving ex-pat community.
Just south of the city of Esteli is a hidden little organic cafe where they make fresh yogurt, cheeses and wood oven baked bread made to order. The cafe sits on a small farm with a small stream running through it.
I loved it here! There is one place at Playa Hermosa to stay.. Just one and its here. The beach is super mellow, pristine and feels far away from the riff-raff of SJDS. The food is fantastic, (pancakes!) and the break is perfect for learning. It's also a great place to meet other travelers if you are solo..The hotel feels very communal with its common tables, and hammocks. Everyone is extremely friendly. for 20 bucks a night you can't beat it. I would have stayed for a week if I had the time.. and the cocktails are amazing!
From the roof of León's cathedral, (Central America's largest), you can contemplate the long line of active volcanoes on the horizon just beyond Nicaragua's second-largest city. Colonial churches, such as the 18th-c. Calvario in this scene, punctuate the low skyline. "On top of the world" in this tropical university-town might not be that high, but there's enough heat and history to give you plenty of perspective.
Sometimes you just have to get out of the city. Good thing there are lots of interesting things to do and see -- many of them nature-related! -- just a short drive from Managua. One of them is the Montibelli Wildlife Reserve, which is off of the Carretera a Masaya, on the Ticuantepe - La Concha road. You'll probably need a four-wheel drive to get there, but it's worth it. For an inexpensive guided tour, you'll be taken on a short hike (you can also do a longer hike on your own) and the guide will point out plants and animals you probably would never have noticed on your own. And yes, you'll even get to touch a tree frog.
One of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, Telica, is approximately 15 miles outside the city of León. My friend and I booked a day tour with Anry Rodriguez from Mas Adventures. After a two-and-a-half hour horseback ride followed by a two-hour hike in the hot sun, the three of us finally reached Telica by early afternoon. Even after our strenuous journey, I felt calm and peaceful in this moment. The volcano rumbled to our right, the beautiful valley stretched out before us, and we could smell the faint hint of sulfur in the air. We were alone, and it felt as though we were the first explorers to discover this exotic, breathtaking view.
Managua has two main markets: the Huembes market and the Oriental market. Although Huembes is considered by locals to be the "tourist" market, I'd actually recommend it over Oriental because it's safer, easier to get around, less chaotic, and (as a traveller) you'll probably find more of what you're looking for. Yes, if you want everyday stuff (shoes, electronics, whatever), Oriental is slightly cheaper. But if you're looking for souvenirs, gifts to bring home, handmade clothes and jewelry, leather items, furniture, hammocks -- pretty much anything artisanal -- this is the place. The market also has a large produce section, where you can buy all sorts of local fruits and vegetables you've never tried (much less heard of!) before. Make a whole morning of it: do your shopping, then have lunch and a refreshing Coke drunk from a plastic bag with a straw, Nica style, at one of the market's many food and drink stalls.
Just off the central park in Estelli is a wonderful little restaurant with lots of delicious vegetarian and organic options. They open at 7am, when most places are still closed, and serve delicious espressos for 20 cordobas (about 70 cents)
Adult summer camp – or a young person's retirement community, any way you cut it, Maderas Village offers a genuine experience in the art of relaxation. The sustainable community is built into the hillside of the lush jungle, overlooking Playa Maderas, one of the best breaks in the San Juan del Sur area. The village offers cottages for groups of friends, private rooms or common rooms; each features spacious, clean and beautiful interiors with hammocks abounding. The sweet, amazing staff are on hand at all times to keep you in full vacation-mode with another cold one, a fresh smoothie or a round of their famous tacos. Group yoga classes offered daily and surf guides are on hand. Why wait to retire? From $20 per night. The village is a 20-minute shuttle ride from San Juan del Sur, or the staff will gladly help you arrange transportation from elsewhere. Photo: Maderas Village
If you haven’t been to Nicaragua, you probably haven’t met Vigorón. I had my first encounter with Vigorón just the other day. Vigorón is not a person, nor a place, but a traditional Nicaraguan dish. Boiled yucca, a potato-like root vegetable, topped with cabbage salad - similar to coleslaw without the mayo, served with chicharrones and sliced mimbros. Chicharrones, for those of you who may not be acquainted, are crispy pieces of pork skin traditionally cooked in lard, while mimbros are a small vegetablish thing (don’t quote me on that) with a super sour, almost citrus flavor. In traditional Vigorón, slices of mimbro are mixed together with the cabbage salad. According to Nicaraguans, the ultimate bite of Vigorón is a piece of yucca, a bit of cabbage salad, a small slice of mimbro, and a bite of chicharron.
Throughout León's colonial-era downtown, relics of the turbulent 1980's remain--the popular murals of the Sandinista revolution... Nicaragua's second-largest city feels more like a laid-back town, and it's one of the best places in Central America to be a pedestrian. Baroque and neo-classical architecture anchor the streetscape, and the National University gives Leon a youthful vibe. Look beyond the traffic-light-less core, and a string of volcanoes defines the horizon. Women still carry baskets of fruit for sale on their heads as they call out in the shade of the tile-roofed buildings: "aguacate piña papaaaaaayaaaaa." (The downtown core hasn't yet been gentrified like Granada, Nicaragua or Antigua, Guatemala; León is still very much a city for its own citizens.) Politics may be lively, but León is welcoming and friendly. If you're rusty on your 1980's Central American history, ask around; when traveling, faces on walls can tell a lot, if you know how to read them. Find a local face, make a friend, and listen.
© 2013 AFAR Media