Much like the Matala caves in Crete, which were frequented by artists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell in the 1960s and ’70s, a stint in Nicaragua has become a rite of passage for today’s creative types. The strong artistic traditions of the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, which range from pottery to poetry, are alive and well. So much so, in fact, that the country is now also known as the “Land of Poets,” thanks to politically fueled literary talents such as Rubén Darío. With ample room for development and relative affordability, Nicaragua has become a hotbed of artist collectives and residency programs. “Maker retreats” are attracting urbanites from around the world eager to weave by the sea and write from crocheted hammocks. Professionals creatives are taking note, too; musicians like Tove Lo have flocked down to Nicaragua to attend songwriting camps in the jungle.
Nicaragua has plenty in store for the wandering artist: private islands, cities filled with historical architecture, even poolside painting parties. The surf and molten lava are inspiring enough on their own, but these five artistic epicenters are guaranteed to awaken your creative senses.
Granada seems to be constantly abuzz with the sounds of marimba bands, horse-drawn carriages, and Spanish chatter. Known for its colonial heritage, the city feels magically frozen in time—it’s no wonder so many photographers clamor to capture its charm. For raconteurs, the International Poetry Festival of Granada is indeed an attraction and brings together over 100 celebrated international poets. Meanwhile, sustainability-minded creatives can apply to be a Storyteller-in-Residence at Jicaro Island Ecolodge, an idyllic hotel located on one of Granada’s 365 islets. The annual program gives multimedia storytellers the opportunity to work from this and other Cayuga Collection properties for 8 to 14 days. (The hotel group is accepting applications for their 2017 residency, which focuses on on “food with philosophy,” from May 3–28, 2017.)
Los Pueblos Blancos
Located on the western side of Nicaragua, in the hills of Masaya volcano, Los Pueblos Blancos, or White Villages, are celebrated for their artisanal traditions. Many of the houses were traditionally constructed out of volcanic rock and whitewashed to ward off evil spirits. While the buildings have been painted over, art traditions in the region continue to thrive. Each village specializes in a different craft; one of the most renowned, San Juan de Oriente, has been producing pottery using organic materials for over 1,000 years. Several ceramics workshops in the town are still open, including Taller Escuela de Cerámica Valentín López, where travelers can join artisans in using the pottery wheel.
To attend a workshop, visitors can reach the school by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by telephone at +505 2558-0161. Visits can also be scheduled through most hotels and tour operators in the area.
San Juan del Sur
Popular with surfers and backpackers, colorful San Juan del Sur is far from quiet. The influx of international travelers makes it one of the most vibrant spots in the country. Here, you’ll find all kinds of free-spirited creative groups, such as the Momentom Collective, a circus arts school that hosts community-focused movement programs and retreats. Galleries are also on the rise, and new studios like The Art Warehouse promote visual arts through workshops and exhibitions.
It’s impossible to talk about creative retreats in Nicaragua without mentioning the enchanting Maderas Village, a bohemian boutique hotel located in the Pacific coast hills. Only a short drive north of San Juan del Sur, the hotel is designed to be a self-contained haven for artistic professionals (complete with a recording studio and installations by artists-in-residence). However, anyone is welcome to stay and soak in the atmosphere, which is peppered with installations by resident artists. The creative vibe permeates the region, and design-focused properties like HulaKai Hotel have popped up nearby, offering a more polished experience for graduated backpackers. HulaKai also offers artist-in-residence programs for chefs, artists, designers, and musicians for a period of one to three months.
Northern Pacific Coast
With Nicaragua’s southern coast entering a new phase of development, the lesser-visited northern Pacific coast is becoming more popular for remote getaways. El Coco Loco Resort hosts several retreats that blend art, yoga, and photography, as well as skills exchange workshops with local artisans. The most recent retreat, the Makers Retreat, was a collaboration with Toronto-based sewing studio The Make Den and gave craft enthusiasts the opportunity to design their own leather sandals and make chocolate. Guests could also get involved with Waves of Hope, the hotel’s own nonprofit organization. The NGO recently established an arts program at a nearby high school, helping to extend Nicaragua’s newfound creative movement beyond the travel community.