|Ziplining on Jicaro Island is limited to small groups to keep the experience intimate. Here, Madrid gives it a try.|
We landed in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, a tiny country with a tumultuous political past. We were immediately met by our driver, who took us to the local pulperia to procure some cold beers, Cokes and snacks for the hour-long drive south toward Granada and the beautiful Lake Nicaragua. At the shores of Central America’s largest lake, we boarded our small lancha to motor our way among the hundreds of islets, formed by volcanic rocks from a 20 million-year-old eruption, to Jicaro Island, our home for the next several days.
The architecturally stunning Jicaro Island Lodge is a tiny “eco-island” comprising nine wood-and-stone duplex casitas which have private bedrooms with king beds and living areas that connect to an outside deck with lake views. The first-floor sofa can easily be converted into sleeping space for children, affording the family privacy. Each casita comes with mosquito netting and ceiling fans, along with large sliding “walls” for cross ventilation. The oversized hammock on the deck is a great place to ease into the day with the morning casita-delivered coffee.
The staff of 20, who boat in to work from the main land (sometimes along with the guests), could not be nicer. Everyone does a bit of everything, serving fresh fruit drinks and amazing fresh organic Central American specialties, and escorting guests for hikes up the Mombacho Volcano or fishing on the lake or hanging hammocks and tending to the comfortable suites.
The resort recycles all of its water from Lake Nicaragua, and the drinking water is ultra-filtered. Electricity and Internet work very well and all day long. Being an eco-retreat, Jicaro has no air-conditioning, but the guest suites are fully screened and have fans and, often, decent breezes. The resort is largely outdoors, with buildings connected by corridors and stone paths, as is typical of Central America. Thus, bugs, geckos and heavy rains each afternoon in green season (May-November) are just the way things roll. Many travelers, including myself, prefer green season to the equatorial dry and sunny season (December-April).
Jicaro is ideal for a couples’ getaway or for a solo traveler seeking nature, well-being and relaxation with an authentic Central American feel. With just those nine casitas, I could not help but think that the island would be perfect for a group of friends or a family to take over for a milestone celebration.
The outdoor dining space is lovely for dinners and the covered bar is a great place to cozy up with a book during a heavy afternoon shower. The chef takes great care and pride in preparing delicious and unique takes on Nicaraguan cuisine that highlight local and regional fish, produce and herbs. Cocktail hour is always enhanced with a treat sent out by the kitchen—think warm fried plantain chips with pico de gallo or fried local cheese drops that melt in your mouth. Breakfast treats include bountiful fresh fruits, and my absolute favorite, with a nod to the Caribbean coast, is the coconut milk French toast with sesame seeds.
As titanium steel workout equipment does not fit in with the eco-friendly design of the resort, there is no fitness area to work off all of the yummy eats. However, there is a lakeside yoga deck for yoga sessions with or without an instructor and enough active adventures nearby to keep one trim.
A daytrip to Granada is a must-do. Founded in 1524 by Cordoba, Granada claims to be the oldest European-colonized city in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also the fourth-largest city in Nicaragua and has a rich political and economic history so evident in its vibrant colonial architecture. However, for those not wanting to venture to the mainland, kayaking and boating among the hundreds of volcanic islets, artisanal fishing and bird-watching can all be enjoyed right from the resort.
Unlike the other on-the-radar Central American countries, Nicaragua does not have the crowds. For example, on a zipline canopy tour, we, a family of four, had three professional guides to ourselves, rather than being herded above the trees with a group of 30. During our four-hour hike up to the volcano at Mombacho, we were accompanied by the hotel guide and a naturalist from the National Park Service. Everywhere we ventured, we jumped on the public transport with the exceptionally friendly locals, and in historical Granada, we even had Sunday lunch with them.
|Casitas at Jicaro Island Lodge have sliding walls for cross-ventilation.|
We combined our vacation in Nicaragua with a trip to Costa Rica by car, although there are direct flights from Managua to Liberia or San Jose, Costa Rica, on Nature Air. For the experience-seeker, crossing the border by bus is also an option, but keep in mind that rental cars are not allowed across the border. We crossed over to Costa Rica on foot after our taxi delivered us to the border town of Rivas. In Penas Blancas, on the Costa Rican side, we hopped into the waiting car and soon we were zigzagging through the mountains to our next destination. In Costa Rica, we were very impressed with our idyllic hotels that combined sustainability, community responsibility, authenticity and a strong dose of understated luxury: Punta Islita on the Pacific Coast’s Nicoya Peninsula and the charming Silencio Lodge & Ranch in the Cloud Forest.
If your clients have picked Central America for their vacation, Selected Moments is a fantastic resource for the region as a whole.