Mukul Boutique Hotel
One man, Carlos Pellas, who is fifth generation Nicaraguan has used his wealth (from sugar, rum, banking and more) and his savvy (he received his BA and MBA from Stanford) to plant the seeds for the best kind of tourism boom possible: one that will be low-impact on the environment and long-term for the community benefits. He has started with a gorgeous small resort on the Pacific Coast called Mukul, surrounding it will be high-end residential development called Guacalito De La Isla. While Mukul is now finished with thirty-seven exquisite rooms spread along a gorgeous white-sand beach and up the hillside, the villas of Guacalito are still in the works. Amenities such as a stunning 18-hole, David MacLay Kidd (he is the genius behind Bandon Dunes and Charles Schwab’s cult golf course on Hawaii’s Big Island) and a spa with individual suites for a whole day of pampering are already finished, but a tennis center and beach club will not be ready until the fall.
I stayed in one of the beachfront villas. There are only a few, and they will book up fast thanks to plunge pools and sliding doors that lead directly out to the beach and Pacific Sea view. Imagine the sophistication of a resort like Las Ventanas but with a swimmable beach just steps from your room. The décor through the resort merges modern hotel amenities, like deep tubs with views, with touches of a thoughtful host. Pellas wanted the property to feel more like a private home than a hotel so he rebuffed offers from famous hotel chains to manage the property and found his own team. (Yes he plucked some from the Four Seasons.) He also made sure to incorporate Nicaraguan regional elements, ranging from a tasting room for rum and cigars to headboards made from the old wooden barrels once used for aging Flora di Cana rum. The result: the resort is tropical sexy but distinctly Nicaraguan (not Mexican or West Indies).
While you can spend your days playing golf on what is sure to be a championship course or enjoying a deserted Pacific beach to yourself, it would be a shame if you didn’t explore more of the country and the Mukul team makes it easy. There are spectacular surfing beaches up and down the coast, as well as great snorkeling or fishing just off shore. Pellas’ own fishing boat can be chartered or taken out for sunset cruises. The colonial gem of town, Granada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which reminded me of Cartagena and Havana, is a few hours drive. When you go you can explore on foot or by horse-drawn carriage and the hotel guests can stop in the Pellas Mansion, the grandest building on the main square, where the family’s staff will prepare lunch. Exploring Lake Nicaragua, hiking volcanoes or visiting the family rum plantation are also options.
The impact of Pellas’ vision can already be seen in the neighboring communities, which supply almost all of the employees. I spent a day with the man who Pellas hired to work with the local communities, assisting with medical, educational and cultural projects and was so impressed by his team and his commitment that I plan to return with our first family volunteerism trip this July. Getting to the region still requires one or two flights from the U.S. and a two hour plus drive from Managua. (Pellas is working on an airport that will be only miles from the hotel to open 2014.) There is construction going on around Mukul with the development of Guacalito and many of the staff do not speak perfect English, so for the time being this is a trip for the adventurous and those who like to be at the front of the pack in discovering a place. My advice: go soon, because once the project is finished and all the kinks are worked out, Mukul will be a hot spot for many.
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