Nicaragua: Where to Stay: Boutique: Jicaro Island Eco-Lodge
Jicaro Island Eco-Lodge
When London-based Karen Emmanuel visited Nicaragua’s Lake Managua Las Isletas in the early 2000s, she had just left the country’s first eco-lodge, Morgan’s Rock. As Emmanuel was guided through the majestic, lily pad–covered lake and around this stunning archipelago of 365 islands, she was still thinking about the game-changing mission and style of Morgan’s Rock. Upon seeing an uninhabited one-acre island, she had a vision for Jicaro Island: a sustainable, eco-friendly service-focused lodge with an emphasis on nature but with the constant theme of luxury.
Designed by fellow Brit (but a resident of Nicaragua for 12 years now) Matthew Falkiner, the casitas and public buildings were created with nature in mind. All lumber is cedar and eucalyptus, provided by felled trees from 1998’s Hurricane Felix and water is provided by the lake. The organic lines of the modern luxe nine casitas blend into the forests of trees that protect the island. Indeed, the entire island feels as though it sprung up from the lake, fully-formed. There isn’t an ounce of concrete or material that seems unnatural, and only when the boat is yards away from the island, can you actually see any buildings—they fade into the landscape. The island’s stone paths, carved into the rocks, seem to have existed for centuries. Virtually no trees were cut down when building the lodge.
The nine, two-story villas all have a porch suspended over the lake with a Nicaraguan hand-crocheted hammock. The first-floor sitting room with a pullout sofa is built of local hardwood and the dark-reddish-brown walls create a cool respite. The bathroom includes a shower that, thanks to the slatted walls and floor, makes you feel like you’re standing under a waterfall. A king-sized bed draped with mosquito netting takes up the entire second floor, with the exception of the breathtaking views. There is no air-conditioning in the casitas, but with the (screened) windows open, a light breeze flows through the room throughout the night and allows for the symphony of sounds from monkeys and birds to act as your natural alarm clock in the morning.
A couple hours from Managua airport, the resort welcomes guests at a non-descript dock on the edge of a massive lake where Jicaro staff meets you. After a fifteen-minute boat ride during which you enjoy views of Mombacho volcano, weary travelers alight onto what can only be described as a treasure island, with staff members waiting with cold towels and refreshing iced drinks.
Activities include exploring Las Isletas, the 365 islands created when volcano Mombacho erupted 10,000 years ago. The islands are home to millionaires and fishermen alike and luxury mansions co-exist with shacks. Jicaro offers kayaking tours to see the islands as well as myriad wildlife, including birds (I saw herons, egrets), monkeys and butterflies. They can also arrange tours of nearby plantations, tropical forests and hot springs. Local fishermen can take guests out to catch tilapia and the 42 other kinds of fish that live in the lake. The lake’s papahonche flowers and lily pads the size of breadboxes are particularly stunning.
On island, guests can enjoy yoga classes on the yoga deck, the freshwater pool (which is cleaned out daily eliminating the need for chemicals) and massages in the eucalyptus-roofed open-air spa. The observation tower which doubles as the water-collecting tower, can be climbed and has the most incredible views of the archipelago and Mombacho.
The food served in the resort’s chic open-air restaurant is local and organic and cooked in the outdoor kitchen. The chef offers cooking classes and, while teaching me how to make homemade tortillas and heuvos rancheros, told me about the “breakfast in bed” classes he’s taught to eager honeymooning husbands. The adjoining bar is charming and offers an incredible cocktail: a liqueur made from the island’s namesake jicaro (a fruit that grows in Central America) is mixed with a tea made from local grasses, lemon juice and sugar cane syrup.
Jicaro’s staff is completely devoted to the guests’ experience and relaxation. Indeed the whole island feels like a complete escape: there are no TVs or cellphone service and WiFi is available only in the lounge, bar and restaurant. All-inclusive rooms start at $250 per person in the low-season.
WHO SHOULD STAY: Honeymooners and couples looking for a romantic get-away.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: Children under 12 are not allowed. The paths to rooms are poorly lit and treacherous for anyone unstable on feet.
INDAGARE TIP: Ask for Julio to take you on your kayaking tour at 6:30am to see the birds. Even non-birders will appreciate it. Bring a flashlight as paths to casitas are very dark at night.— Amelia Osborne 01/14/2012