Whenever I find myself wanderlusting through Latin America my heart flutters…Perhaps due to the fact that the first country I ever visited outside of Canada/USA was Costa Rica. I’ll never forget enjoying that “newbie travel high,” quickly becoming obsessed with the regions vibrant colours, fresh aromas, exotic wildlife and playful culture. Now years after first landing in San Jose I’ve had the opportunity to extensively backpack through South America and have enjoyed jaunts in Central, touching down in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Panama. A return always feels like home away from home.
So in March when Toronto continued to stubbornly cling to its inhospitable winter weather I was giddy with excitement to zoom off to Managua. On my first trip to Nicaragua I would be exploring the nations two premiere ecoluxe resorts, an itinerary organized by award winning adventure and experiential travel company Greenspot Travel. Founder Irene Edwards offers up a personal definition for the tourism trending ecoluxe concept, “it’s the art of combining comfort and a certain level of pampering service with immersion in nature in a unique way, while integrating a strong element of caring and preserving the natural environment and traditional cultural heritage.”
My first taste of Nicaragua’s ecoluxe offering was at Jicaro Island Ecolodge located on a private island in Lake Nicaragua. Just a short boat ride from the colonial town of Granada, Jicaro offers spectacular views of the towering Mombacho volcano from a petite paradise where nine private casitas play home to those looking for a romantic escape.
After a short boat ride from the port in Granada I arrived at the Jicaro dock where a smiling waitress stood offering a refreshing welcome beverage, a local favourite called gramate prepared with lime, cinnamon, sugar and lemongrass. I was offered a quick tour of the property which had me immediately falling in love with the dreamy island destination which has sprung to life after only opening its doors a few years ago. I explored the property in under ten minutes, making stops at a wee sandy beach, spacious yoga deck, boutique spa, breezy dining room + bar, relaxing pool and lookout tower which offers 360 degree views of the island.
Even in the height of high season when the resorts nine cottages sell out the vibe never feels crowded. Jicaro’s two-story “casitas” certainly wow, offering a luxurious space featuring plush king sized bed upstairs and spacious living room on the main floor which connects to an outside deck where a comfy hammock is the perfect place to put your feet up and enjoy a jaw dropping lake view.
Fast facts on Jicaro’s eco-friendly endeavours
- built entirely from timber reclaimed from trees blown down by hurricane Felix in September 2007.
- buildings and furniture are made of tropical hardwoods which have Forest Stewardship Council/Rainforest Alliance controlled wood certification.
- water is heated with solar panels for guest and kitchen use.
- commitment to hiring local staff helps spread economic benefit of tourism throughout the region.
- use of organic and biodegradable soaps, cleaning detergents and spa products.
While Jicaro’s unique eco-friendly-meets-luxury experience provides the quintessential quiet island paradise we all crave, its ideal location also offers guests with an adventurous streak a menu of daily excursions. Highlights of my stay at Jicaro Island Ecolodge include:
Sips and Nibbles
Food fans are in for a treat as Jicaro’s culinary team breaks from the Nicaraguan norm, showcasing a thoughtful take on” taste of place” with dishes that offer an elevated dining experience. Enjoy a pretty lake view from Jicaro’s breezy dining room or hop on a barstool and watch as cooks whip together a parade of plates at the open kitchen.
Couples looking to enjoy an unforgettably romantic evening can also sign up to dine by candlelight on an intimate floating deck. Bread is prepared in house each day with morning memories full of sweet cinnamon buns and butter slathered rolls at night. The kitchen also prepares an addictive smokey hot sauce best enjoyed slathered on huevos rancheros or as a dip for crispy plantain chips.
Menu highlights from my stay at Jicaro include sweet banana foster pancakes, plump shrimp tacos, crispy yucca root and mozzarella croquettes, rum caramel chicken covered in pineapple + bacon and finger-licking-good guava glazed ribs accompanied by a butternut squash and cashew mash.
Flying Through the Jungle
Thrill seekers will enjoy an exhilarating zip-lining adventure through leafy rainforest canopy at Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve with Tour Miravalle. The cloud forest is located just 18 kms from the colonial city of Granada and is home to over 700 plant species, 175 birds, 35 reptiles, 10 amphibians, 50 mammals and a few thousand insects. The course is 2 kms and consists of 11 zip lines and 17 platforms. The first few zingers are a bit intimidating but once you find your groove its impossible not to burst into a fit of giggles.
Established in 1524 by the Spaniard Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, Granada is the oldest colonial city on mainland America and considered one of the prettiest in Nicaragua. On a three hour tour I visited the crumbling La Polvora Fortress, world famous Done Elba Cigar Factory, Las Mercedes Church which offers fantastic views of the city from its bell tower, the hustle and bustle of Municipal Market and breezy Central Park.
Isletas Boat Tour
On my final morning at Jicaro I hopped in a motorboat and spent an hour cruising through the cluster of tiny islands off the coast of Granada which call Lake Nicaragua home. We zoomed away from the resort, past lush lily pads and stoic egret before gawking at ornate palace-like properties which offer a sharp contrast to the humble dwellings inhabited by local fishing families.