Nicaragua is one of those countries that has it all, lush rainforests framed by jolting volcanic mountains, vibrant colonial villages filled with docile locals, and a now-stable political situation, it's an enticing destination in Central America. The Jicaro Island Ecolodge, located on a speck of an island in Lake Nicaragua, is an incredible choice to experience the country Condé Nast listed as one of the ten destinations to watch in 2014.
Sometimes, you just want to check out from the craziness of life and really get away, this hotel could not be a better choice for those times. After a 15-minute boat ride across Lake Nicaragua, a lake dotted with tiny islands home to but a few palm trees and huts, my guest and I arrived on the dock of the lodge. Greeted with a sweet and refreshing grama tea, I admired the massive verdant trees and tropical flowering vines. I felt like I just arrived at a version of Peter Pan's Lost Boy's island.
The entire resort rests on a rocky, lush, one-acre islet, providing a feeling of privacy and removal from urban society. A British music industry executive, Karen Emanuel, “discovered” the island in 2007 while on a trip to Central America. A prayer and a wire transfer soon after, Emanuel bought the island and consulted architect Matthew Falkiner, the designer behind the lauded eco-minded Morgan's Rock property, on the construction of the lodge. Falkiner meticulously optimized the island's size, placing nine villas along the perimeter, a stunning vanishing edge pool in the center, and a tiered restaurant and spa off the dock, all with views looking out across the majestic lake simmering under the active Concepción volcano.
In addition to the thoughtful positioning of the resort's buildings, care was taken to build the resort, in its entirety, from hurricane-swept woods certified under the Forest Stewardship Council / Rainforest Alliance. In 2007, Hurricane Felix demolished nearly 2.5 million acres of rainforest, leaving tons of fallen wood stacked among indigenous communities. Simplemente Madera, a design and build organization that works with environmental organizations, government agencies, and local communities, collects the fallen timber, repurposing the wood into buildings, furnishings and more. Alongside Falkiner, Simplemente Madera created all of the lodge's structures.
Despite the small size of the island, the accommodations and cuisine are delightfully substantial. Villas are two-story lofts complete with hammocks, massive walk-through showers, and seating areas. Although the property is based on solar power, the lighting in the villas is also beautifully designed with plenty of dimmer switch options. Part of the evening entertainment, I found, was to turn down the lights in the seating area and listen to the cacophony of croaking frogs and cooing cranes.
Come morning, nature's serenade ends, but breakfast (and the rest of the day's meals), were just as appealing. The quality of the restaurant's organic meats, breads, fruits and local dishes was just as impressive as the sheer array of it all. At breakfast, staff will kindly prompt you to make dinner selections, such as seabass ceviche and beef carpaccio. Come dinner, it's easy to be tempted by other selections though, and luckily, I was promptly served a number of surprise selections.
For an unforgettable stay in the emerging hot spot that is Nicaragua, the Jicaro Island Ecolodge is a unique and unadulterated experience.