Nicaragua: find out before it's Trending Topic


Reading time 11 minutes

Connie and Andrew Chas, a couple in their thirties, want to know where in Nicaragua it would be a good idea to settle in the (not so) hypothetical case they were thinking of moving with their small organic bistro, The Fammeri, from the Hudson Valley, in The upstate of New York.

They have been traveling the country for five days, long enough to be clear that they would love to live here. Would Granada be the best option? Any beach town around San Juan del Sur? Or maybe Leon? The question is thrown at Yvan Cussigh, Tribal hotel owner .

Una aurora boreal en el Caribe

Tribal Hotel Pool © Ana Nance

He already did it a few years ago, when he left behind his life as a benchmark for the night in Manhattan in the early 21st century to ride, together with his partner Jean-Marc Houmard - still owner of the famous Indochine -, the Tribal hotel in Granada .

In the conversation, which takes place on a warm night in late January in the colonial courtyard of the Tribal, between lush tropical vegetation and pieces of art from the world, we also participate Matt Dickinson, aka Dickie, the very young Canadian co-owner of Maderas Village, an eco-lodge with rustic cabins and recording studio in one of the main surfing enclaves of the Pacific, photographer Ana Nance and me.

Dickie, who thinks about replicating the concept in another surfing place in the world, maybe in the surroundings of Lisbon, maybe in Spain, has come to Granada to pick up musicians and producers from Brooklyn and California who will participate in one of the aims of collaborative creation week that organizes the lodge as an artistic residence.

We began a journey that has brought us to investigate why Nicaragua is the fashion destination of Latin America. The voices and laughter increase in volume as the bottles of wine give way to those of rum. Shouldn't you consume local product?

This scene sums up the moment Nicaragua is living. Entrepreneurs, pioneers, the bounced of the big city, the less traveled roads search engines, the travel magazine eager for genuine destinations.

Campanario de la Iglesia de la Merced

Bell tower of the Church of La Merced © Ana Nance

And it is that the world is very big but, in reality, it is not so usual to find places that guarantee good weather throughout the year, with a stable economy that allows you to pay with (few) dollars and that offer such a balanced combination between beach and mountain, adventure and rest, disconnection and wifi and, most importantly, security.

But is Nicaragua safe? A lot. Nicaragua may be a poor country - 8, 000 córdobas, about 210 euros, it is the basic salary - and that its decades of dictatorship and civil war still seem recent to us - it ended 25 years ago - but it sure is, and quite a lot: the third of the continent, just behind Canada and Chile. Are you surprised? Well read on.

With a size similar to that of England and just six million inhabitants, Nicaragua has the largest primary forest in the north of the Amazon and 7% of the world's natural biodiversity, two splendidly preserved colonial cities, a chain of volcanoes, six of they are active, some of which one can even overlook, two large navigable lakes, cocoa and coffee plantations, the best rum in the world and almost a thousand kilometers of beaches divided between two oceans.

Una aurora boreal en el Caribe

Volcanoes of Ometepe Island seen from the Jícaro Island Lodge © Ana Nance

Two worlds, the Pacific and the Caribbean, in one country. Despite all this, tourism is something relatively new. Until a few years ago, three, five at most, until this corner of Central America only the usual ones arrived: long-distance travelers, with plenty of time and limited budget, NGO volunteers, surfers - the waves of Popoyo stand out as some of the most challenging in the world - and the odd billionaire who knew about the existence of Yemaya, the paradisiacal resort on the Caribbean island of Little Corn Island.

Now, however, the opening of new boutique hotels, such as Tribal, Maderas Village or Meson Nadi, and extreme luxury resorts such as Mukul, Nekupe, Aqua Wellness or Rancho Santana, is attracting other travelers to its pristine beaches and its cheerful colonial cities.

In addition, with St. Barths out of play after Hurricane Irma, more and more rich and famous people like Scarlett Johansson, who spent New Year's Eve in Mukul, choose the 'unique' coast to tan on their winter break. For them, Calala Island opened last summer on a tiny private Caribbean island.

Announced as the most expensive resort in Central America and a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Calala is what one imagines when you think of the perfect tropical island: four cabins with hammocks hung between palm trees and a menu prepared by an heir chef Buckingham Palace recipes .

Una aurora boreal en el Caribe

Reflections in the cabins of Calala Island © Ana Nance

But the privilege of sleeping in Calala means being willing to navigate an hour and a half in a panga. When the wind blows rebel, arriving by helicopter is not an option. According to the World Tourism Organization, Nicaragua is the eighth largest tourist growing country in the world. Last year it received 1.7 million tourists, 18.8% more than the previous year.

And more that will arrive now that Iberia opens direct route from Madrid in October and that the international airport of the so-called Costa Smeralda, in the Pacific, is already operational.

The “come before it's too late” recommendation, before the country loses its innocence, before it ceases to be so cheap, is repeated as a word of mouth mantra between globetrotters and travel websites.

Yvan Cussigh laughs at the rush, he has long learned here to live at another pace: "It is true that houses are going up in price but: how many good restaurants do you really think there are in Granada?"

The Espressionista Café, housed in a house where you dine by candlelight, is the creation of Andrés Lazar, a chef educated in several Michelin-starred kitchens in London and New York. The original proposals (coconut ceviche, cheek at Bourguignonne …) and the presentation are up to the best tables in Mexico City or Madrid.

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Espresso Coffee Salad © Ana Nance

With the golden lights of the sunset, the women pull their rocking chairs at the door of their houses, it is the moment of the 'port', while the song of the carrots and the screaming of the children playing between ice cream stands and scratches add in revelry the main square of Granada.

With tourism still in its infancy, this city of colorful cobbled streets is the unofficial capital of the country. From the first hours of the day the sun is so insolent that it is necessary to protect the eyesight (and the skin). But the facades of Granada were not always colored.

In the 80s, the city was all painted white and such was the glow that blinded the airplanes. It is just a theory. There is more. Another, less likely, ensures that the colors were added to the facades after the newspapers published that a northern lights had been seen in the skies of Managua.

In Nicaragua, curious theories and unique stories abound. It is said that if a woman is pregnant she cannot go to a funeral because the cold of the dead would harm the fetus; that, if a scorpion bites you, the child will become deaf; that if you iron and open the fridge it gives you an air; that snakes are only poisonous at a certain time …

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La Casona © Ana Nance

I review all the unusual ideas that Angeles and Fernando, the Spanish owners of the African-inspired restaurant and shop Ke De Ke, told me , while I re-think how the breeze caresses in slow motion the curtains of La Casona. It seems that, at any moment, the protagonists of a García Márquez novel will appear walking along the checkerboard floor .

Owned by Patricia Castellanos, a Colombian photographer, art collector, shoe lasts, antique toys and Panama hats (sorry, toquilla straw hats), this is the most classy accommodation we've ever been to. The house is rented whole, service included, when Patricia is not. But La Casona does not stop coming out competitors. To Granada too.

And it is that more and more travelers prefer the tranquility of the still little known Leon over the success of Granada. Located between the beach and the Cerro Negro volcano - the descent of its slopes aboard a kind of sled is a very popular activity - León is a city ​​of intellectuals and poets, the birthplace of Rubén Darío and the ideologues of the Sandinista Revolution.

There are also hotel news in León : La Perla recently opened in a beautiful house dating from 1858; and the Marín Saravia family , owner of the historic El Sesteo café, social and gastronomic center and compass by which addresses in the city are guided, last details in an accommodation full of history that aims to become a reference, with permission from the hotel-museum Convent.

Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz Guardián

Ortiz Guardián Foundation Art Center © Ana Nance

Marcelo Marín Saravia, raised in Canada, speaks with the same ease, in English or Spanish, of the typical sweets of his land than of the works exhibited in the rooms of the Ortiz Gurdián Foundation, one of the most important centers of contemporary art of Latinamerica.

In Nicaragua, comparisons with Costa Rica and Mexico are inevitable. "Like Costa Rica 20 years ago, but with more flavor, " say some; "The next Tulum, " say others. And although it lacks the pre-Columbian ruins and the infrastructure and services of its neighbors, they compensate it with large doses of sympathy and sugar, of poetry and magical realism. And with an environmental awareness that flows organic and natural.

It is that lack of stratified protocols that gives the differential value and genuine taste to the country, which requires the traveler to shed stress and demands.

“We have the example at hand to learn what has been done well and make it even better, ” says Andrey Gómez, director of Morgan's Rock. Andrey is Costa Rican, like many of Nicaragua's hotel managers.

Tablas en la playa de Morgan's Rock

Tables on Morgan's Rock Beach © Ana Nance

For four years he has been responsible for the visionary concept of this pioneer eco-resort - “comfort converted into nature” - in which two thousand hectares of private nature reserve are combined with a beautiful virgin crescent-shaped beach. The 18 cabins peek out from the slopes of a leafy hill . No cement was used in its construction, only carved stone and certified wood.

Nor do they have air conditioning, but an 'air scale', a kind of canopy that wraps the beds with a quiet breeze. Morgan's Rock owes its name to the geographical point where, at the end of the s. XVIII, Senator John Taylor Morgan projected an alternative channel to that of Panama that has never been built. Morgan's Rock's architect is multi-award-winning Matthew Faulkner, the same as Jícaro Island Lodge.

Located in one of the 350 islets of Lake Nicaragua, a few minutes from Granada, here the intervention in nature is almost non-existent. Built with woods rescued from Hurricane Felix (1988), without paint or varnishes, it works with solar panels, the bar is focused on the local product, rum, and in the store they sell baskets made by cooperatives of indigenous women, fabrics of the only loom country manual, ceramics made according to pre-Columbian techniques …

Their cabins among the vegetation are the ideal place to retire to write a book - sure it would be a best seller! - and get carried away by the days without a clock, approaching the birds in canoe and jumping headlong into the lake, with the omnipresent Mombacho volcano as a backdrop.

Desde los árborles de Tree Casa, uno de los cafés más conocidos de Granada

From Tree Tree trees, one of the best known cafes in Granada © Ana Nance

“Travelers arrive with the desire to help, to leave their mark and create connections, and this country gives the opportunity to create your own dreams and to live in a genuine way. This means a lot when you come suffocated from the big metropolis, ” says Claudia Silva, a hotel consultant. Silva, who participated in the opening of Mukul, the country's first luxury product, is the current advisor to the new Tree House.

Around a large ceiba on whose branches hangs a panoramic platform, this luxury lodging houses the first high-quality volunteer center, "to receive artists and visionary people who support sustainable community programs."

Its director, Alan Cordeno, knows that Nicaragua falls in love. "We don't know very well why, but I hope we never find out." We assume that, as in a couple's life, it is the little things, those defects that usually irritate you, which you then miss when they are gone.

* This article and the attached gallery was published in number 117 of the Condé Nast Traveler Magazine (May). Subscribe to the print edition (11 printed numbers and digital version for € 24.75, by calling 902 53 55 57 or from our website ) and enjoy free access to the digital version of Condé Nast Traveler for iPad. The May Condé Nast Traveler number is available in its digital version to enjoy on your preferred device.

Atardecer en Calala Island

Sunset on Calala Island © Ana Nance