In September 2014 Conde Nast Traveler published a story, “Nicaragua: A Paradise Poised For Discovery.” Its take was that the country of just under six million was “not too overdone or perfect.”
The writer, Maura Egan, catalogued a litany of reasons to visit, from the colorful colonial city of Granada (which she calls the next Cartagena) to the rustic fishing villages on its Pacific Coast that channel the west coast of Mexico before forty years of development. Extra dimensions include that the country, better known to many Americans for the Iran-Contra Affair of the ’80s, is a paradise for sporting and adventure travel enthusiasts.
Last May it hosted the World Surfing Games and every August there is the Flor de Cana International Billfish Tournament. SaltWater Sportsman reports, “There have not been a lot of boats fishing these waters for long enough to get it all figured out.” The journal says marlin range between 550 to 800 pounds. “Some of the best fishing days of my career,” says one angler. Marlin Magazine offers similar stories.
Inland are rain forests, coffee plantations, zip-lining, hiking and exploring small towns with colorfully painted buildings and cobblestone streets. When Travel + Leisure decided last fall for the first-time ever to have its editors design their own dream vacations, Nicaragua was the starting point for one of 17 global adventures, and Mukul Beach Golf & Spa served as the luxurious home base. The travel magazine’s itinerary includes a visit to Ometepe Island, a volcanic islet in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (at one point, before the Panama Canal, an important water link between the Caribbean Sea to the East and the Pacific to the West) as well as sand boarding down Cerro Negro, an active volcano.
Since the end of civil war in 1990, the country has been popular with surfers and backpackers, and gradually saw some small boutique hotels open. However, it wasn’t until 2013 when Carlos Pellas, Nicaragua’s first billionaire, according to Bloomberg, debuted Mukul, that luxury accommodations were added to the mix.
Victoria Boomgarden, president of Direct Travel Luxe, visited about a year ago and told me, “They’ve spared nothing on this. The staff is local and it’s genuine warmth that people are looking for.” On the spa, she says, “It’s almost got a spiritual element.”
And while travel writing is often overfilled with superlatives, Mukul’s spa (below) is indeed unique in several ways. Instead of a large single complex, there are six different stand-alone spa suites, completely private, each offering a different experience (Secret Garden, Rain Forest, Crystal Temple, Healing Hut, Ancient Sanctuary and Hammam) ranging from three hours to a full day. Each suite has its own private relaxation areas, showers, changing area and outdoor pool so you can relax between treatments.
If your relaxation is conquering a new golf course, Bandon Dunes architect David McLay Kidd’s work here was chosen by Forbes as one of “The 5 Best New Resort Courses of 2013.” Last year, USA Today listed it as one of “10 Golf Courses With Epic Views.” McLay Kidd’s layout is extra challenging as the designer left numerous trees he originally was going to remove once he saw that they form a sort of aerial highway for the local population of monkeys. A popular way to celebrate completion of a round is to take off your shoes and walk from the 18th green into the adjacent ocean, casually leaving one’s belongings at the sparsely used course.
For all of the facilities, there are only 37 villas and bohios on over 1,600 acres, and in December Mukul made Architectural Digest’s list of “Five Beautiful Eco-Friendly Lodges for a Refreshing Escape.” The article cites use of recycled materials, sustainably sourced timber and over 1,500 trees that were replanted instead of being cut down, perhaps one reason the development cost $250 million to build.
Despite racking up a shelf of awards, getting to Mukul until November meant a flight into Managua and then a two-hour car ride or a helicopter, but since the opening of Costa Esmeralda Airport, with full customs and immigrations, 15 minutes away, access via private jets up to BBJs and ACJs has meant you can be on the beach or tee box within 30 minutes of touchdown.
A word of warning: If you are looking for wild nightlife, you’ll need to turn to your fellow traveling companions. That said, there are several small fishing villages nearby where as I did, you can enjoy a cold beer, eat fresh seafood from a picnic table with your feet in the sand, and talk about the waves with the 20-something mix of artists and surfers who are winding down from another day in paradise.
There are 37 standalone units. Casona Don Carlos (below), the Pellas family’s private beach residence, featuring 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor-outdoor living space has 80-foot-high palapa ceilings, four bedroom suites, a stone terrace and full size pool with direct access to the beach. Rates range from $5,800 to $13,500, based on season.
Suite Dona Vivian, named for Pellas’ wife, is part of the complex, 7,746 sq. ft., with two master bedroom suites, including indoor and outdoor garden showers, a massage room and nearly 360 degree ocean views. Rates range from $4,320 to $10,000 per night, based on season. Both can be booked when the family isn’t visiting.
There are a dozen 1-and-2 bedroom beach villas (below) set in two beachfront rows, with outdoor showers, 500-sq. ft. bathroom suites, kitchens and private pools, starting from $1,245 and $2,350 per night during the high season, including airport transfers and breakfast.
Of the four 1-bedroom villas directly on the beach, Villa 5 offers the most privacy. The 2-bedroom villas are better to share with couples or older children as there are separate outdoor entrances to the bedrooms.Bohios are smaller, 621-sq. ft. tree-house style villas, away from the beach, elevated along a jungle hillside providing great views, starting from $725. If you are traveling with teenagers or your crew, these are a great option for them.
The focus is on seafood, steaks sourced from grass-fed Nicaraguan cattle and produce grown by local farmers. There are four separate restaurants. La Mesa is elegant dining for dinner only. La Terraza is for daytime dining overlooking the beach. The Palapa Lounge next to the Beach Club offers rum tastings and board games, and is a place guests come to socialize. Tres Ceibas is the sports bar and features wood-oven pizza, fish tacos and other munchies perfect for watching the big game with friends. There is a walk-in humidor if you want to enjoy a cigar. The resort also will cater private dinners on the beach and other special experiences on request. Beginning last November, the resort launched an annual visiting chef program with Cyril Cheminot, known for his work with molecular gastronomy, pastry and chocolate.
In addition to the spa and 18-hole golf course, there is a comprehensive kids club that offers juniors camping on the beach, kitchen apprenticeships, spa experiences, movie nights and nature experiences. There is direct access to world-class surfing and charter boats for fishing. There is also 24-hour room service.
High season: January-MarchLow season: April-NovemberPeak season- November-New Year’sRainy season- July-November, with the only heavy rainfall occurring a couple weeks in October. Best months to visit depend on what you’re interested in: Surf (June-September); Golf (November-June); Value for money (April-November), Greenery (July-January)Min temp: 65 deg F; Max temp: 100 deg F
The resort has hosted several weddings, and is available for full takeovers on request.
Fly into Costa Esmeralda Airport, 15 minutes from the resort. The runway is 5,000 feet long. It opened last November, built by Pellas to help make access to Mukul easy.
Forbes: The Undiscovered Luxury Beach Destination For Celebrities and Billionaires
Cigar Aficionado : Mukul Opens In Nicaragua