Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Marco Polo, Elena Bowes. Ash boarding, zip wiring, mad surfing – I couldn’t wait to discover the lot. As we circled Nicaragua’s Managua airport, a volcano beckoning to the right, the Pacific Coast to the left, this was going to be one action-packed week.
Some background – my three kids and I, plus another family of five were spending New Year’s week in Nicaragua, by way of Florida. We had spent the first night in clicking, clacking Miami, where everything is white and bright and loud. We then flew the two and half hours from the city of DJ’s and roller blades to peaceful, lush, undeveloped Nicaragua. Known as “the land of lakes and volcanoes”, Nicaragua is nestled between the Pacific and Caribbean waters to the west and east and Honduras and Costa Rica to the north and south.
We landed at dusk and traveled two hours on a new road passing everything from old yellow school buses that serve as regular buses to horse-drawn carriages to a few wandering bulls. (Note to urban dwellers – Nicaragua is teaming with wild life. I’m not talking about some stray bruisers, but jaguars, boa constrictors, sting rays and more (all of which feature later).
We stayed at the pristine Mukul Resort on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast, the brainchild of Don Carlos Pellas, patriarch of Nicaragua’s richest family. Pellas wants Nicaragua to take a leaf from Costa Rica’s tourist success story and is hoping that the four-year-old Mukul will spur things on. The luxury boutique hotel and spa in Guacalito de la Isla boasts four miles of white-sand beach and rugged coastline, seven and a half miles of nature trails, a groomed 18 hole golf course (tee time)
and a heavenly spa where privacy and space reign. The staff seem genuinely happy in their jobs. Nothing was ever too much trouble.
The resort is near two popular surfing beaches – El Gigante and San Juan del Sur. I’m not going to lie- the Insta opportunities – me as newbie on surf board, then me as a backflipping prodigy on surf board – did cross my mind.
But turf before surf. Day One I arrive early at reception for the 9am Nature Walk. I want to get the lay of the land having arrived at the hotel in the dark the night before. Cap, sun block, insect spray, tick, tick, tick. I look around for the group. Turns out, I am the group. Everyone else is asleep. Or not into nature. Or walking. My guide Juan Carlos shows me some dramatic coastline, and I give him some helpful photography tips.
Stand back Juan Carlos. No, further.
My group said they weren’t ready to hit the waves until their base tan was just right. Did I want them to burn?
I did convince them to accompany me to Granada, a colourful colonial town an hour and a half away. They were pretty excited for that.
I told them that there are some great churches and a pretty main square to explore. They grumbled a bit (nothing new there), something about feeling caged in.
Then we made a gelato pit stop …
and everyone cheered up…
Granada can be scorching so avoid doing what we did: Sight-seeing in the middle of the day.
Back at the hacienda, I was starting to fret. It seemed everyone but us was hitting the waves. (I don’t drink and drive or surf in solitude) The hotel beach below.
My group wanted to chill just a bit longer so I distracted myself at the Mukul Spa, which is very distracting and I highly recommend it. I especially liked the Yamuna Experience led by therapist Yamuna who was trained in India and has a real gift. He blends massage, meditation and Eastern therapies. His wise advice is on target and life-changing.
My tranquil state with Yamuna was disturbed when a fellow guest told us about getting stung by a sting ray that morning. Then my son saw a fat snake outside his bohio. Then we heard about the jaguars who are very shy. (It only takes one outgoing jaguar …) Suddenly, I felt like I was on safari. To the spa I dashed. Yamuna, where are you??