Fly into Managua Airport (MGA) or land at the conveniently located Costa Esmeralda Airport (ECI). Arrive with everything you need for a relaxing escape in your Phenom 300E, which offers the roomiest baggage compartment in its category. By Advantage magazine, VOL 20 - 2023.
A land covered with stunning lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua is home to a myriad of UNESCOprotected sites packed with biodiversity and culture. Biosphere reserves teem with thousands of exotic species while vibrant towns offer a tapestry of rainbow-painted colonial architecture, budding gastronomy and artisanal treasures. Often overshadowed by neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua offers breathtaking landscapes and hospitable locals who welcome visitors with kindhearted generosity.
LAKE NICARAGUA & GRANADA
Lake Nicaragua, locally known as “Cocibolca,” is the largest lake in Central America, stretching 110 miles in length and nearly 40 miles in width. More than 40 rivers empty into the lake, and a volcanic archipelago of roughly 300 islands dot the northwest coast just five miles from Granada.
Draped in lush vegetation and tropical fruit trees, the islets offer private island paradises for weekend getaway homes, lively pool bars and more modest residences. El Coyol, an exclusive two-villa island retreat, offers chic accommodations for travelers looking for serenity, seclusion and round-the-clock service in a tropical oasis. “We provide grocery shopping for our guests who want to cook for themselves. Or they can hire our private chef for the duration of their stay,” said Owner Nicky Ray, a British expat who designed the guesthouses with an eye towards tropical modernism. The property is equipped with a full kitchen and patio grill, outdoor lounge areas, an infinity pool, a tree-shaded yoga deck, and kayaks for sunset paddles. A complimentary captained panga (boat) is on call to shuttle guests to Granada or on ecoadventures with a trusted local guide, Danny Diaz (he speaks fluent English). He leads excursions to the area’s natural wonders, including the active Volcano Masaya, the thermally heated Apoyo Lagoon, and farther afield, Ometepe Island—known for its excellent volcano trekking, hot springs and petroglyphs.
Wandering the cobblestone streets and ornate churches of nearby Granada, Nicaragua’s oldest city, travelers get a feel for the city’s rich past as well as its vibrant present in the form of leafy cafes stocked with artisan goods, award-winning chocolatiers, cigar factories, upmarket restaurants, and boho-leaning boutique hotels. Head to Garden Café and Olé Café & Gallery to shop handcrafted leather goods, clothing, jewelry and crafts made by local women, while Café Sonrisa sells beautiful hammocks woven by local sight-impaired artists.
The golden shores of the Emerald Coast along the country’s western seaboard are a magnet for pro surfers and beginners alike. World-class waves can be found at surf breaks from Magrock and Popoyo to Amarillo. The local airport will reopen this year, making the west coast easily accessible by private jet.
Rancho Santana is the place to stay with a 17-room inn, multi-bedroom private villas, and more than 2,700 acres of unspoiled forests and beaches best explored on horseback, mountain bikes, surfboards, or sandboards. A 17-mile network of trails zigzags through the jungle and to the resort’s five crescent beaches, where guests can learn to surf with a private instructor, visit a sea turtle sanctuary, or dine at oceanfront restaurants overlooking panoramic views of the rugged Pacific Coast. “There’s great weather conditions here for surfing,” said Rancho Santana’s CEO, Luke Maish. “Because of the heat produced by the lake, the winds always blow offshore—so you don’t get a choppy ocean like you would in California or Florida.”
EMPOWERING NICARAGUAN COMMUNITIES
FunLimón, a nonprofit operating in Tola, Nicaragua (and founded by a Rancho Santana homeowner), has made a profound impact on local communities through the improvement of education and access to fitness and sports facilities. In the area of education, the organization provides quality, affordable educational and vocational training to youths and adults, including English language courses, courses for in-demand jobs, computer classes and technical courses. They also offer an adult literacy program and support a select number of students with university scholarships. Hands-on professional training from FunLimón has helped the existing staff at Rancho Santana acquire new skills that enable them to become qualified for promotions and longterm career advancement. To support the nonprofit’s mission of helping people gain the competencies needed to become empowered agents of change in their communities, please visit: funlimon.org
Days at Rancho Santana pendulate between adventure and relaxation. The 6,000-square-foot wellness sanctuary built into a forested hillside is a haven of rejuvenation for wave-battered bodies equipped with hot and cold plunge pools, treehouse bungalows offering a range of spa treatments, and a mountaintop yoga pavilion with jaw-dropping shoreline views. Meals take place in view of the ocean with ingredients sourced from the Ranch’s two-acre garden and 80-acre farm (with ethically raised livestock). The Inn’s row of oceanfront Adirondack chairs is a nightly meeting point for guests to relish fiery sunsets and mingle over cocktails under a starlit indigo sky.
The eastern coast and offshore Caribbean islands are known for a fascinating mix of English and African heritage, where locals predominantly speak both English and English Creole. To soak up the laidback vibe, head to Little Corn Island—a two-mile-long, remote spit of land accessed by boat from Big Corn Island. With no cars or roads, things sway to a slower rhythm here.
Yemaya Reefs, the most exclusive hotel on the island, is knitted into a palm-filled landscape along the northern coast. Sixteen private villas (many with plunge pools) open onto the aquamarine horizon. A thatched-roof oceanside restaurant and driftwood bar are painted in colorful murals, while the adjacent beachfront pool and sun loungers are just steps away from warm, lapping waves. Erizo’s restaurant serves up mouthwatering island cuisine daily with notto-be-missed Flor de Caña rum cocktails and coconut bread. The electric blue waters are a big draw for scuba divers and snorkelers scoping out its thriving barrier reefs populated with sculptural corals, neon fish, sea turtles, stingrays and barracudas.
On land, a network of forested paths connects the island. Hike to Little Corn’s south end to mingle with locals. Check out The Little Corner for yoga and tea ceremonies; Desideri, a crowd-favorite restaurant; and Tranquilo, an upbeat bar where you can catch spirited Afroindigenous Garifuna drumming sessions and dance performances.
Like most of Nicaragua, Little Corn Island still flies under the radar, but it won’t be long before the wider world catches on to the country’s thrilling adventures and some of the friendliest locals in the world.