A Nicaragua getaway has all the right ingredients to put life on hold: waves worth waking up for, cliffs plunging into the sea, fresh guacamole on demand, private bohios with water views, and pastel-colored colonial cities with cobblestone streets so lovely they beg for a photo are just the start. Word is getting out, but there’s enough coastline and frond jungle to have a spot to yourself for a few days.
What a difference a week here makes. For me, an invite on a wellness trip at Nicaragua’s most luxurious hotel, Mukul Resort, prompted me to go. I kept thinking, if I could scoop up all my girlfriends I’d take them here. An ode to the girls’ retreat, here’s why it’s the perfect base for a winter respite with friends:
go to surf school
Mukul claims a strip of Pacific shore known as the Emerald Coast. It’s on the lips of every surfer for its famous wave Manzanillo, and everyone else’s for its rugged beauty. You don’t have to be a pro to get in the water. This wave is special because it’s only as challenging as you want it to be. Whatever level you’re at seems pretty irrelevant. We had west coasters in the group who looked like pros out there. Some of us east coasters, not so much. Besides, just being outside and in the water is fun: swallowing salt water, seeing friends’ faces as they get up on the board, and wiping out is all a bonus. To prepare for Manzanillo we had a quick class in the sand with the Tropicsurf instructors and then hit the waves. Mukul’s surf instructors were patient, kind, and gave us sweeping smiles and high fives every time we got up (or didn’t). There’s a kids’ surf school as well!
yoga on the beach
I may have been on a wellness retreat, but I had been to two yoga classes back home in NYC over the last eight months–eeek! So, traveling with a group of women who specialize in chakra balancing, lead yoga retreats, and can stay in a headstand for days intimidated me! But within seconds of our first yoga class, my nerves disappeared. This place is about down-to-earth good wellness.
In theory, bending on the beach sounds idyllic. But if you’ve actually done it, you know there can be some logistical challenges. Mukul has cracked the code though. Our instructor, Juancarlo, challenged and inspired all of us despite the varied ability levels. With crashing waves and intoxicating salty air, this isn’t “just another yoga class.” Diving into the waves to cool down after topped out the experience.
board down an active volcano
Some sports are so cool you’ve never even heard of them before. Volcano boarding is one of them. I didn’t get a chance to give volcano boarding a try during this visit, but this is what I gathered for next time: Nicaragua’s home to nineteen volcanoes, half of them still active. One of the active volcanoes near León called Cerro Negro (Black Hill), was formed in 1850 and last erupted in 1999. What’s different about this volcano is that when it erupts, lava flows down one side, and crater ash erupts out the other side creating a slope of small black rubble. With this recent flow a new sport has erupted! Ash boarding involves what looks like a wooden sled with a rope handle. You can stand up or sit down (most people prefer to sit). You’re provided a one-piece suit, goggles and gloves to protect against injuries falling into the rough volcano ash. From the top at 2,388 feet, brave adventurous travelers cruise down the tiny rock to the base. People have gone up to 50 MPH, but most people go much slower, digging their feet into the hill) to stay in control. Note: be careful. Follow the guides’ instructions. And be prepared to find black sand and rocks in your hair for days.
Good news: While I was there they were discussing bringing back helicopter rides from Mukul to León for guests keen to give it a try.
jungle wellness studio
For more yoga in amazing settings, practice on the gorgeous new platform overlooking the Emerald Coast. It’s quiet and lovely up there. If you’re looking for it from the water, it’s all the way down on the left hidden in the trees. You’ll practice with a breeze and birds chirping. Beyond a good stretch, this place completely relaxes and grounds you. Get a spot up front.
wake up & walk the coast before breakfast
Roaming the empty beach should be the first thing you do when you arrive in Nicaragua. Walk and splash in the warm water along the way. Make time to hike Guacalito for sweeping ocean views and cliffs plunging into the sea. Depending where you take a stroll, you may notice the turtle conservation program efforts, which are in place to help protect the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and Leatherback Sea Turtles that live in the area.
legendary spa retreat
There is no spa in Nicaragua that compares to Mukul’s spa. They have every treatment you can think of in six unique spa therapy pavilions that feature indoor and outdoor places for pampering. Their therapists are experts in spa therapies we love and some you’ve probably never heard of (watsu, holistic raindrop ritual, and craniosacral therapy were new to me). So whether you’re into traditional hammams, thai massage, or a more straightforward therapeutic massage, book some healing treatments. It was especially nice we could all go in at the same time. While there I learned the spa’s emphasis on providing each guest a totally private experience is an insightful touch inspired by the owners’ rehabilitation from a 1980s plane crash. Owners Carlos & Vivian were both badly injured, both suffering major burns. The burns on Vivian’s body, in particular, made her appreciate one’s personal space even more and the Mukul Spa, a private retreat within a retreat, was created.
The colonial city of Granada is a photographer’s dream. Pastel-colored colonial buildings. Cobblestone streets. Old bikes and classic cars. Gorgeous cemeteries. Landmark churches. Streets bursting with energy. It’s impossible not to fall for this place. Make sure to save a couple days for Granada. We recommend adding some additional time to visit our favorite eco-lodge, Jicaro Island Ecolodge, located nearby in the Granada Isletas of Lake Nicaragua.
Your breakfast just went up a notch. Here’s what’s involved in Mukul’s signature dish, The Cazuela: poached eggs, spicy roasted pepper sauce, red beans, mozzarella, and a crispy tortilla. Get an avocado on the side. Second favorite: Mukleño eggs (corn tortilla, tomato, sweet peas, ham, ripe plantain). I still daydream about them both. There’s a wellness menu, but I found the regular menu blew that one out of the water and was equally as fresh, local and wholesome.
enter the rum room
Nicaragua’s first billionaire and visionary of Mukul Resort, Carlos Pellas, is also behind the rum empire Flor de Caña. We learned all about the rum-making process, but what we remember most beyond the vanilla, cinnamon and caramel overtones is that due to the way it’s made this rum is less likely to give you a bad hangover. We suggest drinking it straight, room temperature, in the main palapa. It’s the perfect place to kick off your night. Then cap off the evening with a beach bonfire.
nicaragua’s sustainable golf course
Mukul’s golf course, Guacalito de la Isla, is famous not because it’s a David McLay Kidd 18-hole oceanfront golf course, or because it recently hosted the PGA Latino America’s Flor de Caña Open, but because it’s committed to sustainability. Mukul’s golf course attracts golfers from all over the world. I didn’t partake, but my colleague Laura Bottone, who toured competitively, spent her one-year anniversary at Mukul this fall and carved out time to tee up. Her favorite part? The course took them on a journey, climbing up the cliff side with different elevations and views of the Pacific before bringing them back down to sea-level. Another reason we love it: The course is kept green all year with a specially treated water irrigation system, and the par-3 was designed to save mature trees instead of removing them, including a million pound 150-year-old Guanacaste tree! Insider tip: It’s tradition to remove your shoes at the last hole.
Let’s face it, if you’re anything like us you’re probably scheming a winter getaway as these first chills hit. Whether you’re in the mood for a getaway with the girls, guys, the entire family, your love, or you need some time to unwind solo, consider Nicaragua. We haven’t even told you about Suite Doña Vivian or Casona Don Carlos yet! These are the Pellas family’s private residences and the ultimate spots to call home during your stay in Nicaragua, 80-foot high palapa ceilings included.
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Get in touch and let’s start planning your trip.
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