Travelers know that the No. 1 reason to visit Nicaragua is its eco-lodges, properties in somewhat remote areas that allow guests to explore nature.
Far from camping, eco-lodges range from the comfortable to the luxurious — often as a casita, or small cabin.
Eco-lodge staffs are usually eager to share information about their lives and their country. Food is always local and cooked much as it has been for centuries.
Most lodges are happy to help guests learn more about an area through classes, trips to local schools, and eco- and agro-tourism.
Traveling to Nicaragua’s eco-lodges can be a life lesson that will call visitors back time and again to explore the mountains, rain forests, dry forests, volcanoes, cities and Pacific beaches.
Here are a few recommended eco-lodges and excursion points in Nicaragua:
Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Eco-lodge
Morgan’s Rock features white sand beaches and luxury bungalows nestled among a 4,000-acre private jungle reserve. Located south of Granada and just north of Costa Rica, the lodge rests along the southern Pacific coast of the country.
Morgan’s Rock prides itself on its commitment to the community and the sustainability of everything it does. The lodge features excellent day trips, including agricultural tours perfect for children and families. Cooking classes, spa treatments, fishing, water sports and horseback riding are available.
The lodge has its own working farm, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Sixty-percent of all food served is produced on the premises — and it is authentic, healthful and delicious.
At the end of the day, the beach bar provides uninterrupted views of the sun over the Pacific. Bungalows include ocean views and private plunge pools in some units.
Jicaro Island Lodge
Billed as a “private island getaway,” Jicaro Island Lodge is accessible only by boat and is listed among the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.
Guests enjoy casitas that are private and luxurious, with expansive bedrooms, living areas and decks that offer views of the Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua. Each casita is built to be in “harmony with the environment,” using certified reclaimed woods and local materials.
The retreat, staffed by residents, offers a complete meal program, spa, yoga classes and watercraft. The excellent meals are prepared as guests look on and ask questions.
Jicaro also will work with guests who wish to explore the island, the lake, the culture and history.
Horseback riding at Rancho Chilamate
Leave the city behind and step into Nicaragua’s countryside at Rancho Chilamate, where guests enjoy daily horseback rides to the Pacific beach where the TV show “Survivor: Nicaragua” was filmed.
Chilamate is the vision of Canadian ex-pat Blue, a fervent supporter of the community and protector of the land. The staff at Chilamate are locals, knowledgeable about the land and history of the area.
Rancho Chilamate offers four guest rooms and a pool for unwinding after the three-hour saddle and snacks adventure. Riders will find themselves under tree canopies filled with howler monkeys and journeying through the lowland hills. Rancho Chilamate provides boots, hats, even jeans, for riders who don’t bring their own.
Each room is unique and includes breakfast and dinner, from $99 to $150 per night. Horseback adventures are an additional $79 to $85 for a three-hour ride.
Posada Ecológica La Abuela
The lodge sits on the shores of Laguana de Apoyo, a volcano-crater lake that is the best swimming hole in the world. The Laguana de Apoyo Natural Reserve surrounds the 23,000-year-old lake — one of 78 protected natural areas in Nicaragua.
Local lore tells of ancestors staking a giant snake to the ground. In frustration, she slithered round and round, carving out the lake; and her tears slowly filled the crater. The water is soft and thick due to volcanic minerals. It can be described as being like seawater but without the eye-stinging salt.
A day or two at the Posada means eating regional foods, sitting on a private balcony and looking for the more than 230 species of birds and 220 species of butterflies native to the forest.
Cabins include a private bathroom, air conditioning, fridge and cable television. Each has a balcony with rocking chairs to enjoy the sunset over the lagoon. The tropical dry forest makes for wonderful hiking, while the lake offers opportunities for kayaking and fishing.
Founded in 1524 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, Leon is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. The late Ruben Dario, Nicaragua’s poet laureate, once lived there.
Leon stands as a testament to the revolutionaries of Nicaragua. In 1956, local poet Rigoberto López Pérez assassinated dictator Anastasio Somoza García. Students from Leon joined their brethren in Managua to form the Sandinista National Liberation Front. It was not until 1979 that the Sandinistas were able to wrest power from the Somoza dynasty.
Traveling through Leon, you will see plenty of revolutionary art and even bullet holes from the fighting.
Named after a cathedral city in Spain, Leon is home to the Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest cathedral in Central America. Our Lady of Grace, completed in 1814, is said to be of the eclecticism style, as it blends baroque and neoclassical architecture with Gothic, Renaissance and Mudejar styles. Its diocese is the oldest in America.
The church has withstood volcanoes, earthquakes and revolutions thanks to its seven cellars, each with tunnels leading to other churches in the city. Buried in the catacombs are Dario and the remains of bishops, priests, pets, musicians and leaders of the independence movement.
Leon is the oldest city in Nicaragua and boasts more colonial churches and cathedrals than any other city in the country. The city has numerous examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, including the Grand Cathedral of the Assumption.
Leon is about 50 miles northwest of Managua and 11 miles from the Pacific.
Volcano boarding at Cerro Negro
About an hour’s drive from Leon stands Cerro Negro, an active cinder cone volcano that last erupted in 1999 — its 23rd eruption since 1850.
A guided tour operator is suggested for “volcano boarding.” This adventure offers the brave of heart the chance to lava board, either standing on a snowboard like apparatus or sledding down the side of the volcano.
The walk up the volcano is 728 meters (2,388 feet) and takes about an hour for a vigorous but beautiful climb. The slide down can take less than three minutes if you don’t stop to admire the view.
The ride to the volcano takes riders through the countryside, where life is simple and often without electricity or fresh running water. Children run to the fences along the edge of the road to wave at tourists heading to the volcano.
Hotel La Perla
Built in 1858, Leon’s Hotel La Perla is one of the oldest buildings in the nation. With its neo-classical architecture, the original house has 10 luxury guest rooms, with five more in the pool annex building and another eight in the contemporary annex.
The hotel retains many artifacts original to the property including maps, paintings and furniture. Breakfast is served in the courtyard, and wise travelers will make sure they do not miss this relaxing reminder of an earlier time.
After a day of volcano boarding, the bar at Hotel La Perla became a perfect place to toss back shots of Silver Patron to celebrate.
• Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.