Guacalito de la Isla, Nicaragua: Jet-Set Luxury, Homegrown Vibe
In 1989, Nicaragua business magnate Carlos Pellas was flying to Miami when his plane crashed in the mountains of Honduras. Of the 158 passengers onboard, only 10 survived, including Pellas and his wife. As he recovered, Pellas, the scion of one of Nicaragua's wealthiest families, vowed to direct his energy toward improving his country, particularly its infrastructure and tourism industry. The fruits of those efforts can be experienced on Nicaragua's southern Pacific Coast at Guacalito de la Isla, where Pellas built Mukul Beach, Golf and Spa, the country's first five-star luxury resort.
But don't mistake Mukul for a sleek and shiny Ritz-Carlton. Yes, there is an 18-hole golf course (some of the greens are right on the beach), but Mukul remains low-key and funky, with 35 guest accommodations: 12 villas with ocean views and tropical gardens (from $790) and 23 treehouse-style huts set 300 feet above the sand (from $550). There's also a spa and three restaurants.
Pellas, meanwhile, is investing the resort's earnings into nearby villages, which are among Nicaragua's most isolated. "The town benefits from the jobs that Mukul has created, as well as the clinics, schools, and small businesses that have been started because of the resort," says Gustavo Betancourt, the resort's golf director, who lives in nearby Tola. It's luxury without guilt.
Guacalito's main attractions are its beaches. The resort fronts Playa Manzanillo, a broad, 1.3-mile stretch of sand with some of the country's best waves; a surf school operated by Australian expats is right on the beach. Just south is Playa Guacalito, a placid, secluded cove with snorkeling and scuba diving around Anciana Island, a rugged mass of rock jutting up from the sea. And farther south are the deserted white sands of Playa Tamarindo, ringed by cliffs with epic sunset views. Go fishing for mahimahi and red snapper aboard the Spirit of Mukul; hotel chefs will be happy to prepare the day's catch for that evening's meal.
Unlike many resorts in developing countries, Mukul is not walled off from the locals. In fact, guests are encouraged to get out of the hotel and into Nicaragua. Betancourt suggests a visit to Tola's town beach, Playa Amarillo, to play in the surf or to watch a game of soccer or softball. "Definitely try the local cuisine," he says, "specialties like a breakfast with gallo pinto eggs and plantains with a nice Nicaraguan drip coffee."
Distance from Airport: From Managua, drive about two and a half hours, or fly 20 minutes to Costa Esmeralda Airport.
Best Time to Go: December –April