Notes on Nicaragua

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Where, oh where – said the grizzly bear – do you you go on your honeymoon? That was the million dollar question. Do you basic bitch it up (in the most luxury sense of the word) ‘pon a set of stilts in the turquoise waters of the Maldives? Do you go full Bear Grylls and set off on safari from dawn to dusk? Either way we knew we wanted to cheerfully bankrupt ourselves on something a little bit different. After discussions with Original Travel we decided on Nicaragua and Costa Rica, by way of Miami. I’d never been to Central America before and in summary, was struck most by 3 things: the friendly people; the colourful architecture and the food. Think ceviche (till it came out of our earholes), tempura tacos, refried beans and huevos galore. I couldn’t do my jeans up when I came home.

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We broke up an otherwise super long journey to Nicaragua, by doing an old school over-night layover. With the knowledge that we’d be getting 3 hours sleep thanks to our post-wedding 6am wake-up call, we opted to stay the night at Soho House in Miami, before getting a flight to Managua. From there we drove an hour, to Granada. (Soho House was as deliciously Soho House as it is anywhere else in the world.) Upon arrival in Managua, the humidity descended upon us in a sheen (this last happened to be in Bali.) May is the start of low season in central America, which meant that we visited during incredibly humid, rainy times (if rain is your bête noire, I would suggest visiting at another time.) Because as we discovered at our first stop, an eco lodge, Jicaro Lodge, 10 mins by boat from Granada – when it rains, baby it rains. Think torrential rain, thunder and lightning that had me bleating pathetically. Jicaro Lodge was an amazing place to begin our trip – tiny, quiet, with just 9 two-story casitas on stilts (see! We still got the stilts in there) it is lush and verdant as it could possible be and one of the National Geographic’s top 25 eco lodges.

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We spent our time paddle-boarding around the peaceful lake and trying our hand at yoga (my now husband is the least yoga-like being on the planet, so let’s just say we only tried it once. But you do it on the deck and get an incredible view of the lake, so if yoga is your jam then it will be a real treat.) What really defined our experience in Nicaragua – and no more so than at Jicaro – is the attentive service. Every member of staff knows your name, and cold flannels and drinks, served in a cup made from the jicaro tree, natch, are on tap. Because of it’s slightly isolated position, you have to order your meal 12 hours in advance (which can slightly throw you) but the food is delicious and there’s nothing quite like listening to the birds whilst you sip your coffee at 6am on the verandah. 6am? Yes, 6am. For almost the entire honeymoon I was passed out at 9pm, and up around 5 or 6am. Basically I lived the life of the (extremely loud) howler monkeys. When it gets pitch black at 5pm, you find yourself switching off much earlier…

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Whenever I visit a place, I always have to visit the closest town – in my book there is no greater way to get to know a place than by it’s bustling and hustling places and people. Granada is the oldest town in Central America (circa 1500) and my sister’s favourite place and thankfully, easy to zoom back to via boat from Jicaro. We took a horse-drawn tour around the city (often a con but in this case, a brilliant thing to do) and admired the numerous coloured buildings. It was relatively empty, surprisingly, for a town, although there is a wonderful market where you pretty much see the entire community: the ‘currency man’ as he is apparently known, counting out his money; the ‘cob lady’ selling corn on the cob.

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We were told it is not the police that keep the residents of Granada in check, but the community. If someone fails to take their kid in school, the community comes rat-a-tatting at his/her door. I love that, mostly because that kind of community doesn’t exist (for me, at least) in London. There are some awesome warehouse-type art galleries selling central American art and some beautifully decorated church interiors and the statement orange Cathedral de Granada is obviously worth a visit. For food and drink, I would recommend The Garden Café. It has a book-loaning system which is particularly useful for people like me who read voraciously whilst on holiday. The best thing I read, incidentally, on my honeymoon was The Interestings by Meg Worlitzer, that I found from another book-swapping café. There are also hammocks, mango lassis and a good gift shop should you wish to purchase trinkets.

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We stayed in Jicaro Lodge for 2 nights – it’s a tiny island, so that was a good amount of time – and without doubt the highlight was the romantic meal they created for us on the deck. It’s seemly to keep those kind of events to one self, hence no photographs, but think rose petals and serious napkin origami. I’d also strongly recommend the massages, there – if you’re a massage ho, like I am, then you’re in luck. From there we went to Jicaro’s polar opposite: Mukul Resort & Spa. Owned by Nicaragua’s first billionaire, Carlos Pellas (not a bad sign, then), Mukul is certainly not cheap (my dreams of horse-riding went swiftly out the window when I checked out the price list), but the resort was the highlight of our two week honeymoon. Nicaragua is very much pre-gentrification and Original Travel emphasised that there really is nowhere else like it in the country. Positioned on the surf-tastic Emerald Coast, Mukul is part of the Guacalito de la Isla private community which afforded us the use of both Manzanillo beach, which the resort is on and the next door Guacalito beach – a private beach and one of the most heavenly places I have ever been. There was not a single other person in sight but despite the unspoilt setting, it has perfectly kempt beach cabanas with hammocks.

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The resort is made up of only 37 casitas – all with their own small plunge pool which we enjoyed at the end of each day with a beer and the start, with a coffee – alongside a bunch of villas, but it feels huge. You get around via golf buggy. Call us lazy, but it was unbelievably humid and unless you wanted to arrive at dinner drenched in sweat, you took the windy option. Mukul is cactus central – for the cacti enthusiast -and stuffed with delicious food. We opted to eat on the beach every day, because if you have the opportunity to eat on the beach, at any time in life, you should always take it. There isn’t a huge amount to do around Mukul (the idea is that there is so much to do inside the resort that there is no need to venture outside of it, which is a theory well proved *if* you have unlimited funds) but we did spend the afternoon in a local surfing town called Playa Gigante, which we were underwhelmed by (though it may be more charismatic in the high season.) The hill-side resort of Mukul is still under construction in some areas, so the lushness, which was so present at Jicaro, may feel a little absent, but it’s still a breath-taking place to visit if only for the bed, which we still dream of when tossing and turning in our small Ikea double….

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After 5 days in Nicaragua, it was time to head on to Costa Rica… Next travel post, up soon!

Clothing credits in order: Caroline Constas dress (bespoke, but similar here) and Superga sneakers | Pippa Holt kaftan (coming soon to MatchesFashion.com), ASOS belt and Peter Pilotto x Ancient Greek sandals | Aquazzura espadrilles | Reformation dress (old) and Castaner espadrilles | Mochi blouse (old), Missoni bikini and Levi’s shorts.

We booked our holiday to Nicaragua through Original Travel | All photographs taken on my Olympus Pen E-PL7

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