Granada Isletas, Nicaragua

Photo: Jicaro Island Gateway & Ecolodge
Photo: Jicaro Island Gateway & Ecolodge

There’s no better feeling than waking up the first morning on vacation. Sunlight started streaming through the slatted windows of your casita a few hours ago. You blissfully ignored it and rolled over in the crisp white sheets. When you eventually open your eyes, it isn’t because of a buzzing alarm clock. You can smell freshly roasted coffee close by. You roll out of bed, go downstairs, and open the doors to the deck. Coffee is indeed awaiting you on the little wooden table. It’s been paired with a gorgeous water view.

That water is Lake Nicaragua. Mar Dulce (Sweet Sea) is the largest lake in Central America. It’s home to a beautiful colonial city (Granada) and two volcanoes (extinct Maderas and active Concepción). Howler monkeys, colorful birds, and fish usually only found in the ocean live here. More than 365 small volcanic islets dot the freshwater lake. One is the location of a fort. Many are privately owned as vacation spots. While a few, like the one you’re on now, have been turned into little hotels.

The Jicaro Island Ecolodge was built by a British woman who saw an “island for sale” notice while vacationing in Nicaragua. As soon as you arrived on a boat from Granada’s Asese Port yesterday afternoon, you immediately understood how she fell in love and never left. The lodge, constructed out of storm-felled trees, was built into the landscape, not on top of it. Nine casitas, each two-stories tall, look like treehouses on stilts. The living area on the first floor opens to a wide deck and hanging hammocks, while a king-sized bed is on the second floor. Besides the lake, it overlooks a floating dock, a yoga deck, and a freshwater pool. The wellness center and the restaurant, with open-air treatment rooms and kitchen, respectively, are just out of sight.

Photo: Jicaro Island Gateway & Ecolodge
Photo: Jicaro Island Gateway & Ecolodge

After sipping your locally grown coffee and watching cormorants dive headfirst into the water for their breakfast, move to the yoga deck for a Bikram yoga class. It improves your posture and, more importantly, inspires you for the day. Go to the restaurant—where everything is sourced from the surrounding area—for your own breakfast. It’s hard to choose between bananas foster pancakes with Flor de Caña rum or avocado toast with made-to-order eggs. Since it’s the first day of your trip, the unhealthy, but completely delicious, pancakes win.

When you finish eating, head out on the water in a kayak. Pass fishermen with handmade nets, yellow-tailed Montezuma’s oropendolas, and water lilies as you move through the narrow canals between the islets. Hike through cacao, coffee, and plantain plantations as you begin to head toward the cloud forest on Mombacho. Then swim in hot springs on your way back down the volcano.

Arrive back at the lodge just in time for your massage appointment. Rinse off in the open-air treatment room’s shower, complete with a lake view, before your relaxing hot stone massage. Follow a purple gallinule back to your casita, where another treat—this time a tequila-based Jicarito—is waiting on the deck. Sip your sundowner and rock in the hammock until you can no longer see the sun. Finish the day with a three-course dinner that includes a red bean, heart of palm, and spinach quesadilla; baked guapote (rainbow bass); and cantaloupe sorbet. After such an amazing day, it’s hard to believe that the new vacation feel won’t last through tomorrow morning, as well.

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