Getting paid to check out some of the most beautiful beaches in the world?

July 16, 2014

The really nice and exciting part of our job at Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality is when we get invited to develop a pristine property in a remote and exotic destination.     It is our job to help evaluate the site and dream up a new sustainable hotel, resort or eco lodge.   We meet with property owners and discuss opportunities and work together with other professionals (mostly planers and architects) on a land use master plan, the development of a lodging and hospitality concept and preliminary financial feasibility.

Beachfront Lodging?  Possible in Nicargaua.
Brianstorming in possible beachfront locations for guest rooms, restaurants, spas, etc.

Last week, we worked on an assignment on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua and looked at a beachfront property with a tropical dry forest nature reserve attached to it.   Nicaragua is a country with huge opportunities for ecotourism and Cayuga has been involved in the development of successful hospitality operations in this Central American country for almost 15 years.   Currently we run the Jicaro Island Eco Lodge near the colonial town of Granada.

Planning a new hotel in Nicaragua
Review of existing plans and conditions of the proposed site such as slopes, water drainage, sun, etc.

This kind of a development process requires a lot of creativity and open mindedness and can be quite draining due to the long hours and the many moving parts involved in such a development.      The decisions made in this phase of the development process have a huge impact on potential success of the project.

Tropical Dry Forest in Nicaragua
Topography offers challenges and opportunities. Good design and concept development happens on site, not in an office.

However, the spectacular natural setting and the great opportunities that such a property can provide are an inspiration to everybody involved.   And after all there are a lot worse assignments than to dream up world class sustainable hospitality operations.

A first step is to get to know the land.   It is necessary to hike in the forest, search for the best views, sunset spots, experience the elements and identify the best beaches and swimming spots.   Sounds tough, but somebody has to do it.

A new sustainable eco hotel in Nicaragua.
Hiking the property to determine views, climatic conditions and other factors that influcence development.

It is very important that the owners, operators, master planners and other parties involved share the same vision.   In this case it was very clear that all participants were very keen on the concept of nature conservation, community development and a ” new” luxury hospitality experience that goes way beyond marble bathroom floors and golden faucets.

The end result of such a three to four day session is land use master plan that indicates best use for different part of the lands.   We will have identified the location of the guest arrival area, restaurants, guest rooms, wellness areas, etc.

Views of the Nicaraguan Pacific Coast near San Juan del Sur
The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua offers great opportunities to develop sustainable hotels, resorts and eco lodges.

This allows us to work on fine-tuning the hospitality concept in terms of experiences, amenities and services offered and recommendations on hotel or lodge facilities.   We will also have identified target markets and specific market segments to whom the lodge will appeal.

From here to the opening of the project, it is still a long way to go.   Possible phasing of the project, securing of financing, architectural design and permitting with local authorities are the next steps.   In the best case scenario, The Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges will have a new member in Nicaragua in late 2016.   Stay tuned”¦

Designing a Sustainable Hotel
Mission Accomplished. Design and development team with the finished land use masterplan draft.

You went where? Nicaragua?  Are you serious?

June 3, 2014

Seven of the sustainable hotels, resorts and eco lodges that we manage are in Costa Rica.   One of them is in located in Nicaragua.   We find that selling the Costa Rica properties is pretty easy these days.   Everybody has heard great things about “Pura Vida”, the friendly Ticos and the great natural beauty of the country.   But Nicaragua is still a whole different ballgame.  Many of our potential guests find it inconceivable to vacation in a country like Nicaragua.  Why?
Jicaro Island Ecolodge is one of Nicaragua’s premier ecolodges located near the Colonial Town of Granada.

It’s the Reputation.   Nicaragua still has a terrible political reputation.   A lot of people think of the civil war of the 1980″s that was a result of the cold war of East against West.   Iran Contra and the Oliver North Hearings are still remembered in a negative way by many potential visitors. But this is 30 years ago now.

Why do so many people look at you like you are from another planet when you tell them that you are thinking of going to Nicaragua?   The most common questions are:   Is it safe to travel there?   Are people nice?   Are there any good hotels?   How is the food?   We think those responses are mostly a lack of information and often plain ignorance.   Ask the ones that took the plunge and went there.   You will be surprised by what you hear.

In the past two to three years, almost every important US and Canadian newspaper have published an article about Nicaragua and how it is the potential to be the “new Costa Rica“.   Look up articles in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and you will find raving reviews of journalists that visited the country in the past months.

Nicaragua lodge with awards from National Geographic Jicaro Lodge

At Cayuga, we have believed in Nicaragua and have done business there for almost 15 years now.   We did consulting on tourism operations and hotels in the Granada area opened the country’s first luxury ecolodge near San Juan del Sur and opened Nicaragua’s premier Ecolodge Jicaro Island Ecolodge on a Granada Isleta in Lake Nicaragua.   Next month, we are headed back to the coast to work on the development of another sustainable beachfront resort.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge
Local children on their way to school on Lake Nicaragua

While we don’t like the comparisons with Costa Rica (the experiences are very different and unique), we think that Nicaragua has a lot to offer and is a new and hot destination for travelers that are looking to get ” off the beaten path”.     There is so much to do and see.   From skiing down in the black sand of an active volcano, to swimming in a warm water lake to the most amazing colonial towns such as Granada and Leon and of course unspoiled white sand beaches on the Pacific coast.   And we have not event mentioned the San Juan River, the Caribbean Islands and the cooler coffee growing highlands to the north.

What is fascinating to many first time visitors is how warm and friendly the Nicaraguans are.   It is not unusual to be invited into their homes for a cold drink or a meal.   They are eager to share their culture and learn about other countries.     And one thing is for sure.   You get bragging right the next time you have dinner with friends: ” What?   You went where?   Nicaragua?   Wow!!!”
The Colonial City of Granada is one of the country’s most popular destinations.

Travel to Nicaragua is easier than you might think.   You can take flights to Managua from several hubs in the US like Miami, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.   Another option is to fly into Liberia in Costa Rica and cross the border.

We would love for you to stay at least three nights at the Jicaro Island Ecolodge and use it as a base to explore the colonial town of Granada, the Isletas, the Mombacho Volcano and many other adventures and tours in the area. Need help setting this up?   Send us a note to [email protected].
Lunch at Jicaro Island Eco Lodge. Fresh local ingredients are abundant in Nicaragua.

Is it safe to travel to Nicaragua?

November 20, 2013

This is a question we get asked all the time.

When we talk to guests at the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica and tell them about Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Nicaragua, the first question is:   Is it safe there?   This is especially true for Baby boomers and Generation Xers that remember the TV coverage about Nicaragua during the US presidency of Ronald Regan.   Iran-Contra, Oliver North, Sandinistas against Contras are things that come to mind.   It has been almost 30 years, but for some reason; those images just don”™t vanish from the memories of many potential travelers.

Local woman in Granada, Nicaragua

It is interesting how this works.   While Croatia has become one of the prime tourist destinations in Europe, nobody seems to remember the civil war there ““ and this was less than 20 years ago.   The same is true for other former areas of civil unrest or war such as Vietnam and Cambodia, which have become booming tourist destinations.   Another country that is fighting hard to get rid of its image of the 80s and 90s is Colombia, but that is a different story.

So where is Nicaragua today?   After a transition into democracy in 1990, there have been four democratically elected presidents and economy has grown at an annual rate of almost four percent in the past 10 years.   Things have been improving for the Nicaraguans.   More jobs, more food, more education, more health and more opportunities.   We have been involved in the development and management of sustainable tourism projects in Nicaragua since 2000 and have seen that things have gotten much better for the people.   Tourism has helped quite a bit.

So, the current government is a ” Sandinista” of leftist government with Daniel Ortega as the president. We are not going to go into politics and ideology here and while the views of this government are probably not in line with the views of many citizens of the US and Europe, they do not represent a Venezuelan Chavez style model of government.   This is an elected socialist government, similar to the ones in Ecuador and Argentina.   There are a few questions raised about the election process and constitutional changes, but it not something that a visitor should be really concerned about.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge
Lake Nicaragua

From a tourism point of view, Nicaragua is a raw gem.   Most areas are not touristy and it is easy to have authentic experiences.   It is a heaven for the well-traveled tourist.   Lots of opportunities to interact with the locals ““ that are by the way some of the friendliest people in Latin America.   The cultural activities are not staged and the food still tastes real.   And of course, the natural beauty of its beaches, volcanoes and lakes are stunning.

Nicaragua has been named Central America”™s safest country.   Especially the southern part that borders with Costa Rica is very safe from a tourism point of view.    That is of course in total contrast to its image.   It is important to be smart and avoid certain areas during certain times of the day or night, but you are probably safer in Nicaragua than in many parts of the United States or Europe.   We invite you to give it a try.   We will take great care of you.

Lake Nicaragua and Isletas de Granada

And once you get back to your home country, you will have ” bragging rights” when you talk to your friends.   Be prepared to hear:   ” Wow, you were in Nicaragua?   Isn”™t that really dangerous?   You are quite the adventurer!” Don”™t show them this blog.   Keep your legacy as an adventure traveler going and tell them that you might consider North Korea next ““ well”¦ maybe not.

Contact us to learn more about travelling to Nicaragua at [email protected] or [email protected].

Redefining travel: The impact of visiting a local school on the Granada Isletas in Nicaragua

October 25, 2013

Second blog post by our Cayuga Interns.  Still at Jicaro Island Ecolodge.  This time about redefining travel.  

” When I travel, I want to be moved and I want to be transported and I want to be sent back a different person.” ““ Pico Iyer, travel writer

” What”™s your favorite subject?” we asked the shy girl wearing the Beauty and the Beast t-shirt and tattered navy school-issued uniform pants.

” Matemáticas,” she said, suddenly more confident.

” So then,” we said, egging her on, ” uno yi uno es”¦”

” Dos!” a chorus of young voices replied enthusiastically.

We stood at the entrance to the open-air classroom on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. There were no maps on the wall, no fans recirculating the humid air, nor even light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, but the students who stood before us were ever-eager to learn from the goofy foreigners who had arrived at their school by boat.

Our Jicaro guide, Jorge Luis, introduced us to the school”™s two main teachers who then gave us an introduction to the school, including the number of students here””more than 80″”and the connection to Jicaro Island Eco Lodge, the hotel from which we”™d arrived that morning.

While we talked, a group of students listened in, a few of them introducing themselves with a firm handshake and a smile.  Nearby, several rambunctious boys made ample use of a small concrete platform””a makeshift soccer field, one limp and tattered ball skittering from foot to foot.

Jorge Luis explained what he”™d brought for the school today on behalf of Jicaro. ” This paint was donated by hotel guests so the school can repair and paint old chairs,” he explained, noting that through a fundraising campaign, this school, as well as two others, will one day have a water filtration and solar energy system to provide the 200-plus students with safe drinking water and electricity””necessities forming the basic foundation of any student”™s access to education.

For those of us who have grown up in westernized societies, we live in a world in which travel is something we do regularly, or at least aspire to incorporate into our lives””but what is the difference between a tourist and a traveler and how can we become the latter?

Places like Jicaro Island Ecolodge are providing just that opportunity””a morning journey across Lake Nicaragua (the stunningly majestic Mombacho Volcano shrouded in clouds behind us) is exactly what Pico Iyer was referring to when he wrote that travel requires a kind of physical and personal transportation. The connections provided by programs like Jicaro”™s sustainability programs and social outreach also embody the true spirit of geotourism, the introduction of tourism that doesn”™t hamper a place but buoys it””as a result, we bring back with us from this experience the sense that a true connection has been made.

As we left the school, the most vocal of the schoolboys, Jorge, shook our hands and waved us good-bye when we followed Jorge Luis into the boat.   Our visit had lasted less than an hour, but in that short span we felt as if we were leaving the school much different than how we”™d arrived””what had changed in those brief moments of seeing behind the cloud of ” tourism” and to the heart of ” travel”?

We may not be the engineers who can construct the solar energy panels for the school or run the pipes that will provide fresh drinking water on campus, but the very act of participating in Jicaro”™s tours and supporting the sustainability programs the hotel initiates allows guests to have an active part in this process, one that breaks down old barriers of arms-length tourism and reengages both the traveler and the local in a critical relationship.

Professor Ilan Stevans recently wrote of the act of travel that ” our wandering is meant to lead back toward ourselves. This is the paradox: we set out on adventures to gain deeper access to ourselves; we travel to transcend our own limitations.” We can think of no better place to do this than through the meaningful travel experiences of a place like Jicaro.



Shopping in Nicaragua: The Masaya Markets

August 20, 2013

Shop like a local while in Nicaragua.   The Masaya markets are located only 25 minutes away from Jicaro Island Eco Lodge in the town of Masaya.   Here you can find two large open-air markets with artwork, jewelry, hammocks, clothes, books, cigars, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

The two markets are separated by about a 5-minute walk and each has a few differences.   One of the markets is more popular with tourists because there are more products made by local artisans.   This market is more expensive than the other market that features fruits, vegetables, household items, as well as artwork and products made by local artisans.

Both markets can be enjoyed in a short amount of time and are a great experience for you to remember your Nicaraguan vacation.   Don”™t forget to buy all of your friends gifts!

Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality is a world leader in sustainable hospitality management.   We manage and market hotels, resorts and eco lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a focus on high end experiences and sustainability.


Easy to travel in Nicaragua

August 17, 2013

Traveling around Nicaragua is easy and inexpensive.   You can experience many different parts of the country by bus, private shuttle, or your own car.

Nicaragua is a country with varying features.   From the beach, to the old colonial towns, to the lakes or the volcanoes; you can experience every unique part of Nicaragua.

Recently ranked one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua is the perfect place for your next adventure.   Jicaro Island Eco Lodge is the perfect base for your adventures in Nicaragua providing you with exceptional service, a relaxing environment and many local activities nearby.

A leader in ecotourism, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality manages luxury and boutique hotels in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.