Jicaro Island Lodge is hidden amid lush coconut palms and mango trees on one of the tinier Isletas de Granada – leafy patches of paradise floating on Lake Nicaragua. Once the boat from Granada docks, guests are immersed in wildly wonderful surroundings. Large, stilted lakeside casitas (crafted from recycled wood and built with little interference, in line with the island’s impressive eco cred) have decks overlooking mean, green Mombacho Volcano.
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Smiths can choose one from the following three options: a 60-minute fishing tour, a private cooking session, or a cocktail-making lesson
11am. Earliest check-in, 1.30pm. Guests can stash their luggage and use the facilities if they arrive early.
Double rooms from £468.18 ($597), including tax at 17 per cent.
Rates include all meals, roundtrip boat transfers and a ferry shuttle to and from Granada, yoga classes, kayak and paddle-board hire, a sustainability tour, daily morning-coffee delivery, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.
The property was built entirely from timber, reclaimed from trees blown down during Hurricane Felix. Wander through and you’ll see boulders eft as they were when owner Karen first arrived; the hotel’s low-impact, socially aware style earned it a place in National Geographic’s list of the top 25 ecolodges in the world.
Annually on 30 and 31 October for staff training.
At the hotel
Spa and wellness centre, floating yoga deck, mini private beach, free WiFi throughout, parking. In rooms: Bio Nature bath products.
Our favourite rooms
There’s no ‘fairest of them all’ here: each casita is designed for loved-up castaways. In leafy seclusion, you can get cosy in a gauzily veiled bed or watch the sunset hand in hand from your private deck. If you’re being particularly picky, request a slightly more tree-swathed stay, or one a little more lake surveying.
Hewn from natural stone, and decorated with plants and boulders, the small seawater pool masterfully apes the surroundings. Glide in from the wide stone steps and swim laps past mini outcrops. The infinity edge overlooks a peaceful terrace, and sunloungers at the side sit in plenty of shade. Hail a member of staff and ask for cocktails and snacks to be brought to your perch.
Therapists soothe aching joints with hot stones, massage and reflexology, in two treatment rooms, under the forest canopy. Free one-hour yoga classes are held in the open-air wellness pavilion, at 8am, Monday to Saturday. Private sessions are US$20 to $45, depending on the number of guests, and if you book in advance, they can be held on the incredible floating deck overlooking Ometepe’s volcanoes; when it’s not in use, guests can meditate over the view.
Your jungle kit bag should have ear plugs, mozzie spray and sun-tan lotion. Volcanic rock tears through dainty booties; max-strength hiking footwear is a must.
The lodge conserves electricity where possible, so there are few electronics in rooms. Arrive with a back-to-nature attitude. Scheduling a private boat trip to Granada is US$11.50 each way.
Over-12s welcome (over-8s are allowed from 10 March to 10 April, and 15 June to 30 July). Up to two kids can sleep on the sofa bed in each casita (US$180 a child, each night). There’s a family-friendly pool, watersports and wild excursions.
Absolutely. Waste water is filtered for drinking, littering is an absolute no-no, eco-friendly products are used, and the lodge’s casitas (made from recycled wood) were built with minimum disruption to the flora. Solar panels heat the lodge’s water, cross ventilation and fans replace air-conditioning, the pool’s chlorine-free, and the island’s electricity rigging has been installed underground so it doesn’t interfere with the wildlife. Locals are secured for subcontracted services and staff positions, and the hotel educates its team in sustainable practices. The solar panels also help to light the nearby school and health centre, too.
A private meal on the floating deck is romantic enough to inspire some unmoored inhibitions… Otherwise, pick a table at the water’s edge.
Kick off your shoes, let down your hair and coax Mr Smith into a loud shirt – this island stay is all about keeping cool and comfortable.
In ecologically sound fashion, meals at the lodge’s open-air restaurant are crafted from local, organic, seasonal ingredients – and you can see chef José and his team chop, grill and sizzle in the open kitchen. Caramel-coated chicken flambéed in rum, coconut shrimp with a hit of chilli, and sandwiches stuffed with sweet tamarind-braised chicken show the rich local culinary tradition. Breakfast is unmissable, with Bananas Foster pancakes doused in Flor de Caña rum and eggs with plantain and refreshing pico de gallo, sprinkled with the local queso.
The hotel’s laid-back bar has Chilean and Argentine wines, locally brewed beer and cocktails with lashings of Flor de Caña. Not a rum fan? First, don’t tell the bartenders – it’s their pride and joy – second, order a refreshing Jicaro Sangria: the classic sunny Spanish drink muddled with tropical fruit. Alternatively, the brave can try Chicha Bruja: a local drink made from fermented corn. Take your sundowners on the lake-facing deck, your private terrace or on the mini beach where the boats moor.
Breakfast is served 7am–10am, lunch noon–2.30pm and dinner 6pm–8.30pm.
Early morning coffee and afternoon sundowners can be delivered straight to your deck. To keep hungry critters at bay, food is only served in the restaurant.
The hotel is on a forest-overrun isle off the north bank of Lake Nicaragua, a 20-minute boat ride from historic colonial town Granada. Volcanic isle Ometepe’s peaks and petroglyphs are downstream.
To avoid tedious border delays, fly into Managua’s Augusto C Sandino Airport, an hour’s drive from Granada. International flights usually connect via New York, Miami or Houston.
Roads in Nicaragua’s rural areas are improving, but drivers should proceed with caution: stop signs or traffic lights are still a fairly new concept, and livestock occasionally wander the country lanes. Hire a four-wheel drive to open up lesser-travelled tracks, and if you’re stopped by police, remember traffic fines should cost around US$16. There’s a car-hire booth at the airport. If you’re driving north from Costa Rica or south from Honduras, remember that border crossings can take hours – bring a book or iPad to while away the time. Cars don’t sit well with the island’s eco-friendly nature; park at Granada’s marina for US$6 a day.
Round-trip boat transfers are included in your room rate. The ferry leaves from Granada’s Marina Cocibolca from sunrise to 11.30pm; arrange your departure time with the hotel at least a week before arrival.
Worth getting out of bed for
Forgive us for slipping into hippie mode, but Jicaro Island’s the kind of place for hammock swinging, nature admiring and getting back in Gaia’s good books. If that’s a bit too tree-huggy for you, hotel-arranged activities will get you hiking through cocoa plantations, kayaking with lake turtles, zipping through the canopy or hopping from islet to islet (brace yourselves, there are more than a hundred). Each tour is led by a guide who’s au fait with the flora and fauna – you can rely on them to stop and point out a purple gallinule if one flutters by. Explore the cloud forest round the base of Mombacho Volcano or, if you like your volcanoes lively, head further afield to Masaya Volcano National Park, where the crater smokes and belches ominously. Still not thrilling enough? Go volcano surfing at hotspot Cerro Negro, chased with a cooling dip in Apoyo Lagoon. There’s ample opportunity to explore local culture too: handicraft markets, a wander past Granada and León’s colonial buildings, and a glimpse into pre-Colombian civilisation on archaeologically rich Zapatera Island. The surroundings look their most colourful in vividly painted Matagalpa and Catarina where lavish floral displays are planted.
Why hop on a boat to seek sustenance? Garlic shrimp tacos, watermelon salad and chocolate- and cashew-studded frozen bananas are just some of the appetising dishes in the chef’s repertoire. The best part? It’s all included.
If you jump on the hotel’s regularly scheduled boat into Granada for the day, stop off to browse the board at Restaurante El Garaje (+505 7523 3473): it’s chalked up with filling tasty fare, such as spicy stuffed pitas and heaped plates of pulled pork and onions. The Garden Café(+505 2552 8582) also does a fine line in sandwiches and wraps.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this eco-friendly hotel in the Isletas de Granada with a bottle of Flor de Caña in their suitcase, a full account of their rural private-island break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a peek inside Jicaro Island Lodge on Lake Nicaragua…
‘Island for sale,’ said the advert that tempted Jicaro Island Lodge’s owner Karen to pack up her life in the UK and start over in Nicaragua. The hotel is wish fulfilment for those who’ve often daydreamed about the Robinson Crusoe life, but can’t quite commit. Designed in harmony with nature, the island’s design allows you to get (safely) lost in a world of twisted branches and haphazard pathways, and to snatch some moments where feels like it’s just the two of you in the world. We did notice some subtle improvements to the traditional castaway experience: for example, there’s no need to wash up bedraggled onshore, because the island’s a 20-minute boat trip from the swoonsome rainbow of 17th-century adobe houses in Granada. Also, we’re pretty sure Crusoe’s real-life counterpart Alexander Selkirk didn’t have a nimble-fingered spa therapist or a barkeep who doesn’t skimp on the rum, and didn’t spend his time whooshing around by zipline and ooh-ing and aah-ing over turtles. In fact, Selkirk’s way sounds like a lot of effort – next time we hear of some free-floating real estate and think, ‘if only’, we’ll just book a stay here instead.