From the shore nearby, nobody can see the hotel. Aqua Wellness Resort is built so congruously into a hillside above Playa Gigante on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast that the jungle cloaks it from outside observers.
A short walk from the beach toward the Nicaraguan jungle and the immense lodging reveals itself. Aqua’s extravagant design sends a message that the country can compete in the luxury ecotourism market.
“One of the big things is Nicaragua really has a lot of this natural beauty,” says Dan Rubano, Aqua’s owner. “So our big focus is really reintroducing people back to nature.”
After six years of planning and construction, the new resort opened in January, offering 34 rooms in 16 villas set in the thick of the jungle. Elaborate paths wind through the trees, leading visitors to the beach, their cabins, the hotel’s restaurant or a wooden yoga platform overlooking the ocean. The goal of Aqua, explains co-owner Trevor Barran, is to be a rare example of “luxury sustainable development” in Nicaragua.
Aqua’s location minutes away from a popular surf town lends itself to a bevy of outdoor activities. Yoga, however, earns the biggest emphasis. The resort markets itself as a yoga retreat, with onsite yoga and wellness instructors offering classes in a variety of yoga techniques, from beginner to experienced. Vacationers receive yoga lessons on a huge, rectangular platform lifted high above the forest floor, offering a magnificent view of jungle and ocean. The sound of crashing waves and feel of cool breezes amplify the relaxing effects of the yoga workout. Already, Barran says, Aqua has received reservations from dozens of yoga groups wanting to use the venue as a yoga retreat.
Not into yoga? More traditional beachside endeavors can be enjoyed on your own or arranged through a tour for an additional cost. Those activities include sportfishing, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboating, horseback riding and surfing the popular waves at Playa Gigante. Longer day trips include volcano tours, boat trips to private islands and excursions to coffee plantations and Nicaraguan tobacco-rolling establishments.
Although Aqua’s focus is on getting its guests moving around outside, the rooms provide supremely comfortable places to rest inside. The sizable penthouse suites include kitchens with all the amenities. Some villas feature chic plunge pools and private outdoor “Balinese showers.” Rooms have air conditioning and ceiling fans for those not ready to deal with the country’s sticky heat.
Aqua’s location in the jungle means power outages do occur on occasion. Also, don’t be surprised if a critter finds its way into your room. Normally though, you’ll
hear only the monkeys and birds that live nearby. Turtles frequent the beaches.
The best part of hanging around the cabins is the view. While the hotel is hidden to those on the outside, from the inside, it offers spectacular jungle and ocean vistas.
As for cuisine, Aqua’s chefs cook up delicious meals at the beachside Bromelia Restaurant. The owners say the ingredients for most meals, especially the seafood, come from local sources. The bar and restaurant also has one of the coolest aesthetics in the resort. Large, woven lanterns overhead give off a warm glow that creates a sublime environment for your dinner.
The meal will complete a full day of activities on the Nicaraguan coast. Aqua makes for an ecotourism encounter that is nearly impossible to find in the country and well worth the experience – and the luxury price.
“At the end of the day, we’re just hoping Nicaragua preserves this natural beauty,” Rubano says. “It’s all about wellness and health and nutrition, and these are big things we promote.”
Aqua Wellness Resort is at Playa Gigante, two and a half hours from Managua and about two hours from the Costa Rican border. The resort will arrange airport transfers from the Managua airport for $110 each way.
Room rates range from $185 for a basic forest-view room to $433 for a beachfront luxury suite ($205 to $480 between Dec. 15 to Jan. 5). Prices include daily breakfast and wellness classes but not 17 percent tax.
For information and reservations, go to www.aquanicaragua.com, call (505) 8849-6235 or (509) 456-7737 from North America, or email [email protected]. To inquire about retreats for groups of eight or more, email [email protected]
CORRECTION: On second reference, Trevor Barran’s last name was spelled incorrectly.