Playa Le Redonda, next to Playa Gigante, Tola, Nicaragua
Nestled in its own patch of jungle on a secluded bay north of San Juan del Sur, Aqua Wellness Resort combines nature and nurture in a setting that is fittingly wild. Step inside the restaurant or your bungalow however, and you see sophistication on a level seldom reached elsewhere in the country.
Nicaragua has been hailed as an up and coming tourist destination since the mid–00s. Slowly but surely, a few pioneers are making the predictions possible and this resort is at the forefront. Opened as the first Preferred Boutique property in Nicaragua, Aqua is all about harmony—both harmony with the surroundings and finding harmony in your own wellness.
Aqua is not so much a hotel as a collection of spacious villas opened up to guests. Each villa is privately owned and put into a rental pool, so each is large enough for someone to live in for a few weeks or months without feeling cramped. For guests the experience functions like a regular resort, however, with check–in at 24–hour reception, charges billed to your casita number, and all the room amenities you would expect from a fine hotel, including air conditioning, a safe, and Wi–Fi.
You won't feel like you're in a Marriott with these quarters, however. Constructed from certified sustainable hardwoods (many from trees felled in a hurricane up north), the rich hardwood floors, walls, beams, window louvers, and furniture evoke a polished jungle cabin feel. Or an upscale treehouse: villas are elevated to allow the local creatures to keep moving around on the forest floor. The high level of craftsmanship is impressive. Where there's not wood, other local materials come into play, like subtle polished marble or granite for the vanity and the rough–hewn stone for the kitchen backsplash.
The units available come in four main sizes and layouts. The smallest are listed as "junior treehouse" and are studios without a kitchen. Next up are the regular treehouse units with a deck. Rates at Aqua are quite reasonable, however, so you might as well make the small splurge to the two highest levels: luxury suites and penthouses.
These come with a rainforest view, water view, or beachfront location. All are a bit different, but the penthouse ones generally have a kitchen/living room on a separate floor, while the suites put the living area in a separate building, connected by an expansive outdoor deck. Some come with a plunge pool and there's not much of a premium in the cost.
All have plenty of eco–friendly touches like biodegradable toiletries, but they draw the line at giving up air conditioning. You can sleep well without sweating here in this permanently hot and humid climate. There is also ample lighting, an electronic safe, and Wi–Fi. (The latter is not super–fast as it's from a cellular network, but good enough to get some work done and check e–mail if needed.) Units with a kitchen have a full refrigerator, coffee maker with local organic coffee, and cooking burners.
Lots of thought went into sustainability in the design of this complex, with as little impact as possible on the wildlife and trees that were here first. You would barely know this place is here if approaching by boat until you got close to the beach. No clear-cutting to give owners an unobstructed view. As a result the colorful crabs still scurry across the paths, the call of birds is constant, and you may wake to a howler monkey roaring outside your window. Elevated paths connect villas to reception and prodigious plants and rocks keep the soil from eroding (and flowing into the bay) when the heavy rains come.
The bar and restaurant here make up three levels by the beach. The first is right on the water, facing the crescent beach and the sunset point. The large restaurant is basically just tables under a palapa, but the local and international dishes—with an emphasis on freshly caught seafood—are expertly prepared and presented well. Nearly all the ingredients are locally sourced and when possible, come from organic, fair trade, or sustainable sources. While there's an emphasis on healthy living, the menu here is not about sacrifice: you can get on a weight–loss plan with the chef if you request it, but those who aren't on that path can have brick oven pizza or a decadent dessert made from Nicaraguan chocolate.
There's no resort pool here yet, but it and a spa complex are in the works for the future. For now you can choose from a wide range of treatments offered in the "wellness villa," in your own suite, or elsewhere on the property. Rates are reasonable at at an average of $50 for a full hour of massage.
The beach is as private as you can get on this coast though and with it being on a protected bay, it's calm and kid–friendly. Chairs and hammocks are scattered around for plopping down where you please.
For those who want to do more than laze around on the beach and watch the gorgeous sunsets, the resort has kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling equipment free to use for guests. Twice-daily yoga sessions on a platform with a gorgeous view of the bay are also included. For additional fees it can arrange excursions to nearby surf breaks on neighboring Playa Gigante and other beaches. (Some are close enough to reach by kayak if the water is calm.) They also have tours available to the lake island of Ometepe, San Juan del Sur, Granada, and lesser–known spots.
Really though, it's best to do most of this before or after arrival and to plan well ahead for groceries you want to stock if you have a kitchen: it's almost an hour's drive to a real grocery store in Rivas. If you're not renting a car and driving here, arrange a transfer from the hotel for arrival and departure: it's a long way from anything. A one–way taxi to the Ometepe dock near Rivas, for example, cost me nearly $50. When they say Aqua Wellness Resort is secluded, they mean it!
If you're in the market for a vacation home, there are a couple units left from the original 24 and then a phase 2 will commence after that. Buyers can customize some of the design and features and choose from different locations on the hillside. Nicaragua has very attractive incentives in place for foreign buyers and the set–up here is up to 109 days of use, the rest open to the rental pool and bringing in income. Fractional splits between buyers are possible.
If you want to have panoramic views and be close to nightlife may be happier at a place like Pelican Eyes in San Juan del Sur. This is also not a good spot for those with limited mobility as it's situated on a hillside with lots of steps. If you want to be in a natural setting that's the equivalent of a national park, however, close to animals and on beach not lined with concrete buildings, this is your spot. Aqua Wellness Resort is a great place to comfortably commune with nature and restore balance to your stressed-out body.
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.