KM 10 Carretera Tola–Las Salinas, north of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
As the manifestation of a dream by the head of Nicaragua's largest business empire, Mukul has firmly put this country on the luxury travel map. In many respects this is the finest resort in Central America.
Our stay began with a cool towel and welcome drink. It ended with a mother sea turtle emerging from the sea and laying eggs on the beach. In between were more superlative experiences than we normally get from a dozen hotels.
To say Mukul resort is special or extraordinary seems inadequate. First there's the unrivaled setting on a long stretch of beach you often have to yourself, plus another one hidden one a cove over that's even emptier. Then there's the "spare no expense" commitment of Carlos Pellas, head of the company best known for its Flor de Caña rum. Construction used all the best available materials, of course, but more importantly the best designers and architects were brought in to help the place realize its full potential — and do it in a sustainable manner. The result is a resort that really only has one rival in all of Central America: the much more established Four Seasons Costa Rica.
Mukul's 23 "Bohio" bungalows have borrowed some aspects from that rival resort, with dramatic ocean views, large furnished decks, and plunge pools. The experience is a pleasurable one from the start, with the luggage already inside when you first open the doors and an amenity tray set out with ceviche, iced glasses with lime, and two small bottles of rum. These are some of the best equipped "rooms" you'll find anywhere in Latin America: each is an individual casita with a large walk–in closet, a spacious bathroom with a view and double–nozzle shower for two. Floor–to–ceiling windows allow a panoramic view from inside and the hardwood decks have a dining set, lounge chairs, and a daybed.
Gadgetry includes complimentary Wi–Fi (with each bungalow having its own router), Bose stereo systems with Blu–ray player, large flat–screen TVs, crisp air conditioning, excellent bath amenities, and personal ice makers. Minibars contain plenty of items that are complimentary, like beer and soda, while there are some non–rum items for those who wish. Mattresses, linens, and robes are top–notch quality and housekeeping does and impeccable job during its two daily visits.
One step up on the accommodations scale are the one– or two–bedroom Beach Villas. These are steps away from Manzanillo Beach and have more space. The one–bedroom villas have more than 1,000 square feet, with separate his and hers vanity areas, an outdoor shower garden, private pool, and relaxation palapa. The two–bedroom ones are like family compounds, with a larger pool and a kitchen.
The ultimate space here is Casona Don Carlos, the owner's villa. It's everything you'd expect from a place carrying a nightly rate that could buy you an acre or two of land in Nicaragua. It's got 20,000 square feet of space, six bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, and billiard room. A huge infinity pool faces the beach next to a living room palapa with 80–foot ceilings.
This is a spread–out property without much density, which is a good thing unless you like to use your feet to get around. From most of the villas you need to call for a golf cart pickup. Each morning though staffers will bring coffee or tea to start your day at a time you specify. Open your sliding glass door and it'll be waiting on the deck.
The Mukul Spa is a thing of wonder, wowing even the most jaded spa–goers with its six individual treatment buildings, all incorporating a different theme. Industry legend Angel Vezina Stewart, who was responsible for the award–winning spa at Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, came out of retirement to put this one together. It is best experienced as a couple, each building having its own changing room, steam room, relaxation area with pool, and treatment areas. Two well–trained masseurs deliver a long list of options, with the best experiences lasting for hours and using local ingredients like volcanic clay, papaya, and citrus.
The heart of the resort is the soaring Mexican–style palapa lobby, which makes full use of massive hardwood logs forested from timber downed in a hurricane. It looks over the large swimming pool complex to the Pacific Ocean beyond, where we spotted a passing whale our day of arrival. This area also functions as a lounge, with waiters delivering what you would like to drink here or poolside. Off the lobby are two rooms celebrating key Nicaraguan pleasurable exports: a cigar room and a rum room. The walk–in humidor stocks domestic cigars as well as Cubans. The rum room celebrates the Pellas family history and one of the Mukul bartenders takes guests through the ages, with a tasting of Flor de Caña versions that may range from four years in a barrel to 18 or even 25. It's an education and a great tasting experience.
There is one restaurant area that's indoor and air conditioned for dinner, but most guests return to the same outdoor one facing the ocean as there's always a good breeze coming off the water. One glance at the menu will tell you this resort is clearly aimed at those who don't ponder prices: most main dishes are in the $28 to $41 range, even at lunch. The results can be a bit inconsistent, with the Mexican and Nicaraguan dishes coming out better than the international ones. Meals are beautifully presented though and service is excellent. There is an organic garden on the property and the seafood comes in fresh off the boats each day.
The Guacalito de la Isla championship 18–hole golf course at Mukul was designed by David McLay Kidd. The big trees that already dotted the property were left in place and the course winds through the undulating hills. Some fairways have a view of the Pacific and the 18th hole is a dramatic ending, being right by the beach. Greens fees are reasonable for such an impressive course and a drinks cart makes the rounds regularly to keep players refreshed.
Other activities on site include a kids' club, morning yoga classes, bikes to borrow, kayaks, and snorkeling equipment to explore a reef off the shore. The concierge can set up any kind of activities you would like, from surfing lessons to fishing trips to bird watching hikes. Or you can set up more far–flung tours, such as a Granada day trip, a jaunt to nearby San Juan del Sur, or a journey up to the rum distillery in the north.
For wealthy travelers looking for a "best of the best" beach resort vacation, Mukul tops most any option you could come up with in the Americas. With superior facilities, a better beach, and an unrivaled spa, the top resorts of Mexico and Costa Rica have now met their match.
Web Address: www.mukulresort.com
Total Number of Rooms: 38
Published rates: US$550 — $14,000
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.