35 minutes north of San Juan del Sur
All roads leading to Nicaragua's finest ecolodge meander, unpaved, through pastoral farmlands and rare dry tropical forest, inhabited by troupes of howler monkeys who may sound their own evocative welcome to Morgan's Rock.
Entering the private 1800ha (–sqare–mile) private preserve, you'll be treated to a brief introduction to the lodge's reforestation project, and perhaps a glimpse of area wildlife. A chilled glass of hibiscus tea awaits at the elegant and open reception area, attached to a romantic restaurant and bar. Morgan's Rock is innovatively designed to echo the surrounding wilderness with organic shapes, open spaces and sustainable, traditional materials, such as river rocks, rich hardwoods and palm fronds. The lodge (along with the luxuriously chlorine–free infinity pool) is a fine place to appreciate views over the perfect, pearl–gray parabola of Playa Ocotal, bookended by dramatically carved cliffs.
Wait to explore all this scenery until after you settle into to one of just fifteen, westward–facing, beautifully engineered bungalows. This isn't the right resort for those with mobility issues; the entire property is steeply pitched and requires some scenic walking and climbing up reinforced earthen stairs, as well as crossing a thickly forested ravine on a 100m &(328–foot) suspension bridge, with views over forest canopy to the beach below.
But the sweeping spaciousness of the graceful, uncluttered rooms, echoing with the pulse and crash of the surf below, is worth the climb. Sustainably harvested and sumptuously polished hardwoods frame entire walls left open (save for mosquito netting) to the jungle and sea. Furniture and décor, handmade by local artisans from responsibly farmed and/or recycled materials, include the enormous bed, a sofa that folds down to sleep two, and a convenient assortment of desks, bureaus, and shelves. But the pièce de résistanceis the floating futon, suspended with thick ropes above the private porch, from which you'll relax into flawless, timeless views of the Pacific through a curtain of vines inhabited by fast–climbing iguanas and iridescent, long–tailed trogons.
Make no mistake: Morgan's Rock is no faux eco–resort with one recycling bin to its credit. This is the real deal, with community–conscious projects and ecologically sound infrastructure. This means you will have to go without a few usual amenities––namely air–conditioning, television, and those luxe bottles of organic toiletries piled in the bathrooms of most eco–hotels. You probably won't even miss them. The consistent sea breeze and firefly–lit night should be compensation enough for the first two omissions. The multi–use containers of sweet–smelling shampoos and soaps seemed more than sufficient for enjoying a piping–hot solar shower, complete with a rainforest showerhead that echoes the Italian opulence of other bathroom accessories.
While amenities are therefore best classified as four–star, service is undeniably world class––with a distinctly Nicaraguan touch. Nightly turndown service includes a tiny ceramic vase, hand–built and fired using traditional Nica methods. Tours, two of which are included each day, feature a visit to their working, organic farm, with the opportunity to milk cows and pat out your own tortillas. The food you'll see grown right here, as well as fish caught just offshore, is expertly prepared as international and traditionally themed entrees. Don't miss the exquisite nacatamales, Nicaraguan–style tamales, wrapped in a banana leaf rather than corn husks. The staff even offers a special wakeup knock for wildlife lovers, letting you know if the night guard notices a giant sea turtle building her nest on Ocotal's idyllic shore.
There's plenty to do at Morgan's Rock: horseback riding through the hills, kayaking the mangrove estuary, or touring nearby colonial cities and erupting volcanoes for example. But be sure to save some time for enjoying the bathtub–warm waves that caress the beautifully isolated beach. Between sets, perhaps enjoyed atop your complimentary boogie board (surfing is also available), sink into one of the country's famed hammocks, slung from your palapa–topped beach cabana, and savor the prospect a sweet sunset swim in the gently crashing waves.
Review and photos by Paige R. Penland.