Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua
Located about midway between Granada and Masaya, this upscale retreat combines authentic Nicaraguan culture with contemporary design.
Overlooking a jungle teeming with wildlife that stretches down to Apoyo Lagoon in the volcanic crater below, Pacaya Lodge & Spa is nicely perched in central Nicaragua, making it an ideal home base for exploring many of nation's top sites. Calling the village of Catarina home, the lodge is less than an hour's drive from Augusto C. Sandino International Airport, making it a fabulous alternative to what you thought might be a necessary arrival or departure stayover in hotel-limited Managua. (Private transfers can easily be arranged by Pacaya Lodge.)
Welcoming and friendly, local employees have a genuine excitement to show off their home. The reception area and restaurant combine to make up one comfortable and casual open-air space. Paths weave through the resort and are fun to wander when exploring.
Pacaya offers 26 rooms. Six Lodge Rooms and two Junior Suites are in the main lodge building. Then 16 King Rooms, one King Deluxe, and one Pacaya Suite are located in one of eight casitas that form a horseshoe-like shape toward the water. All rooms offer a crater lake view, but the King Deluxe is specifically singled out as enjoying the best view on the property.
When designing and decorating, it's clear Pacaya Lodge looked to its community for inspiration. Located in one of Nicaragua's "pueblos blancos" villages known for art and handicrafts, Pacaya turned to locals to supply nearly everything. That decision is manifested in woodwork and furniture; pottery and lamps; even the dinnerware used in Restaurante Guardabarranco. If you see something you like, let the staff know, and they can make arrangements for you to purchase what you'd like from the artist who created it.
Paintings, bed throws and other pieces of art add pops of color to rooms otherwise dominated by a muted color scheme of browns, creams and white. The overall look created is a combination of modern and classic Nicaraguan style that is simple and sleek. Floating bedside tables (created by Nicaraguan artists) are topped with sculptures, but still offer easy access to plug-in electronics.
Each room has a walk-in glass and tile shower. Toiletries provided are produced by a cooperative in Costa Rica. Every room has a balcony facing Laguna de Apoyo, and many have the added perk of a locally made hammock to linger in. All accommodations also have air conditioning, a ceiling fan, bathrobes, slippers and Wi-Fi. Suites are a bit more spacious and have a television. Don't let that be a deal breaker. If you don't stay in a suite, you won't miss the television. Unplugging is part of Pacaya's charm.
Float in the infinity pool while looking down into the crater lake, or take the complimentary shuttle down to the waterfront to swim, paddle or do both in Apoyo Lagoon. Pacaya Lodge also has a small spa that offers massages, body treatments and facials, that take advantage of herbs and other botanicals growing in the resort's garden.
Restaurante Guardabarranco, though tricky to say, and even more so to spell, serves Pacaya Lodge's take on traditional Nicaragua favorites. The restaurant is casual and open all day serving the likes of mini plantain empanadas, ceviche, and beef filet served with Chimchurri sauce so flavorful, you'll be tempted to lick the plate clean. Save room for buñuelos for dessert. (You can share.) The yucca and cheese fritters are served in a sweet syrup with cinnamon and pair nice with coffee or hot tea. Traveling families will be happy to know the restaurant also has a children's menu.
All stays include a continental breakfast delivered to your room, that includes coffee, fresh fruit, and freshly baked bread.
Pacaya Lodge is doing more than just business in its community, it's working to make a social impact. The resort was created in conjunction with a technical high school about 20 minutes away in the small town of Diriomo. There students not only receive a traditional diploma, they receive a technical vocational certificate in either sustainable agriculture or tourism, Nicaragua's two leading industries. A portion of resort revenue is invested in the school and when students are seniors, they have access to internships at the hotel that will help prepare them for tourism jobs after graduation. During my visit, I met a handful of students graduating in a matter of days, all hopeful about future job and college opportunities.
An ideal spot to recharge after busy days on the go, Pacaya Lodge also serves as a good jumping-off point for exploring Nicaragua. Historic Granada is a 20-minute drive away. Masaya Volcano National Park is a 45-minute drive, and the Masaya handicraft market is less than 20 minutes away.
In a country where high-end hotels are still few and far between, Pacaya Lodge is a welcome addition for international travelers with high standards.
Web Address: www.pacayalodge.com
Total Number of Rooms: 26
Published rates: $150 - $295 with continental breakfast.
Review by Dana Rebmann. First two photos courtesy of Pacaya Lodge, others by the author.