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Pelican Eyes Hotel & Resort

De la Parroquia, 1 1/2 blocks east from the ocean, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Crowning the festive beach town of San Juan del Sur, this charming hilltop sanctuary of flowing villas and fantastic views is the top resort near the beautiful bay.

Pelican eyes hotel

Since it's opening, this has been Nicaragua's most popular upscale beach resort—and the only luxury property within easy walking distance of San Juan del Sur's broad beaches. Pelican Eyes is also a beloved pillar of this charming coastal community. The resort was originally founded to support several successful philanthropic programs, and has grown into a solid luxury property that continues to evolve.

The unique resort is also a landmark, its harmonious, whitewashed architecture undulating across the hills above town with red tejas–tiled roofs and lush tropical gardens. The views from atop are predictably inspiring, over San Juan del Sur's perfect horseshoe bay, embraced by rocky cliffs that protect yachts bobbing up and down in every foam–streaked sunset.

pelican eyes hotel room The hotel offers several types of accommodations. The least expensive rooms are part of the original hotel, built using a particularly adaptable type of “green architecture” called hay–bale construction. The technique is not only sustainable, but inspires creative, flowing design, here transformed into sensually curved accommodations that set the tone for the rest of the resort.

These whitewashed rooms, with their high ceilings, hardwood accents, and fine furnishings, are small compared to the newer vacation rental homes further up the hill. These are more like regular hotel rooms, without separate living areas and full kitchens (though they do have microwaves, coffee makers, and minifridges), but are still spacious and comfortable. Lots of built-in benches and window seats offer lounging space, plus there's a terrace or balcony outside. They are also the most accessible rooms, close to reception, the lower restaurant, bar, and pool, and the town of San Juan del Sur not far below.

Pelican Eyes Balcony

Newer units, scattered across the hilltops just above the original complex, are much larger vacation rentals, perfect for families or groups who plan to stay in San Juan del Sur for some time. They can be occupied as duplexes or even single rooms, but unless you're pinching pennies, it's well worth renting an entire villa for yourself—and don't even think about skimping on a magnificent view over the blue Pacific Ocean.

Pelican eyes hotel interior nichesAll of the two–floor, two–bedroom casas (houses) and smaller casitas (townhouses) are constructed with the same smooth, whitewashed style as the original hotel. They are airy and expansive, luxuriously outfitted with hand-carved furnishings, locally sewn linens, salto ceramic tiles, skylights, and delightful bedrooms overarched with adobe brick ceilings reminiscent of a Spanish wine cellar. All the units open onto marvelous private patios and porches; the casas have two.

Many of these villas are owned by families or couples who spend weeks here. So you get full gourmet kitchens, with hand–painted tiles, professional cookware, and an assortment of appliances (mixers, blenders, and more). The nice kitchens are complimented with tasteful dining areas. Enormous, modern marble and glazed–cement bathrooms have rainforest showerheads and thoughtful amenities. Units also have state of the art climate control, satellite TV and DVD players, and most have complimentary wireless Internet access. As of early 2014 hardly any of the units had flat-screen HDTVs though, so don't come here to watch Blu-ray movies on a big screen.

luxury San Juan del Sur

While these vacation rentals are several hundred meters from reception on steep stairs or a road of inconsistent paving and lighting, they are convenient to Pelican Eyes’ second restaurant, overlooking two huge, beautiful pools with views over the San Juan del Sur bay. (Note that casitas Ensueño, Dulce Vita, and Madroño are closest to the pools, and are often reserved well in advance by returning guests.)

The thatch–roofed, open–air dining room high above the city lights is considered one of San Juan del Sur’s most romantic dining destinations. The well–prepared, reasonably priced international and Nicaraguan cuisine brings in locals and regular vacation visitors. So do the popular happy hours and weekly theme parties that both celebrate and explain regional holidays and traditions..

Nicaragua lobster

People with mobility issues should note that Pelican Eyes is a property of winding staircases and steep roads. It must also be mentioned that, although complimentary transportation is provided, staffers on call for this are sometimes spread too thinly, so you may have to wait a while at times.

There's a small spa on site, Casa Tranquila, offering several types of massages, scrubs, and facials made with local fruits and sugar, mint, coffee, and other locally grown ingredients. Another salon offers flower–strewn pedicures and manicures, hair care, and waxing. It's best to make reservations when booking for treatments or at least plan a day ahead. A Phase II area has been in a half-constructed state for years. If it moves forward, it will have more villas, a gym, a yoga center, and larger spa. Guests who want to work out have access to the best gym in the town below. If you walk there it's a double workout.

Pelican eyes hotel yachtStaffers can arrange a variety of fun excursions in the area, from zip-lining and surfing to nature hikes and birdwatching. One really special experience here, however, is to take a trip on Pelican Eyes' elegant, 42–foot Marconi–rigged sailing yacht; go for the sunset cruise to see this gorgeous coast in all its glory.

Animal lovers will notice the sleek, graceful cats swishing about the grounds. These have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered as part of Stones and Waves Veterinary Clinic, founded after the hotel’s original owners nursed a pelican with a broken wing back to health. Vets onsite treat injured wildlife, including monkeys and sloths that can longer survive in the wild. The cats, by the way, are all up for adoption (and, yes, if you are visiting from Costa Rica as part of their three–day “Visa Renewal Package,” they can help you arrange to get a kitty back across the border.)

While the hotel is now administrated separately from the many charities it benefits, Pelican Eyes is still intimately associated with the veterinary clinic as well as the Fundación A. Jean Brugger established in 2000. Guests are still invited fill their luggage with school supplies to help with the foundation’s educational programs, or just stop by Galería del Sur, exhibiting work by local fine artists.

Web Address: or book with Preferred Hotels
Total Number of units: 68 maximum: some larger units can be rented as rooms and duplexes
Published rates: $190 – $460

Review and interior photos by Paige R. Penland, updates and other photos by Timothy Scott.

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