Nicaragua’s Coastal Gem – Mukul Resort
With a new airport providing quick and easy access to this remote part of the country, Mukul becomes an even more appealing luxury resort.
It takes me three passes in my rental car before I find the entrance to the Mukul resort. I’m a long way down a dirt road on Nicaragua’s wild western coast, far from anything else, with Google Maps maddeningly insisting that I had arrived. Wouldn’t the most luxurious hotel in the history of the country at least have a sign?
I finally stop at a development called Guacalito de la Isla and ask the security guard. “Esta aqui, señor,” he says, giving no indication that I’m an idiot. It happens all the time, apparently. Mukul almost doesn’t want you to know about it, which feels like the theme up and down the stretch of Pacific shoreline known as the Emerald Coast.
But that’s about to change. A new airport, Costa Esmeralda, opened in November; it’s just 5 miles from Mukul, nullifying the 2½-hour drive from Managua.
A joint venture between the Nicaraguan government and Mukul’s billionaire owner, Don Carlos Pellas, the airport promises to be a game changer for the resort and surrounding area. Initial commercial flights are from Managua and Liberia, Costa Rica, with regional airlines La Costeña and Sansa; though with a growing number of million-dollar homes in residential developments attached to Mukul and nearby Rancho Santana resort, the runways are already seeing their share of private jets.
Naturally, the fear is that Nicaragua’s beachfront will be chopped up and sold off to the highest bidder. It’s largely unfounded — at least anytime soon.
Most of the Emerald Coast’s beaches are isolated within rolling hills of tropical dry forest. Mukul is only a dozen miles or so up the Pacific coast from San Juan del Sur, which is the region’s surf capital, home to a growing residential community of expats and wealthy Nicaraguans.
But you need to drive 20 miles back to Rivas, a colonial village near Lake Nicaragua, and drive another 20 miles to get to the coast. There is nothing in between except rugged terrain that rarely sees anything more than a rancher searching for a lost cow. It’s untouched — and that’s what makes staying here such a different experience from other Central American resorts.
My bohio, a sort of ultra-luxe standalone bungalow with an apartment-size bathroom and a private plunge pool, is built into a hillside overlooking the 1,600-acre property.
From the deck, I can make out only a few neighboring bohios — comprising some of the 37 total units, which also include beach villas and casonas — and a handful of buildings down below. Otherwise, the entire view is dominated by forest-covered hills and the curve of the beach. There are multimillion-dollar homes and condos out there too, but they are hidden within the wild landscape. And wild it is. Howler monkeys are easily spotted in the trees, and colorful birds like turquoise-browed motmots flutter about. Within a couple of hours of arriving, I’m in an electric golf cart — the primary transportation around Mukul — heading to the farthest reaches of the property. From October to December, turtle eggs begin to hatch; just one in 100 baby turtles survives. These odds increase when rangers, most of them former poachers, collect the hatchlings and wait for the right time of day to release them. I’m lucky enough to be there when they do.
Mukul is the legacy project of Pellas, whose family’s 135-plus-year history in Nicaragua includes, among other things, founding Flor de Caña rum. His presence is everywhere. In the dining room of one of the three restaurants on the property, there’s an oversize black-and-white picture of a seemingly Italian-looking couple getting married. “Is that from The Godfather Part II?” I ask the waiter. “No,” he tells me. “That’s Mr. Pellas’ parents.”
Not surprisingly, rum is found everywhere at Mukul. There are bottles of Flor de Caña in every room; a tasting room with select $500 master blends from Pellas’ private collection that are only available here; and Flor de Caña is poured in the mojitos by the pool. Then there are rum barrels that have been turned into lanterns, wall art and wall paneling.
“I think Mukul is better than any other advertising you could do for Flor de Caña,” the rum sommelier tells me as we taste a few select vintages before dinner. Nearly everyone who comes to Mukul has a tasting; sometimes Pellas knocks on the door, quietly comes in to listen, then adds his input to surprised guests.
Pellas’ wife, Vivian, played a hand in designing the resort. The spa was created as her personal place of rejuvenation and relaxation. Here, each of the six treatment rooms is set in its own private indoor/outdoor compound, its own little world. Themes range from a Moroccan hammam to the rainforest, and each one offers a signature treatment.
During my stay, my sanctuary was the sea. There are 4 miles of white-sand beach at Mukul, so naturally, that’s where most guests tend to gravitate. But the resort is so big — and there are so few people — that most of the time you won’t cross paths. It’s just you and the pelicans gliding over the crests of the waves, above the fish and the manta rays.
If there weren’t fresh fruit smoothies and a beach staff catering to your every whim, you could mistake Mukul’s Playa Manzanillo for some lost, uninhabited coast. Hopefully, that’s how it will remain. From $500 per night; mukulresort.com