In the Pacific coastal hills of Nicaragua, one hotel is reinventing what it means to escape to paradise
Apr 13, 2015 | By Liv Combe
We're stoked to be heading down to Nicaragua with El Camino Travel, with whom we'll be spending nine glorious days eating fresh seafood, surfing, sailing to secluded beaches, and rolling cigars. Leading up to our adventures, we're taking a look at what will soon be our Nicaraguan home-away-from-home: Maderas Village.
t’s easy for Matt Dickinson to name his favorite thing about Nicaragua: the weather. “It’s beautiful here for twelve months a year,” says the founding partner and general manager of Maderas Village. “As a native of Toronto, that’s huge.”
Well off the beaten path and nestled in the Pacific coastal hills of Nicaragua is Maderas, an eco-friendly, open-minded boutique hotel, hostel, and resort all rolled into one. Here, you’re just as likely to find a solo traveler taking surf lessons from the local instructors down on the secluded Playa Maderas as you as you an aspiring tech mogul who’s taken three weeks out of his schedule to hop a few flights and live in this vibrant, creative community in order to write the first draft of a business plan.
And — even the five-minute walk to the Pacific comes in at a close second — that is Dickinson’s favorite thing about Maderas itself.
“You can carry on life here without feeling like you’re compromising,” he says. “This isn’t the traditional idea of escaping to paradise. You’re not escaping or trying to get away from anything. What we celebrate here is going away and engaging. And that, to me, is what’s exciting — not necessarily realizing that you couldn’t work from paradise without giving up your real life, but rather that real life could be much, much better.”
Nicaragua is having a moment. It’s been hailed as the “next Costa Rica” — same beautiful tropical climate, a friendly culture, similar rice and beans dishes pervading the menu. Contrary to Costa Rica's well-beaten paths, though, Nicaragua is still relatively unexplored.
The largest country in the Central American isthmus, Nicaragua borders Costa Rica to the south and Honduras to the north. The country has much to recommend it — sleepy surf towns, dramatic volcanoes, vibrant colonial cities, rain forests and nature preserves. As the L.A. Times put it, however, what Nicaragua also has is an image problem. It hasn’t been viewed as a mainstream tourist destination on account of its decades of political turbulence; the 20th century alone saw civil war, foreign intervention, dictatorship, and revolution. Not the stuff of timeshare fodder, to be sure.
All the better, says Dickinson, who came to the country five years back, fresh out of the world of commercial real estate and looking to work on this development project. “The fact that Nicaragua was viewed by the world as dangerous — but was actually quite safe — was really appealing to me because that just equals opportunity. And the fact that it was still unexplored and had an association with adventure? Even better.”
The many buildings and rooms of Maderas didn’t all come into being at once. In the first two years of the project, Dickinson and his fellow founding partners worked on the main hotel, where the restaurant and bar is also housed, and then built three cottages and three cabañas. In year three, they put in four casitas. In year four, Maderas had a fundraising drive that brought in enough money for them to build a recording studio, which they just opened a few months ago.
The Maderas buildings are made entirely with local and natural resources. The floors of the cottages and cabañas are constructed of wood from naturally felled trees from the Autonomous region of the country — primarily Brazilian cherry, ipa, teak, and tropical cedar; the walls are made from wood that was grown on nearby plantations. The roofs? Eucalyptus and palm leaves, which naturally regenerate on the tree every three months.
(Oh, and all the gorgeous wood furniture? That's the handiwork of the team of Nicaraguan carpenters that make up Maderas Collective.)
Maderas’ dedication to using local resources extends to the food they serve, where the meals are inspired by whatever is freshest at the local fruit, vegetable, and fish markets in the nearby surf town of San Juan del Sur. A typical breakfast could be granola with fresh fruit or the “Nica Tipica,” as Dickinson puts it — fresh eggs, avocado, tortillas, and home fries. Lunch is a burrito, falafel, or an omelette. Dinners are served family-style each night and range from chicken to sushi to grilled salt fish.
The family-style dinner is very much on purpose, since the community at Maderas is more important than the physical makeup of the village (yep, even more important than the open-air yoga studio, the massage room, or the penthouse overlooking the ocean, as hard as it is to believe). Maderas is beautiful, to be sure, but what sets it apart is the vibe, the atmosphere, the idea that you can be both relaxed and deeply engaged at once.
“Being at Maderas isn’t just about sitting on a hammock with a guitar and doing some writing,” says Dickinson. The recently opened music studio proves his point exactly — now, guests have the space to create something tangible. (A darkroom is next on the list.)
And that opportunity extends to more than just artists, Dickinson points out. “If somebody wants to come down and spend two or three weeks writing a business plan or programming, it’s all accessible and celebrated down here. Maderas is really just a place where you can come and sit back, think quietly, and work on whatever it is that’s your passion.”
And the fresh tropical fruit smoothies really don’t hurt, either. [H]
Want to check out Nicaragua for yourself? El Camino takes several trip there every year, and you can, too. The next is already sold out, but in the meantime, you can experience everything El Camino has to offer on their upcoming trip to Colombia. Grab your spot now.