Hanging Around the Nicaraguan Jungle
a role reversal, the Nicaraguan forest creatures watched my girlfriend and me in our screened-in bungalow at the Morgan’s Rock eco-resort as if we were specimens in their own zoo.
Fidgety parrots craned their necks to get a glimpse of us changing clothes before dinner, then noisily clattered off before I could grab my camera sitting on the mahogany chest. A howler monkey hung by his tail to get a better look as we read books on the hand-crafted hardwood bed. A butterfly the size of a woman’s glove pressed up against the screen as if to wave hello as we looked out at the sun setting on the Pacific.
A few small visitors even slipped through the sliding door to our dwelling, which — sturdily built around hewn eucalyptus pillars — was larger than our Dupont Circle one-bedroom apartment and eminently more posh. A walking stick imagined itself inconspicuous atop the design-conscious curls of piping that fed our ovular porcelain wash basins. A cute little blackand-orange land crab made itself at home on the tile floor of our solarheated shower.
Nestled on a hill overlooking a crescent bay less than 100 miles south of the capital, Managua, Morgan’s Rock has developed a symbiotic relationship with the Nicaraguan wilderness. The staff nurtures and protects the creatures and plants on the 4,400-acre estate, and the wildlife in turn draws nature lovers willing to pay top dollar for arguably the finest accommodations in this ultra-poor nation.
The land on which Morgan’s Rock sits was purchased in 1998 by a French family that lives in Managua. It had mostly been clear-cut for a cattle operation, so the family planted about 1.5 million trees to bring back the canopy and revive the jungle ecosystem, now home to several species of monkeys, sloths, exotic birds and enormous iguanas.
Before opening the 15-bungalow property in 2001, the estate hired artisans to make everything from the lodge down to the lighting fixtures, leaving only a few traces of factory-made goods. The buildings, furniture and exposed copper plumbing share the same handmade look that’s seen in boutique hotels.
Our bungalow was sleek and minimalist, letting the beauty of the walnut, almond and mahogany speak for itself. Three sides were open to the air, with thick screens stretching from the ceiling beams down to the foundations of handcut volcanic rock. One side overlooked the ocean, framed in jungle vines, from our hillside perch. At night, the crash of breaking waves competed with the shrill chorus of insects and drowned out all sound of the nearest bungalow, which rested out of sight about 50 yards away.
To reach the main lodge, we padded down a five-minute circuit in our flip-flops, crossing a series of paths, steps and boardwalks. Halfway down, a 360-foot suspension bridge carried us single file across a ravine. While it did sway and bob a bit, the bridge felt quite sturdy. More alarming were the sentinels that occasionally appeared on it. During the day, we encountered a three-foot-long snake with a black body and a green head entwined on the rails. At night, a fearless skunk kept watch on the planks.
Much of our time was spent on the estate’s mile-long crescent bay. Thatched beach huts with hammocks and lounge chairs inspired long naps and reading sessions. Occasionally, we would grab boogie boards and paddle out into the waves or peruse the tidal pools for hermit crabs and colorful fish. Anchored farther out were the estate’s three small boats, used to take guests snorkeling or on tours of the coast. The resort also offered an excursion called “Fisherman for a Day,” but that sounded like too much work for us.
When it was mealtime, we climbed the steps to the main lodge, where an efficient staff took our orders from a small menu, on which 90 percent of the items came from the estate’s dairy, shrimp farm, orchards and gardens. The meals were part of an all-inclusive package, and tips were handled at the end of the stay, so there was never reason to carry money.
Other guests chose to take daylong excursions to the colonial city of Granada or go on zip-line canopy tours off the grounds. But we had no compulsion to leave. A quick tour of the estate’s butterfly farm and a horseback ride on the beach were all the activity we craved before heading back to the hammocks on the beach.
— Seth Hamblin
Morgan’s Rock, a 4,400-acre eco-resort overlooking a crescent bay, offers arguably the finest accommodations in Nicaragua. The property is home to several species of monkeys, sloths, exotic birds and enormous iguanas.