Picture yourself on a secluded beach that stretches almost four miles. There is sugar-white sand between your toes, and deep-blue Pacific waters gently lapping the shore. It could be any tropical setting. That said, this beach on Guacalito de la Isla, along Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast, is distinctively different. Welcome to Mukul—which means “secret” in the Mayan language—quite possibly Central America’s best kept secret!
Opened in February 2013, Mukul sits amid 1,600 lush acres that include an 18-hole championship golf course, two massive pools, three stellar dining options, a beach club, and an unforgettable spa. This impressive resort, which has the space to accommodate a 300-plus room hotel, encompasses 37 spacious free-standing suites. Even at full occupancy, you still feel as though it is your own resort. Whether you choose an expansive beach-adjacent villa with your own private staff, or opt for more rustic lodging perched high upon the bluffs, you can’t go wrong. Each offers space, privacy, and an indoor-outdoor setting that includes a wrap-around deck with a private pool and sweeping views of the Pacific coastline.
The man behind Mukul, Nicaragua’s first five-star luxury resort, is Carlos Pellas Chamorro, a Nicaraguan entrepreneur, philanthropist, and Founder/CEO of Grupo Pellas, a conglomerate with holdings in the sugar, banking, healthcare, and auto industries. Pellas is thought to be the wealthiest man in Central America. However, do not be the least bit surprised if the unassuming business mogul introduces himself and joins you for a glass of Flor de Caña (a Nicaraguan rum also under the Grupo Pellas umbrella). He invested over $250mm in the private beach community and resort, which may be one of the most impactful investments he’s made for his country. Not only has the project boosted tourism, it has also created hundreds of jobs and a brighter future for his many employees in the poverty-stricken region.
If you are traveling with a large group, two options will sweep you off your feet. The first is the DMK Villa, named after golf course designer David McLay Kidd, which serves as his private home when he visits. Sitting on two prime acres overlooking the golf course, the 5,000-square-foot compound has panoramic ocean views, and four individual casitas. The two-story beachfront Casona Don Carlos (Presidential Suite), which can be reserved when the Pellas family is not on the property, features 5,300 square feet of indoor space with a soaring 80-foot-high ceiling as well as 2,445 square feet of outdoor living area.
After you settle in, it’s time to hit the links at Guacalito Golf Club, Nicaragua’s first 18-hole golf course. Gustavo Betancourt, Director of Golf, and his first-class staff will ensure your golf experience is nothing short of excellent on this course devised by Kidd, who also designed Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Course and The Castle Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. The 6,672-yard, par 72 course is truly spectacular, as Kidd embraced the natural landscape of lush tropical forest and ocean views to create a conservationally minded golf course. Greens and fairways are layered with paspalum grass, an environmentally friendly turf which requires less water and can grow with high-salt-content water.
When heading to the first hole, you are steps from Manzanillo Beach. Following your first shot, the course trails away from the beach and through the coastal forest. With the rolling terrain, high ocean bluffs, and breathtaking vistas at each fairway, you might find it hard to concentrate on your golf game. There are plenty of risk reward holes, including the short par 5, 16th, where two ravines run through the fairway and if you hit a good drive, you will be tempted to go for the green in two, which brings the penalizing hazard in front of the green into play. The signature 18th hole brings you back to the beach, so close that if you carry it over the par 3 green, you will be steps from the ocean.
When it’s time to unwind, head to Mukul’s one-of-a-kind spa, outfitted with six separate luxurious casitas. Referred to as “temples,” each features its own theme, décor, and treatments (i.e., Rainforest, Secret Garden, Ancient Sanctuary), and serves as your own private spa during your session. Treatment rooms include a steam room, sauna, hot tub, and shower equipped with its own private pool. Guests can reserve a spa suite for several hours, during which they can enjoy treatments specific to the temple theme of choice.
Along with poolside snacks and cocktails delivered directly to your lounge chair, there are three other outstanding dining options. Casual meals are served in the laid-back, palapa-shaded La Terraza. For a slightly more formal dinner, La Mesa is ideal, decked out with incredible mementos and photos that chronicle the Pellas family’s 135-year history. With much of the produce grown on the resort’s organic farm, seafood selected from the local fishermen’s daily catch, and grass-fed Nicaraguan beef, a feast on the freshest ingredients is guaranteed.
Tres Ceibas Beach Club, at the end of the private beach, houses an additional restaurant serving appetizers and cocktails for lunch and dinner, showcasing seafood options. It also offers Nicaragua’s most relaxing beach atmosphere, with numerous lounge chairs, umbrellas, and hammocks right on the sand. An additional pool is planned for the near future, and the surf shack has sign-ups for fishing excursions as well as surf boards, boogie boards, paddleboards, and kayaks for rental.
Although Mukul offers private transportation to and from Managua Airport, it is a bit of a trek (around two hours). The good news is Pellas and the Nicaraguan government teamed up to open Coast Esmeralda Airport in November 2015, a 15-minute drive from Guacalito de la Isla. This game-changing facility will welcome private as well as commercial flights to and from Managua Airport (only a 20-minute flight) as well as Costa Rica’s Liberia Airport. mukulresort.com
Recovery From Tragedy
Vivian Pellas’ courageous journey from survivor to lifesaver
Vivian Pellas exemplifies the meaning of turning tragedy into hope. When meeting the wife of Don Carlos Pellas, one would never imagine she was once mangled with 62 fractures and burns over her entire body. On October 21, 1989, Honduran airline SAHSA’s Boeing 727, carrying 158 passengers traveling from Managua to Miami with a stop in Tegucigalpa, took off. Shortly before landing in Tegucigalpa, the plane violently crashed into a mountain in Cerro de Hule. One-hundred-forty-eight passengers and crew died, but miraculously Don Carlos and Doña Vivian Pellas were among 10 on board whose lives were spared.
While Don Carlos suffered burns to his left hand and lost the phalanges of four fingers, Doña Vivian’s injuries were far more severe. Her recovery was long and painful, and because Nicaragua’s medical facilities did not have the resources to properly treat her injuries, she flew all around the world to different hospitals. She required more than 20 surgeries and years of recovery, but with the assistance of the doctors she met, Vivian made a courageous recovery.
Once the recovery process became easier, Pellas was determined to make recovery easier for future burn victims. While burns do not tend to be a significant problem in high-income countries, they are a serious health concern in many low and middle-income countries such as Nicaragua, especially with children. For example, many Nicaraguans are forced to burn their trash. Although the fire looks as though it is out when the process is done, it is not. Children walking around barefoot will accidentally step on the fire and burn their feet. Their first reaction is to fall to the ground, where they then burn large portions of their bodies. This is a common cause of burns, along with hot water or cooking oil scalding.
Recognizing that few Nicaraguans would be able to afford the many surgeries, rehabilitation care and psychological treatments required to fully recover from such burns, Pellas took matters into her own hands two years after the plane crash in 1991. She opened APROQUEN, a state-of-the-art burn center in Central America where all treatment is free of charge for children. Along with the comprehensive, holistic care for young burn victims, they also treat children with cleft lip and palate. APROQUEN has partnered with world-renowned doctors in the United States, such as Dr. Michael Carstens from Stanford University and Patrick Byrne of Johns Hopkins University. Less than 25 years after opening their doors, APROQUEN has performed more than 30,000 surgeries free of charge. aproquen.org/en
Linking to Other Points of Interest
With sprawling rainforests, sleepy surf towns, numerous volcanoes, miles of undeveloped beaches, and charming cities alive with culture, music, and food, Nicaragua is often referred to as “the next Costa Rica.” To draw attention to this country’s attributes, and away from the fighting and violence of the past, its tourism bureau is doing an outstanding job of development at an extremely rapid pace.
Granada is one place exemplifying these changes. Located about an hour’s drive from the Managua Airport, it is one of the oldest cities in Central America, founded in 1524 by Spanish explorer Francisco de Córdoba. It radiates Spanish culture and showcases Spanish architecture. Granada’s Town Square is a huge gathering area at the town’s center with a park where you can find local food vendors as well as a flea market offering local goods, clothing, and souvenirs. Beyond the town square, there is a huge maze of small streets, with every house, building, restaurant, and cathedral dressed in bright colors. The narrow streets are buzzing with cars, pedestrians, bikers, and horses carrying passengers in carriage. If you seek the perfect place to stay in Granada, look no further than Tribal Hotel, located a few short blocks from the town square, historic sites, excellent restaurants, and great nightlife. tribal-hotel.com
After spending a couple days in Granada, seek out Jicaro Island Ecolodge, in the middle of Central America’s largest lake. The nine-villa retreat has mind-blowing views of several other islands as well as the breathtaking Mombacho volcano in the back draft. Tropical trees surround the two-story wooden casitas with enormous windows looking out over the quiet lake, making it feel like a 5-star treehouse. The chef on the island prepares outstanding cuisine from light, healthy, and organic local ingredients. Daily yoga is offered on the deck, and you can also hike to the Mombacho volcano, go on a sunset kayak cruise or hit the zip line. Back on your private island, get a massage in the amazing open-air spa. jicarolodge.com