Journey to Jicaro

Jicaro Island emerges suddenly on the horizon as you glide across the gentle ripples of Lake Nicaragua on an early September afternoon, a point shrouded in dense green that only reveals its human presence as you draw closer. Then the landing dock of Jicaro Island Ecolodge comes into view, welcoming you to this small retreat perched on just one of a vast archipelago of such islets scattered along this side of the largest lake in Central America.

Within this intricate body of inland water, your journey continues with each visual encounter in an expanding canvas of aquatic, plant and animal life. In the days ahead, you find space and time for both reflection and connection amidst surroundings that remain far beyond the busier world. The final canvas of your experience becomes something all your own, yet drawn on the wider foundation of all these primal elements.

The first detailed impression of Jicaro Island Ecolodge itself comes across inside and around your own guest quarters here. Having been met with a friendly greeting and cold drink from the resort manager, and your bag whisked ahead, you take a walk of just some yards past the open lounge area which leads up to your own casita—one of just nine that comprise all accommodation.

Sometimes, simplicity in design can take time to be fully absorbed and appreciated, and this is often the case at Jicaro, designed by architect Matthew Falkiner and which just opened its doors in 2010. Passing first through an outer door onto an exterior landing which in turn leads up to a side door entry, you come into a multi-level open living area that extends from the front lounge space at immediate floor level and then up a few steps to the bath and storage levels. The flight of stairs set along the opposite back wall ascends to your upper floor sleeping area, the practical objective here being to have bath and storage as a median point.

The overall minimalism in colour, design and material throughout both levels of the casita conveys the spirit and intent of a small property and project built on genuine principles of sustainable practice. So for instance, there is the continued use of woods in every area and item, from floors to walls to fixtures and furnishings. But then as your eye acclimates to surfaces and surroundings, you also begin to perceive the actual degree of detail and thoughtful variety that is also more subtly present.

In fact, the types of wood used throughout all levels are configured, positioned or designed for a functional as well as a stylistic purpose. Thus, the doors are fitted with louvred wood slats to encourage airflow—and that use of airflow is also found in other areas such as the narrow openings in the wood flooring inside the bath area, or again in other even larger openings at the tops of walls or between walls and ceiling, along with protective mesh screening. Again, with accessing the outdoor elements, a variety of wood design is employed to allow a maximum amount of inward natural light during daytime rather than depending on artificial light.   Perhaps most pleasing, there is the panoramic use of the front window framing, both upstairs and below, to afford more splendid views from indoors of lake and shoreline.

The variety of wood includes cedar flooring, furnishings in teak and an exquisite sheathing of the sleeping area’s ceiling with rows of the local caña de Castilla (Castile cane), similar to bamboo but much smaller and finer. Not only are all woods locally sourced, but all cabins have been built with Rainforest Alliance FSC certified cedar hardwood. Beyond interiors, the exterior diversity of natural growth again provides a resource for cooling effect—with high and low growth in front of and beside your casita filtering direct sunlight and enhancing seclusion.

The new day begins at Jicaro with a juice or coffee under the awning of your casita’s front deck, which stands elevated at just a few yards from the water’s edge and is your private box office seat to the wider world of the lake. From here, drink in sights of passing ducks and lively jays, neighbouring lake inhabitants setting off in their canoes, the curving shore of other islands and far beyond, the misty peaks of Volcan Mombacho.

Outdoor refreshment for all meal times is included at the lodge’s open-air restaurant, where you first pass the large open kitchen run by the California-trained chef Calley Prezzano, where the menu highlights Nicaraguan fusion cuisine. Sample dishes include bananas foster pancakes topped with Flor de Caña rum, seared lake fish served over cauliflower puree and chimichurri and mocha bread pudding made with organic Nicaraguan coffee. Among our own favourites at dinnertime here? The “Rum Caramel Chicken with rice and vegetables,” served up amidst another visual mix of islands, shore and setting skies.

The day’s activity is your own to plan, from either onsite or other locations. Yoga and wellness are certainly one option at the heart of this retreat. Guests can take part in daily yoga classes, some offered from atop the floating dock, or take time at the open-air wellness centre for a massage or other treatment.   For more physical action, consider a sunrise or sunset kayak outing with a local guide into the surrounding ecosystems to learn about the islands’ history, pass through a water lily-filled canal, and watch for a variety of shorebirds.

Even further afield, activity highlights might include venturing into the resplendent colonial city of Granada, flying by zipline through 700 metres of the rainforest canopy on an extended hike into the Mombacho Natural Reserve, venturing to Zapatera Island or exploring Masaya Volcano National Park. Or you may simply choose to unwind by the lodge’s own pool and terrace area, and at points in between any of this or at the end of your day repair to the adjacent bar and sample its selection of finer Nicaraguan and global spirits.

What has been undertaken by Jicaro Island Ecolodge on its own island may well be quite unlike anything elsewhere on Lake Nicaragua. What can be said with certainty is this: since first opening its doors to the wider travelling world, Jicaro has made an imprint on both its own landscape and in the awareness of an audience that identifies with its values in sustainability.

A stay at Jicaro supports the local economy with the lodge’s commitment to hiring locals, subcontracts services from the local community, and of course ingredients for the restaurant are purchased fresh from local food producers. The sustainable practice is also there in the planning of its water supply, wastewater treatment and electricity usage. Thus, water is heated with solar panels and cross ventilation and ceiling fans provide cooling, rather than air-conditioning systems.

Other practice aspects: the low use of non-returnable and non-reusable waste and using organic and biodegradable soaps, cleaning detergents and spa products. Elsewhere, the resort uses a chlorine-free system to clean the pool, energy-efficient lighting throughout the island and an underground electricity system in order to not disturb resident wildlife. On the human side, Jicaro remains dedicated to such ongoing community efforts as improving local schooling, and local agrarian projects—along the way, they also make it possible for the visiting traveller to observe those efforts. In turn, it also becomes part of your own engagement with the wider human and natural landscape here.