When I announced plans to travel to Nicaragua in search of luxury travel destinations, friends thought I had lost it. Many people assume that the country is still engulfed in political turmoil and a security risk for travelers. On the contrary, Nicaragua is one of the safer places in Central America, offering fabulous natural beauty and world-class boutique hotels at bargain prices.
After arriving in Managua, I headed 50 miles northwest to the colonial city of Leon. In this historic university town, I discovered paradise in the gem-like Hotel La Perla ($100 double). This stately neoclassical mansion has been lovingly restored by its two charming expat owners, James Petersen and Mark McKnight.
Each of the spacious 15 rooms is furnished in antiques. The dining is some of the best in country. One memorable feast included local lobster and sea bass artfully prepared by the world-class kitchen.
After a few leisurely days in Leon, I headed south to Nicaragua’s other colonial city, Grenada. I found building restoration in progress, fueled by foreign capital and aimed at international tourism. Although beautiful, the city lacked the intellect and authenticity of Leon.
I checked into another neo-classical treasure, the Hotel La Gran Francia. Built in the 16th century, it was restored to its original glory in 1995. Located just off Parque Central, the hotel’s restaurant served up scrumptious gourmet meals at bargain prices ($60 dinner for four). My comfortable room was large and brightly furnished in impressive period pieces ($100 double).
This Nicaraguan jaunt ended just shy of Costa Rica in the former fishing village of San Juan del Sur. It was New Year’s Eve, and the town was fully booked. I found lodging in a humble private home, where a $10 room went for $50.
A $6 day pass at the spectacular Pelican Eyes resort saved the day. I spent my final days lounging poolside and plotting my quick return to Nicaragua’s Caribbean Corn Islands.
Neil Wolfson is an acclaimed lifestyle editor and bon vivant. He has written extensively on the subjects of luxury travel, food, wine and fashion.