Known to locals as Cocibolca, or Sweet Sea, Lake Nicaragua stretches across the country’s base in an expanse of shimmering sapphire, framed in several spots by soaring volcanic cones. For Nicaraguans, these waters constitute more than just a lake—they are a life force that is deeply respected, if not revered. And their isletas, or tiny islands, serve as home to centuries-old fishing communities.
Built in tropical tree-house style along the shoreline of one such isleta, Jicaro Island Lodge’s nine casitas sit at the heart of this captivating water world, offering guests the rare opportunity to truly live the archipelago. Your boat ride to the lodge is graced with views of the Mombacho Volcano, and throughout your stay, the lake rarely retreats from view. Travel between neighboring islands by kayak or paddleboard, or journey to the shoreline to explore Nicaragua’s many cultural and natural wonders. Back at the lodge, settle in to watch the tropical sun drop behind volcanos and evening bring stillness to the Sweet Sea.
Opening a sustainable lodge in Nicaragua seemed a revolutionary feat when founder Karen Emanuel began building Jicaro, using timber from trees felled by Hurricane Felix. Nicaragua’s tourism industry was still relatively undeveloped then, and sustainability was a little-known concept. Today, Jicaro is poised to set the standard for responsible development in a country on the verge of a tourism boom. During its construction phase, Emanuel took sustainability lessons from across the border in Costa Rica, an ecotourism capital where several of Jicaro’s sister properties—including Lapa Rios Lodge, also a National Geographic Unique Lodge—have thrived.
Her relationship with these Costa Rican success stories has empowered the lodge to work sustainability into every phase of its construction. The structure was carefully adapted to the natural features of the isleta: casitas were built within existing jungle clearings and volcanic rock formations were creatively incorporated into the design. Locals from neighboring isletas staff the lodge and are eager to share their culture with guests. The result is a serene hideaway with strong sense of place at the heart of a wild aquatic world—and a crucial example of the positive impact tourism can have at a tipping point for the Nicaraguan tourism industry.
National Geographic guests are invited on an exclusive, complimentary excursion along the base of the mighty Mombacho Volcano. Travel by boat to the foot of the volcano, and set off on a guided interpretive hike through the lush, tropical forests of La Calera Natural Reserve. Your destination is a secluded hot spring, where you’ll enjoy a picnic breakfast. Spend some time kayaking along inland waterways before catching the boat back to Jicaro.
Since the laying of its first volcanic stones, Jicaro Island Lodge has provided employment opportunities to residents of neighboring isletas and the lakeshore. Locals built the lodge, and Jicaro now partners with islanders to raise poultry, grow produce, compost organic waste, and even harvest cooking gas from pig manure. Jicaro is also deeply committed to giving back to these isleta communities and works with a local public charity to provide basic supplies and develop environmental education programs for community school children. At the school, the lodge installed solar panels, as well as a new filtration system that provides clean drinking water to students and to communities throughout the archipelago.
In 2013, Jicaro began tracking its progress on a set of ambitious sustainability benchmarks. Their goals include going off the grid and fully transitioning to solar power; and building the capacity to recycle or compost 100 percent of qualifying manmade and organic waste.
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