By the time I reached the marina on Cocibolca Lake, I had been in Nicaragua long enough to feel its courting take, but I still could not put my finger on the deep connection I felt to this new place. As my feet left the mainland, and we loaded up the small boat that would take me to my island paradise, I felt a slip from one world into another. Suddenly in a world where everything and everyone relies on the lake to transport them from one piece of steady ground to the next. As the boat whizzed along I found myself surrounded by little islands, and off in the distance I could see their mother. The beautifully choreographed jungle habitat, lush wherever it could thrive, was an incredible contrast to the water life and its shiny reflection. While I had a good idea of the plan ahead, I had no idea Isleta El Espino, a private island eco-resort near Granada in Nicaragua was going to be as magical as it was.
There are 365 islands, or “isletas” on Cocibolca Lake and each one is named after a tree. The isletas are scattered around the Asese peninsula and they are of volcanic origin. They were formed thousands of years ago when the Mombacho volcano blew most of its top into the lake. Many of the islands have been purchased by locals and foreigners, and some of them even protected to preserve the delicate nature happening there. As we made our way to our destination I could see vacation homes and other hotels and restaurants on islands that we passed, and I learned later that even the local school is on its own island and the children paddle their way to it each morning.
Isleta El Espino
Isleta El Espino, or Hawthorne, is the home of a thoughtfully designed and operated boutique hotel with only five rooms. The brother and sister owners fell in-love with Nicaragua a handful of years ago, and on a whim purchased the island.
As the boat slowed, and my captain carefully guided us to the private dock, I could see two smiling faces ready to welcome me. Everyone who works on Isleta El Espino is local, some from the nearby town of Granada, but most from neighbouring islands. Some of them are even family; the bartender is the chef’s son. When the island was purchased it had one inhabitant who watched over it, his name is Jose. Jose is nearly 100 years old and he still lives on El Espino. Maria Jose, the hotel’s concierge, welcomed me as if I was family, and I was handed a beautiful welcome tea, and then the magic of the island began to take.
My casita, one of two, faced the volcano and was perfectly situated for me to have a front row seat to the spectacular sunset shows that Mother Nature provided during my stay, and a view of the majestic volcano. Everything about El Espino is thoughtful, from the rays of sunshine that they collect for power to the way they filter and utilise the lake water. Designed with a careful eye, by the talented hands of Kristin the co-owner who is an expert in design, is an expression and celebration of texture and patterns and materials from local artisans and nearby towns. The entire hotel looks and feels like you are stepping into the pages of a dreamy design magazine. Handmade local pottery, hand carved wooden furniture, blankets, hammocks and even the building supplies are all native to Nicaragua, and this gives the hotel its heart. The soul of the place lives in the energy and vibration of the staff who proudly work there.
Artisan Chocolate Experience
On the second day of my stay I watched the chef make chocolate from scratch, an arduous and time-consuming task that involves roasting local cacao, peeling the beans, grinding them using a metate, and then mixing the chocolate with simple ingredients, putting it into forms and cooling it. It is a recipe and process that she has perfected over the years. I happily sipped a handmade fresh chocolate shake while I was watching, and the chocolate that I had for dessert will always be one of my very favourite things about my visit to Nicaragua and my stay at El Espino. The house-made chocolate is served with a little pottery carafe of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and it is spectacular.
Connecting with Nature on Lake Nicaragua
The last morning of my stay I took a nature and bird watching tour on the lake with a guide and Maria Jose. The lake fauna and wildlife was abundant that morning, we saw a family of howler monkeys with lots of babies eating in the trees, and many local birds including Oropéndola Alinegra, a bird that creates really unique hanging nests for its babies’ eggs, and the Purple Gallinule, my very favourite colourful tropical and dainty bird with lots of beautiful colours. Gliding along on the lake in and out of the little canals and waterways of this delicate habitat with both its human and jungle inhabitants was like being in a Monet painting at one point with water-lily sunbathing pads for flocks and turtles, and little wooden boats lined up on the shore of the island that housed the local elementary school.
“Not every lake dreams to be an ocean. Blessed are the ones who are happy with whom they are.” – Mehmet Murat Ildan
It is a quiet, gentle world, far away from the noise of man-made things, and the longer I stayed there the more quiet it got. They call Nicaragua “the land with heart,” and it is said to be “the heart of the world’s biodiversity.” The people are kind and generous and gentle and live with deep appreciation for the land and spirit, and you can feel this in the air that you breathe there. Isleta El Espino is a magic doorway into this world, your very own private invitation.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Isleta El Espino for this stay. As always, the opinions, words and images are authentically our own.
Stopping over in Granada? Here’s how to spend a day in Granada, Nicaragua.
Isleta El Espino