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Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge

La Chocolata
San Juan del Sur , Nicaragua
505 2254-7989

Most guests heading to this 2004 charming jungle lodge pack hiking boots and swimsuits, anticipating the area's tropical forests and spectacular Pacific Coast beach. Many also bring Spanish-language textbooks to donate to one of five neighboring schools. Whether buying furniture (handcrafted by area artisans) or training employees (in plant identification and wildlife conservation), Morgan's Rock works in tandem with the local community. The resort also serves as a role model for the country's incipient ecotourism industry, by building a recycling plant and planting more than 1.5 million trees. The moment you step inside, it’s clear that the respect for nature and authenticity is wedded to a deeply comforting design. The public areas are understated and cool, each indoor-outdoor space morphing gently into the next, lobby to lounge to restaurant to pool. The floors are polished dark stone, the walls rusticated volcanic rock, the roofs red tile and thatch, the hanging lamps just stylish enough. And the view, unmediated by windows, is killer, a mile-wide Pacific cove with a perfect white crescent beach, the broad embracing arms of land to the left and right nearly devoid of buildings. Its founders and owners are the Ponçons, a family that emigrated from France to Nicaragua in the 1970’s to grow coffee—and in the 90’s teamed up with a British émigré named Matthew Falkiner to start an eco-friendly high-design furniture business called Simplemente Madera/Exchange, or “Simply Wood.” Fifteen very separate 1,000-square-foot bungalows mostly face the ocean, separated from it and the forest only by a translucent screen. The style is Pacific Rim leisure-Modernist, part open-plan ryokan and part tropical post-and-beam tree house. Each bungalow is built on slabs of volcanic rock. They are all made of solid Nicaraguan hardwood: the raw eucalyptus structural posts, the milled walnut beams, the dark almond floors, the mahogany trim, and the (vaguely Midcentury Scandinavian) Simplemente Madera furniture. “Green” is not just a fashionable veneer at Morgan’s Rock. You choose your dinner at breakfast in order to minimize wasted food; there’s no room service so that leftovers don’t encourage the monkeys to break and enter; empty termite nests are burned in the evening to ward off mosquitoes; the hot running water is solar-heated; and the pool is filled with chlorine-free salt water. And the resort supports five nearby grade schools. But the social progressivism and eco-regimen come across as sensible and good-humored, never overbearing or grim. (In sensibility as well as competence, the Sandinistas could probably learn a lot from this little self-sufficient utopia.) The menu is full of meat as well as fish, and nearly everything served is grown or raised or caught on-site. Go on a fishing expedition on the resort's private boat and the restaurant will cook your catch (unless it's been made into fresh ceviche on-board).

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