© Jen Murphy
Jicaro overlooks Nicaragua's Mombacho Volcano.
I try to start every year with an exotic, off-the-beaten-path solo vacation. My requirements: beach, decent surf, nature, a good local beer and supersimple, fresh food. On a late-night whim, I booked a flight to Nicaragua and mapped out an exciting four-day adventure. My friends cracked jokes about being on the lookout for Sandinistas, but we’re no longer in the 80s. Nicaragua in 2011 is all about fabulous, luxe ecolodges, unspoiled nature and… yoga (who knew!). I spent my first two nights at the new Jicaro Ecolodge set on a tiny island in Lake Nicaragua. Each of its nine suites has a deck that overlooks the lake (I ended each night there on my oversized hammock with a cold Toña, the local pilsner). There are more than 300 islands in Lake Nicaragua, and in the morning, Fabian, the resident naturalist, took me on a sunrise kayak tour pointing out the various herons and egrets and parrots hiding in the trees. The local fisherman we passed often supply Jicaro’s restaurant with their day’s catch; the restaurant makes a point of using as much local produce as possible. Meals are served al fresco overlooking the water and highlights included shrimp tacos, seared lake fish over cauliflower puree, bananas Foster pancakes with Flor de Caña rum and mocha bread pudding made with organic local coffee. Everything on the menu is available in half portions, which meant I could try more local dishes. Roberto, another local staffer, seemed to read my mind. While I lounged by the infinity pool, he’d appear with a cookie as a midday treat or would bring me red bean hummus and vegetables to snack on just as I was getting hungry. Jicaro often hosts yoga retreats with teachers like guru Cyndi Lee, but can also schedule private lessons on the spectacular yoga deck with local instructors from Pure in Granada. My instructor, Warren, gave me his cheat sheet for what to scope out in Granada on a Sunday. I'll post more on that tomorrow.