For all of its hundreds of miles of exquisite coastline, the Central American country of Nicaragua is curiously lacking in beachfront accommodations for travelers. A little digging makes the reasons clear: Land ownership has been ambiguous ever since the Sandinista revolutionaries expropriated large sections of land in the 1980s, resulting in endless title disputes today. Add to this a sensible national law dictating that no building may be erected within 50 meters of the high tide line, and you’re likely to need a vehicle to get to that surf break.
The location of the Playa Hermosa Ecolodge, on the privately owned beach of the same name, makes it an automatic draw, then. The lodge and adjacent restaurant are the only buildings on this mile-long stretch of coastline. During a stay this winter, I learned quickly that while day trippers from San Juan del Sur show up beginning in the late morning, during breakfast and in the evening you’ll have the place almost entirely to yourself. (For surfers, this makes for some blissfully uncrowded waves.)
My boyfriend and I booked the place precisely because of its proximity to the ocean, well aware that the word “ecolodge” in the hotel’s name likely indicated a certain minimalism in terms of air conditioning and electricity. We encountered just this, along with an overall experience that is tantalizing close to ideal, if only the Playa Hermosa Ecolodge could tweak its amenities ever-so-slightly—but in very specific areas—to enhance guest comfort.
Hotel specifics below the photo gallery…
The Hotel: The Ecolodge consists of a single building with an open-air lobby and check-in area. Of eight rooms total, four overlook the ocean, two offer “mountain views,” one has a garden view and, finally, there’s a seven-bed shared room.
The solar-powered building is built from the native Genízaro tree, while other native flora dot the grounds. Between the building and the ocean, a smattering of tables, chairs, and hammocks beckon.
Despite some of the creature comforts the hotel lacks (more on that below), it’s clear that the staff—made up exclusively of locals—are trying hard, although they have yet to gain a second-nature understanding of what guests typically expect from mid- to –high-end accommodations.
I loved the welcome cocktail—a welcome cocktail is one of the easiest ways to a guest’s heart.
The Room: We had a second-floor room facing the ocean, with a glorious terrace that became unusable during the hottest parts of the day, when the sun beat down directly and relentlessly. The space was airy and breezy most of the time, in just the way you want a room on the ocean to be, with great wide-plank wood floors, a mosquito net and a sliding wooden door to the terrace. Our king bed was comfortable.
An advertised ceiling fan was in fact a small oscillating fan attached to the wall near the ceiling. It didn’t do the trick, and I lost sleep when the sea breeze went still in the dead of night.
The large jug of purified water was great, if only they provided cups from which to drink it.
If I were to make just two recommendations to management for improving the guest experience, I’d tell them to invest in actual ceiling fans and in ice buckets for the rooms (there’s already an ice machine at the restaurant). One drinks a lot of water in this climate, and having it cold would make all the difference.
The Bathroom: Our bathroom was perfectly serviceable, though not luxurious. The two main things to know here: There’s no hot water, which you won’t mind at all and, like in much of Nicaragua, toilet paper cannot be thrown into the toilet, but goes instead into the trash bin next to the toilet.
The Food: At mealtime I felt often a little bit trapped: The hotel’s ban on outside food dictated that I eat all meals at the restaurant, yet the restaurant was out of tortillas every time I tried to order a quesadilla or empanada, leaving me, as a vegetarian, invariably with the pasta—not my dish of choice in Central America.
I did very much enjoy the Nicaraguan breakfast, which was included in the room. The passionfruit juice, especially, provided as good a reason as any to get up in the morning.
If you head to this hotel, I’d recommend sneaking in some snacks from the outside, even though they are not allowed.
The Amenities: The beach here helps you forgive everything. A long, slowly bending swath that’s close to empty even on the busiest days, with jungle hills rising just beyond and clean waves sidling up to shore one after another.
Note that if you’re a surfer who’s not entirely smitten by surfer culture, this is your place. The surf bros and man buns are safely ensconced a bit up the coast at Playa Maderas, while Playa Hermosa and its perpetually perfect waves have the feel of a blissful secret. There’s a surfboard rental on the premises.
The Takeaway: At $100 plus tax, I would expect an ice bucket and basic daily maid service, especially to empty the waste basket in the bathroom containing all that used toilet paper. I’d also expect a really adequate fan. For contrast, that amount tended to get us air conditioning, a good pool and a higher level of luxury elsewhere in Nicaragua, even when close to the ocean. There’s quite a premium for sleeping right on the beach in this country.
That said, The Playa Hermosa Ecolodge helped us have a gorgeous beach to ourselves for much of our stay, and aside from the peak of the afternoon sun and the dead of the windless night, a pretty dreamy time.
PLAYA HERMOSA ECOLODGE | Playa Hermosa Beach | Nicaragua | website