Monday, August 30, 2010

Nicaragua is the perfect place to go green!

PHOTO CAPTIONS: The water in Lake Nicaragua is higher during the Green Season, May through October. Compare with an earlier photo before the rains.

In recent years, as social stability and economic growth have come to Central America, eco-travelers are discovering that Nicaragua is one of the undiscovered treasures of the Western Hemisphere. And they are also learning that the best time to come here is during the rainy season, May through October – what we at Jicaro Island Ecolodge like to refer to as “The Green Season.” The moniker is appropriate not only because everything is so lush and green, but also because we are an eco-friendly, sustainable hotel.

Nicaragua is very accessible for a quick eco-getaway or a more immersive experience. It is only a two- to three-hour flight from Miami (American), Atlanta (Delta) and Houston (Continental) into the capital city of Managua, and no visas are required. Jicaro is located just a short boat ride from the colonial town of Granada, Nicaragua’s top tourist town. And during the Green Season, flights are usually cheaper, as are your room nights at eco-resorts such as Jicaro.

It is usually sunny in the mornings allowing ample time for fun and sun on hikes or in the lake. While the rainy season makes Nicaragua less intensely hot, the temperature does not drop drastically, so the rains are always warm, refreshing and therapeutic. And, the natural beauty of the country is enhanced because everything is super lush and green.

Jicaro Island has spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano across Lake Nicaragua and over 100 different species of birds have been sighted since opening in January 2010. The water in the lake is at a higher level in the rainy season, and animal life abounds. The cloud forests are within easy reach for more active excursions while daily yoga and massage services are offered on site. Jicaro is quickly gaining a reputation as a perfect location for yoga, and the Green Season is a wonderful time to renew your daily practice in privacy.

1. Cheaper airfare and lower hotel rates.

Check it out for yourself and you’ll find you can fly down to Managua for less. Check special promotions at Jicaro Island Ecolodge here.

2. Less people in the hotel and on tours.

This translates to more personalized attention and service in the hotel, the restaurant and on activity tours such as hiking the volcano, birding or kayaking. It also allows you more privacy and quality time with your partner or family.

3. More chances to see wildlife.

The Green Season is a perfect time of the year to observe birds and other wildlife around Jicaro Island. Animals are more active because of the rain and because there are fewer people on trails. And, it’s easier to see their tracks after a rain!

Monday, August 23, 2010


Last week we had an important group of visitors at Jicaro. The president of Kyoto University, Yoshikazu Morita (at the left in the bottom of the picture) was here, accompanied by Granada’s Mayor Eulogio Mejía (in the center of the picture with pink shirt) and the well known biologist, scientist and anthropologist, Jaime Incer Barquero (left, top, blue shirt). The purpose of President Morita’s visit to Nicaragua was to hold meetings to establish a better relationship between our country and Japan and to support local universities. This is good news for our country!

Monday, August 16, 2010


Recent Jicaro guest Genna Robustelli visited our pigs ("chanchera") here at Jicaro in order to learn about one of our projects for the benefit of the community. The piglets are already three months old and doing fine. We are donating pigs to our neighbor in order to use all leftover food from the restaurant instead of sending it somewhere else. Here we have only two pigs, one will be for the person who is taking care of them, which represents a benefit for his family. So the pigs represent monetary income for locals involved in this project. Eventually we want to improve our biogas cooking system using the pig's excrement, a plan which is already in effect at our sister hotel, Lapa Rios in Costa Rica. (Other photos show the pig pen being built, supervised by owner Karen Emanuel).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Fabian Espinoza Avellan has been the sustainability coordinator and also a tour guide at Jicaro Island Ecolodge since its opening in December 2009. He was born in Rivas, Nicaragua and has studied to be a naturalist both there and in Costa Rica. He took some time away from his busy schedule at Jicaro to answer the questions for this interview.

Frances: When you were a little child, what did want to be when you grew up?

Fabian: Well…I wanted to be a pilot or an electronic engineer. I started taking my first electronics courses when I was 10 years old.

Frances: How did you come to work in tourism and to be interested in nature?

Fabian: When I was 19, I started working in a hotel on the Pacific Coast near San Juan del Sur, which was managed by Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality. I was working in the maintenance department, but sometimes I was asked to be the driver for some of the tours offered in the lodge. So I became curious about what the guide was explaining in the tour. Of course, at the time I did not speak any English. So learning this language and some natural history was my first goal. I never expected that nature and sustainability issues were going to be so interesting for me. As I was learning more every day, I suddenly realized I was falling in love with nature.

Frances: Explain what a typical day is like for you at work on Jicaro Island.

Fabian: On a typical day, I start by taking a walk around the kitchen, restaurant, spa, and back of the house to ensure that everything is working properly in the aspect of sustainability. I check that lights or any kind of electrical appliance that is not being used is turned off in order to save energy. I make sure that trash and recycling has been separated as it should be. Then I check all the tour equipment (life jackets, paddles, kayaks, books, binoculars, telescope) and if necessary I clean them up. On the computer, I check e-mails and special guest requests, work on developing our ongoing projects for community and schools, create slideshows for guests and update important information such as guidelines for water and energy consumption. At the end of the day I arrange the tours for the upcoming days and organize my tasks for the week. When I have an unexpected tour, my daily and weekly plan changes.

Frances: What is your favorite part of your job? What makes you the happiest?

Fabian: My favorite part of my job is teaching and sharing my knowledge of the culture of Nicaragua and its natural heritage. I am a bird lover and the location of the hotel is perfect for bird watching; I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures of beautiful birds that live around the island. They are unique! Another thing that really makes me feel happy is having a job where we are helping kids from the school as well as the local people.

Frances: Describe one of your favorite days at work.

Fabian: My favorite day so far was when we had our first guest (Kathryn Maier). Besides this, there have been another days where I have felt particularly good; for example when guests say they loved the tour or when they learned something from me about sustainability.

Frances: What do you feel are the benefits for tourists or travelers who come to stay at an eco-resort or sustainable hotel as opposed to a regular, mainstream accommodation that does not consider sustainability?

Fabian: Once guests arrive at our lodge, from their very first encounter with a staff member, they receive amazing personal and unique attention. Being a hotel committed to the environment and the local community, we try to purchase organic and non-harmful products as much as possible. Through responsible and sustainable practices, we care for our guests’ health.

Frances: Do you think Jicaro Island Ecolodge benefits from being managed by Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality?

Fabian: I am completely sure there is not another company like Cayuga in Central America that manages hotels with the experience and vision that they have. I like working with them because they are people who are truly committed to sustainability, beyond it just being a job. Also they take care of us and know how to treat their staff in a way that allows all of us to grow as professionals.

Frances: If the guests who come in contact with you during their stay could take away one particular memory or feeling about you as a staff member, what would you want them to take away and remember forever?

Fabian: I want to be remembered as that guy who shared his knowledge with them.

Frances: Thank you so much. It has been great to talk to you.

Fabian: I enjoyed the questions and hope my answers are helpful.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Since she was a child, Karen Emanuel has always wanted to grow up and have a job she loved so much it didn’t feel like work. She succeeded. She owns Jicaro Island Ecolodge.

Born and raised in London, England, Karen received a degree in genetics from Leeds University. She worked for a short while at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the Genetics department but very quickly learned that staring into test tubes and Petri dishes wasn't adventurous or entrepreneurial enough for her. In 1990, she developed Key Production Ltd., which supplies CDs, DVDs, print and packaging to music, media and business markets throughout Europe. She also created Decadent Properties Ltd., a small real estate company in London.

And, as if she wasn’t already enterprising enough, she opened Jicaro Island Ecolodge in December 2009. The seed of the concept had been planted three years earlier when Karen was vacationing in Nicaragua and one day happened into a restaurant and saw a notice proclaiming "Island for Sale.” This sparked her imagination, partly as a fantasy, but also because she recognized that Nicaragua was a developing Central American country with a lot to offer the tourism industry. After an inspiring boat ride with the island’s owners, followed by a relaxing week at an exemplary ecolodge on the Nicaraguan coast, the idea that would eventually become Jicaro began to take shape.

Arriving back home to the bleak London winter, Karen scribbled down a few figures on the back of an envelope and within a few weeks she had bought herself an island. Two years later, with the help of architect Matthew Falkiner and team from Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, the dream began to develop into a reality. Since its opening, Jicaro Island Ecolodge has hired a staff of local Nicaraguan people and its inaugural guests have had nothing but overwhelmingly positive responses.

“I feel proud of what I have achieved and delighted at their experiences,” she said. “It makes me very happy to see other people de-stress, relax and enjoy what I have created. It’s also extremely satisfying to see the development of an amazing set of employees.”

She says working with Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality has been an amazing experience. “They are the experts. They understand what I want and how to make it happen. And we share the philosophy: Take only photos; leave only footprints; try to do something to help preserve this amazing world we live in.”

Karen is the author of a blog about the ups and downs of building an ecolodge on an island in a lake in Nicaragua at

In the photo: Karen Emanuel and General Manager Howard Coulson from Nicaragua.