San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Slice of Heaven on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua Morgan’s Rock: Touching the Ground Lightly

IT’S hard to decide what’s mostimpressive about Morgan’s RockHacienda and Ecolodge, near San Juan delSur on the southern Pacific coast. Is it theelegant restaurant, infinity pool, toweringsuspension bridge and private bungalows,each with a floor-to-ceiling view of thePacific’s crashing waves? Or is it the factthat, from the spectacular beach below, noevidence of these luxuries can be seen,save for a few thatched roofs nestled intothe hillside?“That’s the whole idea,” GeneralManager Carla Petzold-Beck said of thelodge’s combination of first-rate facilitiesand unobtrusive design. Morgan’s Rock isa unique place that strikes a balancebetween competing concerns – servinggourmet meals that meet guests’ needs butminimize food waste, for example, or illuminatingpaths and rooms while minimizinglight pollution to avoid disturbing thesea turtles that nest on the beach.The lodge is perched not only on one ofthe country’s most beautiful beaches, butalso on the cusp of two of CentralAmerica’s most promising tourist trends.Tourism in Nicaragua and hotel optionsthat allow visitors to experience and supportlocal ecosystems have both enjoyedexponential gains in recent years.Morgan’s Rock capitalizes on both trends,offering guests aresort experiencewhile simultaneouslytaking action to conservethe area’s treesand wildlife.INCREDIBLY,the lodge, whichseems as welldesigned and operatedas if it had beenopen for years, hasonly been receivingguests since late lastyear.French agronomistClement-MariePonçon and his wifeClaire, 31-year residentswho bought theproperty in 1998,originally intendedto create a naturepreserve on the site. When a consultantwho evaluated the property’s tourismpotential recommended clearing largeareas of land for facilities, including a golfcourse, the Ponçons, horrified, insteadbegan a reforestation project and developedplans for a hotel that would enhance,not destroy, the environment.The couple asked architect MatthewFalkiner, who had designed their home, tocreate plans for a hotel that would blend inwith its environment (see separate story).They also partnered with CayugaSustainable Hospitality, the company thatmanages Hotel Lapa Ríos in Costa Rica’sSouthern Zone. The concept for the twohotels is similar, although the natural surroundingsare quite different – Lapa Ríos isin a rain forest, Morgan’s Rock in a tropicaldry forest in transition.The property is a tree farm, meaningthat controlled amounts of wood can beharvested to reduce pressure for illegal loggingelsewhere. Close to 1.5 million hardwoodand fruit trees have been plantedhere over the past six years, and about100,000 of the native hardwoods on theland will never be touched, Petzold-Becksaid. Animals that call the land their homeinclude howler monkeys, sloths and white taileddeer.MORGAN’S Rock is ideally situatedfor trips to southern Nicaragua’s manyattractions, but, quite frankly, I’m surprisedguests ever manage to leave the gorgeousbungalows at all. Most of the 15rooms are reached by crossing an imposing110-meter suspension bridge, designed andbuilt by a Germanengineer, to reach asteep slope overlookingthe water.The bungalows, setinto the hillside,have their own broaddecks with plenty ofcomfortable seatingand an outside showerto wash off thesand from the beachbelow. The wallsfacing the ocean aremade entirely ofscreens, making foran unparalleled viewfrom the king-sizebed.Local productsused in the constructionof the bungalowsinclude volcanicrock and gorgeousalmond, eucalyptus, walnut, cedarand other woods, all of which came fromresponsibly managed logging sources orreforestation products. The creativelydesigned bathrooms have hot water, thanksto solar panels.Tear yourself away from the room,however, and you’ll find a variety of tours– intended, like everything else atMorgan’s Rock, to help guests enjoy andlearn about the land around them. Whilethe lodge offers trips to Masaya NationalPark, the colonial city of Granada andother spots, there is plenty to see and dowithout leaving the grounds.Among the offerings are sunrise kayaking,accompanying fishermen on theirdaily ocean rounds, planting a tree whilelearning about local and global reforestation efforts, or visiting different parts ofthe Morgan’s Rock farm.The lodge does not offer its own surfing,catch-and-release sportfishing or divingtrips, but will arrange all three uponrequest.Of course, some guests want nothingmore than to lie in one of the comfortable,shaded hammocks on the beach, enjoyingan increasingly rare sight: a beautiful,pristine beach, devoid of people. Evenwhen other guests share the beach withyou, you’ll hardly notice them, since theranchitos that line the sand provide privacyfor sun-worshippers and shadedwellersalike.THE menu at Morgan’s Rock is variedand the food delicious, but what’s specialabout a meal here is not just the taste – it’sthe fact that almost everything placed infront of you was grown or raised withinwalking distance.Approximately 90% of the food consumedat the lodge comes from the property,according to Petzold-Beck. A boat goesout each day for fresh fish and lobster, and“the best shrimp you will ever eat,” raisedon algae instead of industrial shrimp food,come from the Morgan’s Rock shrimpfarm, she said. The trapiche, a traditionalmule-drawn sugarcane mill, allows therestaurant to offer its own sugar, molasses,cane liquor and homemade rum.And that’s not all. The farm also producesrice, corn, wheat and vegetables, allirrigated by a system that filters wastewaterthrough reed and gravel beds to minimizewater consumption. Five thousandfruit trees provide a range of delicacies.Plans are even under way to plant coffee onthe Morgan’s Rock property. (For themoment, the hotel’s delectable brew comesfrom the owners’ farm in the highlandsnear Matagalpa.)The menu includes dishes from a varietyof cuisines, including traditionalNicaraguan specialties with an internationalflair.Breakfast offerings include made-to orderomelets, gallo pinto or pancakes withcoconut and cashews. At lunch, choosefrom dishes such as chilled avocado soupwith ginger and lime, gazpacho or barbecued-duck quesadillas. The dinner menuchanges nightly, with a seafood and meatoption. Guests are asked to order theirchoice of the two entrées in the morning toavoid wasting food. Food is not served inthe rooms, for fear of attracting animals,but the staff will bring coffee to your doorat the hour you request, or arrange a honeymoondinner on the deserted beach.Strict instructions on the menu tell theguest not to leave Morgan’s Rock withouttrying the mousse au chocolat. Based onmy experience, it’s wise to heed thisadvice.THE lodge and farm’s staff is made upalmost entirely of Nicaraguans, in keepingwith the Morgan’s Rock goals of supportinglocal families and spreading knowledgeabout conservation.“There are a million Nicaraguans inCosta Rica, a million in the United States,”Petzold-Beck said. “We’d like to keepthem here. We’re trying to give employeesa platform to learn things they’ve neverlearned before: to learn English, to learn tocook, to learn to surf.”She said efforts are also made to hirepeople who live relatively close to thelodge to prevent long-term separationsfrom employees’ families, all too commonin the tourist industry.A STAY at Morgan’s Rock starts at$151 (for a double during the May-October“green season”), with all meals, local beveragesand taxes included. Five-night honeymoonpackages start at $2,010 per couple.The lodge is approximately 2.5 hoursby car from the international airports inManagua and in Liberia, Costa Rica. Tomake a reservation, visit; reservations by phone must bemade through the Costa Rican office at(506) 292-9442.

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