BLUEFIELDS – Despite its turquoise blue waters and rich cultural heritage,Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast has long lacked the same luxurious options that draw visitors to other Caribbean tourist destinations.
But that is starting to change, thanks to the recent introduction of several high-end options in both Bluefields and on the stunning islands off the coast. Though they are not quite the five-star quality – or price – found in the Bahamas, these new hotels offer visitors a fancier lodging option that what was available just a few years ago.
Already a Bluefields landmark in its first year of existence is the Hotel Oasis, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 505-72-2812), the first and only luxury option in this funky port town. The 15-room hotel and casino complex sits just a short walk up from the main boat dock in town, and has already become a favorite for sportfishing.
“Sportfishing is really taking off here,” said Oasis owner Mark McKnight. “We’ve had 12 sportfishing groups here just in the past month.”
The Oasis, which offers sportfishing packages, last weekend held its annual sportfishing tournament, won by local Bluefields fisherman Blayne Campbell, who pulled in a 174.5-pound tarpon out of the KukraRiver. Event organizers think it might be the largest fish ever caught in Nicaragua.
The Oasis, at least from the outside, looks like a smaller version of the casinos that dot the highways around Managua. But the Oasis boasts of the same type of amenities that one can find in a upper-end hotel: from wireless Internet to a full breakfast in the morning. The rooms are large and comfortable.
The hotel also features some of the creature comforts that one generally forgoes on the Caribbean coast, such as hot water and shower pressure. A spacious double room, at less than $80 a night, is an impossible-to beat bargain for the price of admission.
The Oasis also has two junior suites and a full presidential suite, which often entertains visiting politicians. The presidential suite, a relative bargain at $250 a night, takes up an entire floor and offers great views of the bay.
Downstairs, you can whittle away your extra money at the lively casino, which has poker tables and plenty of slot machines. On Sunday, there is a live reggae band.
A short 45-minute plane ride from Bluefields is Nicaragua’s enticing and tropical BigCornIsland, which has two luxury lodging options of its own.
The nicer of the two is Casa Canada, (www.casa-canada.com; 644-0925), set along the beautiful south end of the island.
The owners, who decorated the front of their hotel with a small Canadian flag, have added several other North American touches to the tropical surroundings here. The 20, cabana-style rooms overlook the island’s only pool. The open-air restaurant boasts the best chef on the island. But don’t take others’ word for it, order the Caribbean-style lobster and judge for yourself.
The rooms, at $70 a night, all have cable television, but the stunning views of rocky shore line should keep you from staying in the room at watching TV. Lay out in one of the hammocks in the stately appointed grounds and enjoy the ocean breezes. Across the street, you can rent a golf cart for $50 a day and putt around the 24-square mile island; it’s by far the best way to explore.
Another high-end option, Arena’s Beach, (www.cesarbeach.com; 575-5223) sits on the far side of BigCornIsland, surrounded by beautiful white sands and the calm waters of SouthwestBay.
Arenas has the feel of a hotel in Miami, although if you were in Miami you would be better off spending your money somewhere else. The hotel offers large yet modest rooms for $75 a night, and colorful bungalows for $130 a night.
The service, however, is sub par, perhaps due to growing pains associated with its recent change in ownership.
Those who really want to go all out can rent their own island.
Two hours south of Bluefields by boat is Lime Cay, a tropical paradise covered with mango groves and coconut palm trees. A charming home fits six visitors, who can spend their day like Robinson Crusoe – or the Rockefellers, lounging by the pool and eating excellent meals cooked up by your own chef.
The $5,000 a week price tag includes transportation and food (www.lime-cay.com).
For even more pampering, head northeast of the Bluefields to Little Eden Cay, certainly the most dramatic resort on Nicaragua’s entire coast. Calling it a “temple to good living,” the kiwi owners have thought of every elegant touch possible, from ornate chandeliers to a one-of-a-kind classic harp. The 23 acres, complete with a swimming pool and perfect white sand beaches, rents for $14,000 a week (www.little-eden-cay.com).
Altantic Airlines (222-5787) and La Costeña ( 263-1228) offer daily flights to the Caribbean coast for around $130 round trip.