The Balance city of dreams guide to: Nekupe, Nicaragua
DESTINATION: Nekupe, Nicaragua
HOW TO BOOK
Booking info: Black Tomato (020 7426 9888) can arrange a luxury adventure to Nekupe Resort from £4,875 per person, which includes five nights’ accommodation with all meals, experiences and private transfers.
The stream before us gushes, thigh-deep and cobalt blue, through the wide forest valley, before snaking off into the distance and disappearing into a dense tangle of trees. Pinto, my horse, stubborn and a little lazy, doesn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of crossing it. And there’s no turning back, so we’re currently at an impasse.
I’m at Nekupe, a new sporting resort in lush, jungly Nicaragua. Horse-riding (full-disclosure: I’m a total rookie) is just one of the activities you can hurl yourself into at this sprawling, luxurious retreat, which also hosts winding hiking trails, skeet shooting ranges and a bounty of outdoor yoga decks, complete with gratifyingly green views. But an active-luxe adventure in Nicaragua doesn’t have to cost the earth. As well as the particularly high-end Nekupe, there’s an abundance of beautiful eco-lodges, boutique hotels and decent hostels across the country, too.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Right now, the sun is setting. Pinto and I have already trudged through sultry teak forests and billows of vibrant yellow butterflies. But she seems somewhat reluctant to wet her hooves.
Eventually (and with much prodding) she plods forward into the water, and I lurch from side-to-side, gripping the saddle with untrained thighs, as she ploughs steadily across.
Emerging onto the opposite bank, I spot a beady-eyed hawk high up in the branches, illuminated by the last shafts of sunlight. Vultures circle in the sky above the forest canopy and howler monkeys crash through the trees, pausing occasionally to eyeball us curiously. As we mosey on back towards the stables, snakes slither across our path and fireflies emerge. ‘This’, I think, ‘is real wilderness.’
SURROUNDED BY NATURE
Filled with emerald forests and golden sand beaches, Nicaragua (the largest country in Central America) is a big draw for those who love plenty of wildlife, gnarly surf waves and the great outdoors.
About an hour from the vibrant yet laid-back town of Grenada (the design-focused Los Patios Hotel, from £93 per night, is a lovely little bolthole here), Nekupe really iS the place to immerse yourself in nature. Set on a 1,300-acre private reserve in Nicaragua’s Pacific countryside, it’s surrounded by towering volcanoes, dragonfruit plantations and thick teak forests.
With just eight suites and villas on site, here you can hide away in total seclusion, enjoying your wildly spacious room – with vast double bed, impeccable rainforest shower and wallow-friendly bathtub (complete with magnificent views across the rambling countryside). Perfect for holing up after an adventure-filled day outdoors. For more budget-friendly accommodation in the area though, Mombacho Lodge (a tiny little eco-hotel perched on the edge of the volcano) is also the place to spot sloths, howler monkeys and gaggles of gem-coloured birds (cabins start at around £74 per night).
The next morning, I wake early to soak up the view from my vast balcony – cactus gardens below, the Mombacho volcano directly ahead and crisp sugar cane plantations filling the landscape for as far as the eye can see – before heading for some alfresco yoga. This has to be one of the best places on earth to practice your sun salutations. As we smoothly move through gentle-yet-challenging Ashtanga poses, colourful hummingbirds flit around our heads, vultures spiral at eye-level (we’re so high up here) and monkeys hoot and holler below us.
After a rejuvenating session I’m picked up by Daniel, my personal butler, in my own personal All-Terrain-Vehicle (kind of like a souped-up golf buggy). Guests can zip around the grounds in these cars (you can drive it yourself if you’re feeling really adventurous), flitting between the private villas, tennis courts, indulgent spa and Feng-Shui focused pool. Those who prefer to do things by foot can don their hiking boots and amble around some of Nekupe’s more challenging trails, including the ‘Stairway to heaven’, a mountain of hundreds of steep steps, opening out onto a devastatingly beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to see Lake Nicaragua and the twin volcanic peaks of nearby Isla de Ometepe (stay at the beachfront Xalli hotel, from £30 per night, for great views of the volcanoes and a superb seafood restaurant).
I, however, am on my way to Don Alfredo’s restaurant (named after Nekupe’s owner), where chef Julio Sanchez serves me up a thrilling feast of zucchini gazpacho, tender sea bass fillet and zingy caramelised sweet pineapple with passion fruit sorbet.
After time on the shooting range (much more relaxing and eco-friendly than it sounds) and an impeccably delivered ‘five senses’ spa treatment, using products inspired by the natural environment, I round off the adventure on an impromptu night safari. As Daniel and I wind our way through tangled trails and fields of passion fruit plants, we spot scorpions, skunks and opossums illuminated in the flashlight. Nicaragua really is a wonderful place to get lost in the wilderness.
Nekupe means ‘heaven’ in the language of the indigenous Chorotega people of the area.
WORLDWIDE: Three more memorable adventures
This remote Portuguese archipelago is the perfect place to get adventurous. Its rugged, wildlife-rich volcanic landscape offers some of the best canyoning (abseiling down waterfalls, jumping into rock pools and sliding down water chutes) you can get anywhere. Try Azores Choice’s week-long trip around the waters of Flores and São Miguel islands. From £1,020pp, with flights via Lisbon.
Even the most intrepid equestrian will be put to the test with In The Saddle’s Andorra trail, which spans 350km from the Mediterranean coast, spiralling up into the Pyrenees. Travelling through remote areas accessible only on foot (or horseback) you’ll pass through Spain, France and Andorra, climbing to altitudes of more than 3,000m. Strictly NOT for the fainthearted. Runs May to November, from £1,424, excluding flights to Barcelona or Girona.
Years of ice shelf movements on Iceland’s Myrdalsjokull ice cap have led to the development of sinkholes, crevasses, ridges and ice formations, just begging to be explored on this challenging day-tour. Go where few have ventured (namely Sólheimajökull, a glacier ‘snout’ on the ice-cap), Nature Kicks will guide you on combined hiking and climbing tour from Reykjavik to the very edges of this mysterious country. From £359pp.
Read more: The Balance city of dreams guide to Antigua