Last fall, I was struggling to plot my guy’s birthday celebration. With island, ski and city vacations already on the books for winter and spring break, I was chomping at the bit for something different. I love the beach, but I wanted a bit of adventure and like with each celebratory trip I plan, it had to be a destination we had never been too and one that we could do in four nights to get back to our five children and work obligations. The search was endless and everything I found kept falling short until I had a Meg Ryan moment and my inbox told me “you got mail”. The Conde Nast Traveller 2017 Hot List was out and Nekupe, a new ‘all-inclusive, intimate 8-room sporting resort for exploration and indulgence’ captured my attention.
Nicaragua, once an infamous country of covert arms deals and guerilla warfare was on my bucket list since its 2013 makeover with the opening of Mukul, a 38-room beach resort on the Emerald Coast (my review of Mukul coming soon). I decided to check off two boxes at once, and planned a Nicaraguan road trip. I packed my safari and surf attire and hit the road….the mothership was calling me home.
Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat is Nicaragua’s first luxury countryside resort, located 40 minutes from the historic colonial town of Granada on an 1,800-acre nature reserve. Nekupe, which means ‘heaven’ in Chorotega – the indigenous language of a native tribe in Nicaragua – opened in November 2016. Nicaraguan philanthropists Theresita and Alfredo Pellas Jr. were driven by their love of travel, adventure and their country and set out to create a destination where people could reconnect with each other and nature. They teamed up with Feng Shui specialist Iside Sarmiento to use the practice’s principles to influence the design of the resort including the four villas and the La Residencia. Each space is aligned to specific cardinal orientations to receive positive and enhanced energies.
Each guest is assigned a private ranger for the duration of their stay who creates a bespoke itinerary after getting to know you and understanding the intentions of your trip through several phone calls and emails prior to your arrival.
I arrived at Nekupe from the country’s capital Managua, which can be accessed by flights through Miami, Florida (the flight is about 2.5 hours). We hired a private driver and made the somewhat bumpy two hour drive making me wish I skipped the drive and opted to land in style on Nekupe’s helipad via private helicopter. While luxury resorts are popping up throughout Nicaragua, the growth of infrastructure is slow and the main form of transportation on unpaved roads in many areas are still ox carts and horses.
The gates to Nekupe are grandiose. As they opened up and my private ranger Felipe was waiting in an ATV, all I kept hearing in my head was the famous quote “ladies and gentleman, welcome to Jurassic Park”. Nekupe is surrounded by lush mountain and volcano landscape, giving guests an immediate connection to mother earth, while the warm neutral tones of the property provide a sense of peace and tranquility throughout your stay.
We spent the majority of our time on property with Ranger Felipe, listening to stories about the land, the Pella family history and the country of Nicaragua, all while riding horses, off roading through muddy fields on an ATV, hiking, indulging in cigar and rum tastings and hitting up the target range where I went ten for ten and showed the boys how it was done, thank you very much.
The eight-room resort is comprised of a main residence, La Residencia de Doña Thirstier, situated in the center of the reserve, and four villas thoughtfully positioned near La Residencia. Each accommodation offers a luxury ATV for guests to navigate throughout the resort.
La Residencia de Doña Thirstier
The 24,000 square foot estate offers four accommodations – two grand suites, Roble Grand Suite and Caoba Grand Suite – each 1,300 square feet, one king bed in each, and two additional suites, Cedro and Cortez – each 870 square feet, with two queen beds each. Grand Suite bathrooms in La Residencia feature outdoor showers and views out to the reserve and deep soaking tubs for each guest room. The whole estate can run up to 10K a night, but if the whole Residencia is not booked, guests can book one of the rooms and have access to the whole estate, except the other bedrooms which would be open for bookings.
The villas are steps from the Residencia and where we stayed. Three villas, Guanacaste, Genizaro and Madroño, are 1,000 square feet and can accommodate up to two rollaways which make them a great option for families who do not want to splurge for the Residencia.
Jicaro, the honeymoon suite is 700 square feet and where we chose to stay. Each villa comes with one king bed, living area and bathrooms with a soaking tub and shower. While the floor-to-ceiling windows and open terraces allow glorious natural light and views of the outdoors including Mombacho Volcano, it was the special touches by the staff at turn down that made the room truly come to life. Luxurious bathrobes and slippers await you on the bed, while the soaking tub is hot with floating orchids surrounded by lavender scented candles taking romance to a whole other level.
Nekupe’s farm to table cuisine was inspired by Theresita Pellas’ own cooking. The menu is comprised of traditional Nicaraguan fare with a modern twist using a bounty of native ingredients, sourced from the onsite garden and local purveyors. I am a true foodie and I can honestly say the rancho huevos was the best breakfast I had ever had in my life.
The lunch menu ranges from salads to burgers with a daily special that highlights a local dish. A selection of fresh squeezed juices, cocktails and snacks are served throughout the day at Casa Club which we sampled in between activities. The tapas style snack menu during our stay offered grilled vegetables, fresh cheeses, ceviche, empanadas and sliced filet over homemade bread. The candlelight dinner menu changes daily with both vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Everyone dines at Nekupe in the Casa Club or at home dining can be provided if you are staying in the residence.
Amenities & Activities
Nekupe has one swimming pool, two tennis courts, a series of elite gun ranges, ropes course, horseback riding, ATV off roading trails, biking, culinary classes, painting classes, cigar and rum tastings, state of the art fitness facility, yoga classes, game room, spa and the exquisite Casa Club, Nekupe’s exclusive lobby lounge and communal gathering area where five star dining options leave a long and lasting taste to be desired. As we were the only guests at the resort at this time of the year, we had it all to ourselves.
Nekupe is for the traveller who is looking for a sense of discovery at the world’s best hideout. The meticulous grounds, luxurious accommodations and mesmerizing landscape provided the restorative escape promised and the endless amounts of bespoke activities fulfilled my adventurous desires. On the morning of departure I took a solo hike of the property and reflected back on all that transpired over the past few days. As I stood high up on the hill, I felt in that moment as if I I was the last person left on earth … and that’s when it hit me, this is the purpose of Nekupe. It was not just an adventurous destination, it is also a place for spiritual transformation which is why it has quickly earned every ounce of glowing press it has been receiving. As we drove away through the tall pearly gates of heaven, I was sad to leave but I knew I would return again, but next time with the whole family….oh yeah and by helicopter!
Review by Contributing Editor Elisa Brown. Photos courtesy of Elisa Brown and Nekupe (via Murphy O’Brien).
I honestly loved everything about Nekupe, except the bill… ha! But a few minor observations:
Nekpue offers day trips to Granada which I found personally uneventful. Granada is a sleepy colonial town a decade behind Cartagena in terms of art, sophistication and landmarks. If you want to take the trip to at least experience the city and see it with your own eyes, I recommend taking a boat tour of Lake Nicaragua and grabbing a bite to eat at Expressionista Restaurante or El Zaguan which were both delicious.
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