Nicaragua’s southern Pacific coast is often considered to be purely a surf destination, but an altogether different type of ecotourism escape awaits travelers at the secluded and exclusive bungalow community of Morgan’s Rock Ecolodge.
Set among 1,800 hectares of the private “El Aguacate” preserve, 15 spacious and luxury cottages are accessed via a 100-meter canopy-top suspension bridge, and guests enjoy exclusive access to a private beach where nesting Olive Ridley and hawksbill sea turtles lay their eggs between the months of July and November.
Out of History
Morgan’s Rock takes its name not from the popular brand of rum, but from six-term U.S. senator and Confederate General John Tyler Morgan (1824-1907), a man who envisioned an inter-oceanic canal passing through the nearby Rio San Juan to speed gold rushers on their way to California.
Of course, the passageway, burrowed elsewhere, became the Panama Canal, and today many local Nicaraguans have come to appreciate that the existing pristine landscapes of Rivas would not be what they are if the canal had been gouged out here. Instead of developing as an expansive route for commerce and trade, the area around Morgan’s Rock remains a remote stretch of dry tropical forest sustainably developed to ensure its long-term preservation.
In 1988, seeing the ecotourism potential of the out-of-this-world landscape, French conservationists and coffee farmers Clemente and Claire Poncon purchased the land for Morgan’s Rock, which they began building in 2001. The lodge, the doors of which opened in 2004, remains well connected to its surrounding nature, offering a wide variety of activities for travelers who are interested in the outdoors, from hiking and treks to nearby volcanoes, to fishing trips, farming and kayaking on the resort’s private river estuary. More than 23 kilometers of hiking trails wind through the resort, meeting at the spectacular 400-meter-high Palo de Pluma lookout point, which commands stunning views of the spectacular Maderas and Concepcion volcanoes on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, and even the mountains of Guanacaste in Costa Rica.
“By its very existence, as a 4,500-acre expanse in the middle of a prime beach-development area, owned by a family of successful business people, the ecolodge teaches about the importance of conservation,” says Richard Edwards, managing partner at the resort. “The property is being used in a way that has one of the smallest possible levels of short-term profit when compared to other potential development alternatives. But the owners see the bigger picture of the need to maintain natural areas, conserve wildlife and be good stewards of the land for many reasons, but most simply and importantly for the health and well-being of future generations.”
Exclusive Guided Adventures
Bismar and Hector, local guides, are experts at arranging personalized activities and adventures in and around Morgan’s Rock. Tailored to guests’ desired activity levels, their trips focus on the abundant wildlife resident in the surrounding natural environment. El Aguacate itself features more than 90 bird species, including estuary birds like herons and egrets, as well as animals such as coatis, opossums, paca and three species of monkey.
I was lucky to receive a private guided tour of the reserve, during which my guides pointed out crab-eating hawks, sloths and howler monkeys hanging in the treetops. Night walks promise even more chances to observe El Aguacate’s nocturnal residents, which also include boa constrictors and porcupines.
Full-day expeditions reach as far as Masaya Volcano, which was active just this past April 2013, and a trek to the summit of Volcan Mombacho through layers of cloud forest. Along the way, the guides answer guests’ questions about local ecology and point out the native regional flora and fauna.
Fully Sustainable Design
Sitting in the midst of such vibrant nature, the owners sensibly saw fit to design a sustainable resort – one that supplies its own electricity through solar panels, and recycles its water for use in agriculture.
A working farm with orchards, gardens and free-ranging livestock provides 60 percent of the lodge’s food products, including eggs, lamb, homemade cheese and shrimp, the latter from a sustainable shrimp farm that the resort sees as way to help prevent overfishing. Visitors and guests are invited to participate in the resort’s traditional farming activities, such as milking cows, collecting eggs and learning how to cook a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto, tortillas and eggs.
Inspired by Lapa Rios, an ecolodge on southern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, Morgan’s Rock bungalows were designed with an astounding attention to detail by architect Matthew Falkiner. Waste baskets for recyclable paper, solar-heated showers and low-wattage bulbs help keep from disturbing the wildlife, while grey water is gravity-fed through a natural filtering system for non-potable reuse. The end result is beautiful and even utilizes local arts and handicrafts, such as pottery by local Nicaraguan artisans in San Juan de Oriente, and paintings by well-known Nicaraguan artist Augusto Silvo. The best part of the bungalows, however, is what nature itself provides – the crashing waves of the surf below and the sounds of the jungle at night.
As far as construction materials go, the resort’s 42-square-meter bungalows were built using mahogany, teak and guapinol trees that had been naturally felled by Hurricane Mitch in 1988. To make up for some of those losses, a massive tree-farming project maintained on the property aims to help re-grow tropical hardwoods, some of which are harvested and used to build the resort’s furniture. The reserve includes stands of teak, Spanish oak and mahogany, all of which reach full maturity in approximately 10 years, as well as Spanish cedar, which can take up to 25 years.
“Though Morgan’s Rock tries very hard to be self-sustaining in any way it can, and has made huge efforts to do so in its building, maintenance and food-supply areas, the fact is that it very much relies on suppliers for many things,” reminds Edwards. “We nevertheless hope that our travelers leave with a better idea of how many things can be produced and consumed with much less negative impact on the local environment and a positive net benefit to surrounding communities in terms of employment and fair prices for their goods.”
Visit the resort website for more about the sustainable design and services available at Morgan’s Rock. The resort also conducts educational outreach to local area schools, holding training sessions for teachers and environmental education events for local school children through the owners’ Nica-France Foundation. Resort guests also invited to contribute to the cause by donating school supplies, such as backpacks, baseball equipment and notebooks.
Laurel Angrist was a guest of Morgan’s Rock, but we made absolutely sure that her opinions in this post are decidedly her own.