“How long are you staying?”
It’s a common question among hotel guests in foreign lands.
“Three months,” however, is not a common response.
We fielded this question often during our recent three-month stay at Hotel la Bocona, the intimate six guest room boutique hotel in Granada, Nicaragua, we called home this winter.
Hotel living wasn’t the original plan, but when finding a vacation rental got complicated, we decided to get creative. Even for gypsy travelers like us, though, committing to an extended hotel stay, sight unseen, was a bit of a leap.
We liked the fact that the hotel was set in a private beautifully restored colonial mansion and that half our room rate would go towards the support of a local educational and charitable organization. We liked that it was situated two blocks off Granada’s bustling Central Park in one of the city’s most historic and fashionable residential neighborhoods, putting the city at our doorstep. And, we liked that the room was a palatial 1,400 square-feet with soaring ceilings, hand-painted tile floors and two king sized beds.
Truth told, however, beyond a few pretty pictures and details gleaned through emails with hotel director, Nadene Holmes, we were riding on intuition – which told us it was a fit.
But, from the moment we stepped foot inside, we were hooked. Our instincts were spot on. Never once in three months did we wish we’d chosen differently. In fact, we couldn’t have felt more at home.
Was it the daily housekeeping? The bilingual concierge to handle everything from telephone calls to procuring a Spanish tutor or hair stylist? The courtyard swimming pool and in-house spa? Yes, of course. The perks of hotel living are just as dreamy as they sound.
In addition, there was something magical about the al fresco lifestyle at Hotel la Bocona. With its flower-filled courtyards and open-air living spaces, we could enjoy the thunderous downpour of an afternoon rainstorm or the golden glow of a rising moon from the sitting area just outside our room. Throw in Granada’s balmy tropical climate and it’s easy to understand why it made an ideal winter escape.
Better still, hotel living was surprisingly affordable. Offer to stay three-months, as we did, and say goodbye to rack rate room fees. For less than the cost of a vacation rental, we enjoyed free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfasts, daily maid service and 24/7 security.
And beyond the elegant façade and lifestyle value there were the social perks of hotel living. Every day the staff made us feel like we were part of an extended family and with the steady arrival of adventurous, well-traveled and culturally curious guests, we never felt homesick.
Would we do it again? ¡Por supuesto!
One of Central America’s oldest and best-preserved colonial cities, Granada is located on the shores of vast Lake Nicaragua beneath the lush green slopes of Volcán Mombacho.
Red tile roofs, Granada Cathedral, Lake Nicargua in the distance, Granada, Nicaragua. ©Ellen Barone.
Granada is about a 45-minute drive (approximately a $35 taxi ride) from the international airport in Managua. The popular beach town of San Juan del Sur is an hour and a half away.
The best vantage point in Granada for scenic overview photo ops is the top of the bell towerat La Merced church. $1 entry fee.
If you have to order one thing off the menuat the Garden Café, it should be the fresh lime, coconut and pineapple smoothie. Be forewarned, they’re highly addictive.
A hidden gem in Granada is Mi Museo, a private collection of Nicaraguan Pre-Columbian ceramics that is open to the public free of charge.
The best place to catch the local vibe is along Calle Calzada (Granada’s popular café-street) on a Saturday afternoon.
If you’re feeling cash-strapped, grab a Vigorón (a traditional Granada dish) in the City Park, it’s a delicious, inexpensive treat.
Locals know to skip the expensive U.S. style grocery stores because they can find anything they need at the municipal market, the chaotic heart and soul of Granada.
Chocoholics won’t want to miss a visit to the ChocoMuseo for handmade artisanal chocolates, cooking classes and farm tours, all featuring organic Nicaraguan cacao.
Granada’s best place to shop for pottery, jewelry, clothing and home accessories, all made by Nicaraguan cooperatives, is at Olé Boutique.
Lilly’s Café, at the Plaza Colon Hotel, is a tasty spot for watching the world go by.
For a splurge, escape to Jicaro Island Ecolodge, a private island retreat in Las Isletas, a tiny archipelago of 365 volcanic rock islands clustered near Granada’s shoreline, or Hacienda Puerta del Cielo, an adult-only boutique eco-resort nestled between the lakes, volcanoes and jungle of nearby Masaya Volcano National Park.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, visit ViaNica.com.
The best way to see Granada is by horse-drawn carriage.
For Spanish tutoring and learning tours, you won’t do better than freelance instructor Arlen Pèrez Arguello. We hired Arlen to come to the hotel for daily private instruction and loved how she made learning fun by creatively incorporating activities like cooking classes and in-the-field walking tours. Mobile: +505.8817.6633
Nicaragua is a natural and culturally rich destination for adventurous travelers looking to step off the beaten tourist path. It boasts a gigantic freshwater lake, with twin volcanoes rising from its center; mountain terraced coffee plantations; pristine Pacific beaches; Caribbean islands; well preserved Colonial cities; and very few tourists. Learn more about travel in Nicaragua at: http://www.Visit-Nicaragua.com.