Mukul Luxury Resort and Spa Rating: 5.0 Pearls
Mukul is more than just a luxury resort; it is one of the most exclusive hideaways not only in Nicaragua, but Central America. The name, Mukul, is Mayan for "secret," and guests are assured of a high level of privacy: The resort, part of a sprawling, 1670-acre beach community, has only 37 luxurious Bohios and Villas, and the grounds are not open to the public. The existence of the resort is hardly a secret, however, as this $40 million project helmed by Don Carlos Pellas, a Nicaraguan business magnate, is helping to change the face of the country's tourism industry. The guests who can afford Nicaragua's most expensive hotel rates will be rewarded with a gorgeous white-sand beach, one of the most beautiful spas in the world, an 18-hole golf course, gourmet cuisine, and pampering service -- though they should note that construction on the property's hillside real estate is still underway.
Aqua Wellness Resort Rating: 4.0 Pearls
Aqua Wellness Resort is a rustic-luxe retreat set into a hillside overlooking Redondo Bay on Nicaragua's Pacific coast. The resort has eco-friendly design, lush vegetation (expect to spot wildlife such as howler monkeys and iguanas), and rooms adorned with lots of natural wood; some units include plunge pools and stunning ocean views. The white-sand beach is secluded and beautiful, the restaurant serves simple but tasty local dishes, and group yoga classes on the ocean-view wooden platform are free. For a tranquil, unplugged getaway, this is one of Nicaragua's premier options -- just note that there's no common pool (yet) and the climb from the beach to reception is extremely long and steep.
Selva Negra Rating: 3.0 Pearls
For outdoorsy types looking for an authentic eco lodge experience, Selva Negra is the real deal. This family-run organic farm and coffee estate has accommodations ranging from hostel rooms to private bungalows, as well as a lush, cool mountain setting that's rich with wildlife (expect howler monkeys, lizards, agoutis, and all types of birds). The sustainable practices are everywhere evident, from the excellent farm-made cheeses at the restaurant to the solar water heaters. The lodge is charmingly rustic rather than luxurious, featuring buildings designed in a quaint German style, and the friendly owners help make it a truly special place.
Hotel Victoriano Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The aptly named Hotel Victoriano, built by an English immigrant in 1902, has charming Victorian architecture and style. This intimate boutique hotel is across the street from the beach and within walking distance of San Juan Del Sur's restaurants and bars. Rooms have relaxed (if not luxurious) beach-y style -- locally crafted cedar furniture, bright floral bedding, tile floors, and cable TV (though some TVs are tiny). They're showing a bit of wear, but they're clean and a couple have ocean views. The small pool is suitable for a dip rather than a swim, and the beach across the street is a bit dirty and not very wide (it almost disappears at high tide). The restaurant serves a quality a la carte breakfast and solid lunch and dinner fare.
La Gran Francia Colonial Boutique Hotel Rating: 3.5 Pearls
This charming colonial-style hotel just off Central Park is one of Granada's best hotel options, providing boutique intimacy, a small courtyard swimming pool, and simple but tasty local food. The hotel building and the building housing the restaurant and bars are across the street from one another, and the simple yellow exteriors belie the loveliness found within. Antiques, potted plants, beautiful tiles, and rooms with wood-beamed ceilings (centered around the open-air courtyard) make the hotel feel like a hidden sanctuary. The historic ambiance is authentic: The building dates back to the 16th century. Just note that the bathrooms could use an upgrade, the tube TVs may have fuzzy reception (not to mention limited English channels), and there are few features besides the pool.
Hotel El Convento Rating: 3.5 Pearls
Hotel El Convento, a boutique built on the site of (and in the same style as) a former 17-century convent, is the best hotel in Leon. A flowering central courtyard, antiques lining the hallways, and a fine dining restaurant that many consider to be the city's premier option make for a charming stay. The 32 rooms are mid-range but have plenty of character, with details such as brick walls, terracotta tile floors, and wrought-iron bed frames. There is no pool, however, which is a significant downside given Leon's hot weather.
Hotel Dario Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The Hotel Dario is a charming mid-range hotel option with an unbeatable location in the heart of Granada, smack-dab amid the restaurants and bars lining Calle la Caldaza. The lush main courtyard has bright flowers and a tinkling fountain; the restaurant offers up live traditional dancing and great Nicaraguan cuisine; and the small pool is surrounded by tropical landscaping. Mid-range rooms have Spanish Colonial charm and cable TV, but those with balconies facing the street can be a bit noisy.
Hotel Granada Rating: 3.0 Pearls
There's a lot to like about the 46-room Hotel Granada: The charming brick and stucco exterior, with balustrades and climbing flowers; the medieval-style common spaces; and the big lovely pool. The property is sprawling, with lots of event space and a restaurant in a room with stone walls and arches facing the lush outdoor landscaping. But the Standard Rooms are quite basic, hot water can be inconsistent, and construction on an extension to the hotel is still underway.