Dreamy Ometepe & Finca San Juan

Our ferry boat sailed towards Ometepe Island: twin volcanoes that rise out of Lake Nicaragua, sloping down to lush forests and sandy beaches. We always heard about Ometepe during our Central American travels, and it sounded like a mythical place…volcano trekking to sky-high lagoons, wild horses galloping the shores, kids riding to school on ox carts, and community farms growing organic vegetables. We disembarked and drove around the base of Volcano Concepción and reached the lush grounds of Finca San Juan de La Isla, and thought this may be paradise after all.

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The “driveway” went on for over a mile through orchards, pastures, and banana plantations, until we reached the historic Spanish-hacienda-turned-hotel. The reception was in the former stables and the original house was now the lobby that flowed out to the open-air restaurant, twinkling with lights.

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Walking through the gardens of papaya and frangipani trees, the bellman showed us to our room: a stilted suite with a spacious porch on the lakeshore. Outside looked like a classic log cabin and inside was freshly designed with minimalist décor and a luxurious bathroom.

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We got a great night sleep and went down to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. I had the Finca (eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, and homemade cuajada cheese) and I had the French toast with fruit. When we heard most of the ingredients on the menu were grown on their 160-acre farm (with 40,000 fruit trees!), we had to hike the grounds. Wandering between the forest of fruits, we stopped by the horse stables, a bubbling spring, and the farmhands’ house–where we got invited in for a special stew!

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Each afternoon at San Juan presented us with tons of things to do: horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, or a guided hike up the active Concepción or the lagoon-topped Maderas volcano.

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The hotel helped arrange a motorbike so we could cover the most ground and adventure in a short stay. We headed toward Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes (still an impressive 4,573 feet tall) and enjoyed local life along the slopes. We stopped at the historic coffee plantation of Finca Magdalena, had picnic on the beach with the horses, and joined the fanfare at a Balgue soccer game.

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From Finca Magadalena, we followed one of the hiking trails to an ancient petroglyph in the forest. Ometepe has a rich pre-Columbian history with over 73 different sites scattered around the island.

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For our final night at San Juan de la Isla, we took a private cooking class with their head chef Ernesto. He wanted to show us classic Nicaraguan cuisine with an Indio Viejo soup. This recipe is said to date back to pre-Columbian times and made with ingredients, like the achiote plant, that are native to the region. We had a blast chopping, chatting, and sampling our way through the class and ultimately eating a delicious meal together.

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When the owners of San Juan de La Isla, saw this historic finca, they weren’t hoteliers or farmers at the time, but dreamers with a vision for a lodge to match Ometepe’s mystical reputation.

Anne & Mike Howard

Mike and Anne Howard left on their honeymoon in 2012 and have been traveling the world ever since. HoneyTrek.com chronicles their adventures across 7 continents, 44 countries, and counting! Their writing, photography, and the story of the “World’s Longest Honeymoon” can also be found on Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, The Knot, Los Angeles Times, CBS, and dozens of other international publications. Connect with @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Nature is The Luxury: Glamping in Dominica

Nestled between Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominica, called the Nature Island, is a place where you might just feel like you’re the first to explore this gem. Dominica is much less traveled than its neighboring islands in the Caribbean, and the eastern side of the island even more so.

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If you’re looking for accommodation with easy to access to nearby adventures, yet feels far away from it all, Citrus Creek Plantation in the small town of La Plaine is a great option. Each of their eight cottages are named after the earth, but the one that drew me to explore this spot one afternoon in the first place was the Glamping Safari Canvas Cottage called AMBAZAMAN, amba meaning below, and zaman meaning the almond tree. As you step inside under the canvas tent, you’ll notice you’re walking on wooden floors that peek straight through to the bare earth below.

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“Our concept of luxury is different. The nature is the luxury for me,” says owner Herve as we walked outback of the canvas tent to check out the outdoor shower wrapped in Bamboo. “Cottages are simple. Beds are good.” He should know. Herve and his wife actually lived in it for a whole year, and I can absolutely see where he is coming from. There’s nothing to distract from taking your eyes off the luxury of the nature surrounding you as you step outside to lounge in the hammock with your morning coffee or listen to the sounds of the nearby flowing river literally at your feet as the hot water flows through your fingers in the outdoor shower built into the side of a tree. The Ambazaman sleeps up to four people and the perfect place to spend an afternoon grilling as there is a little BBQ bit in the yard.

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I also visited two other cottages perched up high above the others. The second floor of Avocado has lush skyline views and Banyan boasts the postcard worthy scenes out to the sea with bright green everywhere you gaze. Each cottage is equipped with a kitchen if you desire to cook in with a simple French style breakfast of toast, jam and chocolate provided. If you’d like others they’ll gladly accommodate you.

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For those wanting to laze around, they have a restaurant on property and what some expats describe as the best on Dominica. Riverside Café has a small French creole menu using as many local ingredients, some from their own garden.

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For those interested in creating a souvenir to take home, visit Patricia, a talented French expat who makes Mosaic art and take a class with her. She lives in the loveliest little rustic chic home just on the right as you enter the property. Ring the little bell and Patricia, a lovely petite French woman will come out to greet you.

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When you’re ready to explore the surrounding areas, venture just down the road from to Bout Sable Bay for a photography session, lazy beach afternoon, or a swim depending on the days tide.

You can also get a guide to take you on nearby hikes. One of my favorite on this side of Dominica is the Wavine Cirque. ‘Not for the faint of heart’, you might want to channel your inner Indiana Jones as you use ropes and roots to climb your way to the bottom. The view is all worth it. Other guided day trips are great like Glasse Point and Victoria Falls.

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Many of the guests who stay at Citrus Creek Plantation come from France and Germany. Herve tells me, ‘They have found what they’re looking for,’ as has many of them return year after year. After spending the day at Citrus Creek Plantation, I would say I’d agree that the simplicity is bliss here.

Kristen Kellogg

Exploring rugged to refined, digital storyteller and film producer Kristen Kellogg has a unique eye and flair for capturing the essence of a brand or destination that is immediately recognizable in the work she crafts through her Wanderlust Website + Creative Agency: Border Free Travels. Kristen’s work has been featured in Yahoo Travel, AFAR, and Microsoft among others. A Nantucket resident, when Kristen isn’t on the road, she is literally running around exploring her own backyard. Kristen is from Southern Illinois. Follow her daily adventures on Instagram here.

Papaya Playa Project

Ever since the Papaya Playa Project graced the palm-kissed shores of Tulum, Mexico in December 2011 as a pop-up with a long-term plan, I’ve been plotting my visit.

As a glamping-obsessed adventurer with a penchant for design, I couldn’t ignore the location’s raw beauty and the architecture’s thatched-roof abodes. Plus, the lure of living like a beach bohemian without a hairdryer, plush hotel slippers, or the pressure to strut around in resort wear was a welcome departure from the Riviera Maya’s jet-set hotels.

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Stretching over a 900 meter ribbon of private oceanfront just a mile North of Tulum’s never-ending beach, Papaya Playa’s 80 bungalows dot the shoreline of the multi-acre property.

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Beyond the beach, pounded dirt pathways plying through the jungle thicket connect the glamp-ground’s casitas to its hub: A palm-shaded, amphitheatre-style restaurant that quadruples as a music venue, a place to chill with a cervesa when lounging at the Beach Club, and a space for the property’s once-monthly full moon parties. (If your stay coincides with a full moon party and you don’t want to dance until 3 a.m., bring ear plugs.)

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Each abode’s union of artisan furniture, beds adorned with cascading mosquito nets, basket lights, string-secured wooden towel holders, and custom-designed textiles is enough to make you say “Viva Mexico,” but it’s the eco angle that makes you pine after your perch; every building from casita to casa to the spa’s temazcal (Mesoamerican sweat lodge) is built using local materials.

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When I stepped into my circular beach-view abode complete with a 10-step pathway down to the shore, I immediately opened the sliding glass doors to let the wind and waves “soundtrack” invite me deeper into paradise. Settling into the wooden-slat chair on my deck, I realized how easy it would be to become a hermit—why would I leave such an idyllic perch? Yet, the lure of the property’s other spaces, think: the spa, juice shack, restaurant, bar, and beach palapas called me outward.

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While I loved my minimalist casita (with an air-conditioning upgrade), its designated four-post beach palapa became the object of my Papaya Playa desires. Topped with palm fronds from the property, a teal beach mattress lay underneath propped up by a handmade headboard. Not surprisingly, this is where I spent the majority of my time alternating between catnaps and Caribbean Sea cool-downs.

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As the sun retreated at the end of my easy-breezy beach days, looking back, I realize I was in no rush to wash off the salt and sand, and move on to guacamole and margaritas. With sustenance a short stroll away, and the sky splashed in tangerine and fuchsia hues, I was content to be—be in my bathing suit, be barefoot, be in the moment. That’s what beachfront glamping does to your soul.

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Know this: Rates include bottled water, palm-covered palapas, beach towels and parking. Complimentary WiFi is available in public areas, though it runs off a satellite so the signal may take the occasional siesta. If you sleep well in cool conditions, book a bungalow with air conditioning. Mosquito repellant is recommended for any off-beach activity. Adrenaline junkies: There’s a kiteboarding and surf school onsite.