Conscious Stays: Isleta el Espino

I kayaked out onto Lake Nicaragua just as the sun was rising for the day. It was only 5 am; the sunrise is early in Nicaragua, but it was well worth the early wake up call. The sky lit up in the most beautiful pastel colors and the air was sweet and fresh in a way that I don’t get to experience in South Florida. As I dipped my paddles into the glassy waters and listened to the birds chirping, I couldn’t help but think, “is there any better way to wake up?”

The historic town of Granada sits right at the northern edge of Lake Nicaragua, a vast and biodiverse lake in the middle of Nicaragua. Near the town are all these tiny islands, called the Isletas de Granada that were created by a violent volcanic eruption of the towering Mombacho Volcano. Today these islands are home to over 1200 people and several different hotels and eco-lodges.

We arrived at Isleta el Espino on Lake Nicaragua by taxi followed by a ten minute water taxi ride. In route we passed fellow travelers and tourists, locals net fishing for dinner and the occasional water-sport enthusiast. Off in the distance we could see the towering double volcanos of Ometepe Island, an eco-adventurer’s wonderland that defines the center of the massive Lake Nicaragua.

Isleta el Espino was our first stop on our weeklong Nicaragua itinerary on our very first trip to this fascinating Central American country. The clouds cleared and the breezes kept us cool as we enjoyed our fish and vegetarian tacos and settled in for next two and half days of relaxation, kayaking, reading and swimming.

This small eco-lodge is completely off-the-grid and features 5 total rooms, a restaurant, full service bar, a swimming pool and a yoga platform.  Despite its location and focus on sustainability, we still enjoyed homemade chocolate, delicious banana and coffee smoothies and five-star dinners. Eco-friendly is not synonymous with suffering to make space for the environment.

In our current culture, there is a movement towards incorporating so-called ‘sustainable values’ in businesses. A movement that requires every corporate culture to have a “sustainability statement,” where they list out how the environment is very important to them and that they are taking certain steps to decrease their environmental load, while still continuing to pollute, often at the very same level.

Green-washing is the preferred term for this marketing strategy. In the hotel industry, resorts love to place their sustainability placard on the bed side table that says they will only change the sheets if you place this cute piece of paper on the bed. Wow, they have really stepped up the game. They ignore the huge amounts of energy their buildings use, the ungodly amount of plastic utensils, straws, bottles and cups they use on a daily basis and the tons of water used to keep their non-native gardens perfect.

While I have been whooed by some of these so-called sustainable properties in the past, I won’t fall for it any more. When I travel now, I look and evaluate properties to see if I can find a place that actually appears to be developed with a core mindset focused on sustainability or consciousness, meaning that they incorporate it into everything they do. This includes the building, the property, the people they employ; it goes so far to see if they are they giving back to the local economy?

I can confirm that Isleta el Espino on Lake Nicaragua, Granada, nailed it. Co-owned by Kristin and Andrew Werner, this tiny island sitting on Lake Nicaragua overlooking Mombacho volcano was truly developed sustainably.

When developing the property, they took into consideration three spheres of sustainability: Environmental impact, social support, and economic considerations. Because of this, the island runs completely on solar power they get from their own solar farm. They decrease energy needs by skipping air-conditioning and opting for fans instead and using candlelight at dinner which also ups the romance factor.

They have a rain water catchment system, a biogas blackwater biodigester (separates out methane to turn it into additional power) and a grey-water recycling system used to irrigate the property. All of which is kept completely out-of-sight and out-of-mind, just cool for someone like me to know! Isleta el Espino was built completely using local materials, they also feature an onsite garden, plus a plethora of fruit trees, they use tankless hot water heaters, refillable glass water bottles for drinking and reusable toiletry containers. No plastic in sight – just the way I like it.

While all of those items incorporate environmental considerations and decrease the weight of getting away on the Earth, they didn’t stop there. They believe that in addition to protecting the environment, they also needed to respect and enhance the social, cultural and economic values in Nicaragua.

Isleta el Espino is able to support the community by providing meaningful employment and economic opportunities. At Isleta el Espino, you will be greeted and taken care of by a local staff, something that almost surprised me when we arrived, but I was genuinely happy to find it this way. This staff is happy to share stories about the property, give you a tour of the environmental focuses as well as tell you about the hand-loomed towels and linens found in each room that were made from a women’s collective in Leon, or the tiles made right in Granada or the woven hammocks made in a workshop that supports the hearing-impaired.

The best part about all of the sustainable and conscious initiatives at Isleta el Espino is that when they came together, it took the potential suffering of an “eco” property and tossed it out the window. Here you can relax off-the-grid in complete comfort.

Right now, Nicaragua is suffering from some political instability and therefore the tourism industry is struggling there. Hotels, adventure outfitters, cafes and coffee shops have completely shut down and have had to lay off their staff with the decrease in tourism. For a while, I was going to hold off on sharing this post, but we loved this spot so much, I still wanted to share it in hopes that when you feel comfortable traveling to Nicaragua, you will consider this spot. It was an excellent spot to chill for a couple of days!

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