Travel

The Tropical Vegan Inn You Must Visit Now

Nicaragua‘s Apoyo Lodge offers plant-based visitors the chance to relax in a jungle with delicious vegan food, fitness classes, and an always-warm lagoon.

Among the lush, tropical forest deep in Nicaragua’s Laguna de Apoyo’s jungle, a comforting aroma of chickpea curry and vegetable paella lingers in the air. It is here that you’ll find Apoyo Lodge, a compound situated in an enclave of a clear, pristine lagoon. Located on a lake occupying the caldera of an extinct volcano, Apoyo Lodge is a health-and-wellness boutique hotel specializing in yoga retreats and plant-based whole foods.

Leafy guacuco, pochote, and rosewood trees surround Apoyo Lodge, and the lagoon stays warm year-round. Roaring cries of howler monkeys echo in the coves, while osprey, yellow-tailed oropendolas, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and falcons fly overhead. Often, you’ll hear the faint melody of traditional Nicaraguan marimba music drifting through the air, and if you’re lucky, a friendly local will share tales of the magic and mystery that loom around the lagoon.

The lodge was thoughtfully constructed using existing elements of the property (for instance, pathways, smaller buildings, and fence lines were built of large rocks found on the grounds). Interior wall hues mimic the soothing colors of nature, while sleek, tropical hardwood furnishings elevate the lodge’s look. This natural, soothing aesthetic, Apoyo Lodge co-owner Miriam Rodriguez-Marquez says, is one of the many ways the inn is designed to help people “change bad habits.”

“Visitors come to the lodge to heal their bodies, and jump-start a new lifestyle,” Rodriguez-Marquez says. “When people tell me they’re doubtful they can change their eating habits or eat more healthily, I tell them that if I can do it in the crater of a volcano in a developing country or in my previous residence in the war-torn country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then anyone can.”

Food
It’s been said the bewitching, offshore lagoon breeze tranquilizes the soul and so, too, do the divine smells and tastes of Apoyo Lodge’s home-cooked meals. Apoyo Lodge sources seasonal, plant-based foods found locally in Nicaragua and puts a unique spin on existing vegan recipes by incorporating these native finds. Meals are free of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, and a strong emphasis is placed on incorporating whole foods such as local dark leafy greens, herbs, vegetables, tropical fruit, fermented foods, sprouts, nuts, grains, and seeds into all dishes. Two or three courses are served at each breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with highlights including oat-and-banana pancakes with squash compote and fresh fruit; lentil cakes with beetroot ketchup and ratatouille; and Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut and lime sauce, while dessert includes fresh fruit and raw carrot coconut cake to avocado chocolate ganache and choco banana. To stay hydrated, guests have access to a smoothie and juice bar, flavored waters, and herbal teas.

Things to do
A complimentary morning yoga class accommodating all fitness levels is offered each day and is taught in a thatched-roof palapa overlooking the lagoon. Private twilight yoga, acroyoga, fitness lessons, and dance classes are also offered for an additional fee, while massages, holistic therapies, manicures, and pedicures are available on the second floor of the palapa. Those looking for a full-body workout can hike up to a nearby viewpoint or grab a recycled surf board, raft, or inner tube to float in the shallow waters. The high mineral content of the lagoon cannot sustain life other than some endemic fish species and small crabs, so there is no need to fear underwater predators.

Day and night trips
Located approximately 30 miles from the lodge at the foot of the Mombacho volcano is the colonial city of Granada. Take half a day to explore the city and visit the 500-year-old Convento de San Francisco. Located under the convent and church are ancient catacombs where priests and other citizens of Granada are buried, and it is estimated that the remains of approximately 75,000 people are located within the walls of the catacombs. Layers of bones can be seen here, including a strange well that is filled with neatly arranged skulls and femur bones. After lunch at veg-friendly eateries such as The Garden Cafe or Cafe de Art, book a boat tour of Las Isletas, or browse street vendors selling everything from fresh cocoa and flowers to handmade hammocks and painted clay bowls. Also, consider a visit to Masaya, the Nicaraguan capital of folklore and home to a large, open-air artisan market. Stroll through booths and admire vibrantly colored blankets, hand-knit bags, shoes, paintings, and carved coconut bowls. Finish the day by taking a trip to Masaya Volcano National Park, where, after dark, you can take a peek inside a mesmerizing active volcano known by the Spaniards as the “Gate to Hell.”

Prepare
Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua is a small airport in a developing country, so it is recommended that you purchase local currency ahead of time. Most United States credit cards and cash are widely accepted in Nicaragua, but local currency is appreciated, especially at markets, gift shops, and national parks. Mid-May through November marks the rainy season in Nicaragua, with May and October being the wettest. During these times of year, expect short daily showers and a beautiful lush, green environment.

Leigh Hayhurst is a freelance writer traveling the world in search of delicious vegan food.

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