By Victoria Lewis
January 03, 2016
tribal hotel courtyard
Credit: Courtesy Tribal Hotel

Just a few years ago, Nicaragua was a seriously off-the-beaten-path destination. But now, with a new crop of chic boutique hotels opening and more tourists than ever heading to its pristine beaches and historic towns, the Central American nation is coming into its own. At the forefront of this new wave? The laidback luxe Tribal Hotel.

Opened in 2014 by NYC restaurateur Jean-Marc Houmard (a partner in such perennial hot spots as Indochine and Acme) and his business partner Yvan Cussigh, the hotel is located in the UNESCO-protected colonial town of Granada, a quick 50 minute drive from the capital city—and main airport—of Managua. Each of its seven rooms (premium rates from $125) features a small private terrace and comes with such amenities as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and room service.

But, despite the 21st century comforts, the space, which was modeled after rustic local homes, feels more like a design-minded friend's countryside villa than a modern hotel (in the best possible way). "We mixed a bunch of items we had collected on our travels to create an eclectic and personal vibe," explains Houmard. "Kilims from Turkey, wall panels from Kenya, fabrics from Mali and lanterns from Morocco." Then, they commissioned local artisans to do the rest. "The lamps were turned and hand-smoked by a potter near the Mombacho volcano, the chairs and tables were forged by a nearby blacksmith and then brought to the countryside for locals to weave dried plantain leaves into the seats and table tops," adds Houmard.

When you get tired of sipping cocktails around the palm-lined pool and lounging among the lobby's shaded day beds, there are a host of excursions easily accessible from Granada. Swim in the lake at the bottom of the dormant Apoyo Volcano or spend an afternoon among the hundreds of islettas of Lake Nicaragua (a quick boat ride from Granada). "Some have simple rustic restaurants on them where you can rent kayaks and paddleboards and explore the lake," says Houmard. "The sunsets from the water are spectacular and the breezes are a perfect break from the city heat."

At night, he recommends venturing down the street to nearby Espressonista, "the best and coolest restaurant in Granada." A coffee shop by day, the space turns into a bustling restaurant at night with a menu that changes daily. "It's a bit of a cross between a beautiful hacienda and a hipster Williamsburg joint," explains Houmard. "It's the perfect place to discover the real Nica way of life."