While Costa Rica has been a well-known tourist destination for more than a decade, its neighboring countries Nicaragua and Panama are still a mystery for most luxury travelers. All the better for those who do make their way to the under-the-radar luxury resorts that are now cropping up throughout southern Central America. Want to dive right in? Here is the perfect way to enjoy the greatest upscale resorts in Nincaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
You’ll start your journey in the northernmost of the three countries. Known for its hospitality and easy access to untouched beaches, Nicaragua is quickly becoming a go-to destination for those seeking a unique, high-end experience. It also has a growing population of expats eager to take advantage of its tropical climate and peaceful daily life.
Nicaragua is a short flight from most of the United States, meaning you arrive in the capital city, Managua, ready to start your trip. On the way to your first destination, be sure to make a shopping stop in Masaya, which has the country’s most famous artisan market.
Nekupe Sporting Resort & Retreat
Inaugurated in 2016, Nekupe Resort is a perfect example of the New Wave of upscale Nicaraguan resorts. Truly an all-around luxury rural experience, the resort is set on a 1300-acre nature reserve and features everything from hiking, ropes courses, and mountain biking to skeet shooting, ATVs, and horseback riding. It’s also a fantastic choice for more meditative pursuits such as yoga and birdwatching. Feel like something stronger? Check out the cigar and rum tasting, featuring the Centenary collection of Nicaragua’s internationally renowned Flor de Caña.
Travel tip: Get a glimpse of Ometepe Island as you head from the countryside to the beach on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast. Ometepe was formed from two volcanoes and is a formidable sight rising from the waters of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
Mukul Resort, Golf & Spa
Mukul Resort takes its name from the word for “secret” in the Mayan language Tzotzil, and upon arrival you will definitely feel like you came upon a hidden paradise. Set against a background of tropical dry forest, complete with monkeys and other wildlife, Mukul’s superstar is its pristine private beach. Truly unlike anything you have ever experienced, a stay at Mukul is the essence of luxury. Try out the oceanfront David McLay Kidd-designed golf course, pamper yourself in one of the six individual spa suites, or simply enjoy the multitude of water activities available in the stunning Playa Manzanillo.
Go from one jewel to the next as you transfer from the Emerald Coast to its Costa Rican cousin, the Gold Coast. Your journey takes you along the coast of Lake Nicaragua and then through the heart of the Northern Guanacaste province, known for its beautiful coastline and year-round warm weather.
Villa Buena Onda
Arriving at this eight-room boutique hotel, you’ll be made to feel at home immediately by the warm, inviting staff. In fact, there are often more staff on-site that guests, guaranteeing you a personalized experience where no wish goes unfulfilled. Relax with cocktails in the exquisite infinity pool, taking in the views of Coco Beach below, or head to the water yourself, enjoying access to the excellent Coco Beach Club.
Travel tip: The Hidden Beaches tour takes you in a private boat around the famed Papagayo Peninsula, stopping for snorkeling, swimming, and a personal barbeque picnic oceanside at beaches only accessible by water.
Costa Rica is known for more than just its beaches, and at your next destination you’ll have the chance to experience the hot springs, volcano views, and adventure tours that have helped convert this small country into a giant of ecotourism. Consistently named one of the best resorts in the world, Nayara Springs combines the amenities of a five-star hotel with the unique ambiance of the Costa Rican rainforest. Whether it’s the private hot springs plunge pool in every villa, the largest guestrooms in the country, the included in-room breakfast, or the infinity pools with both jungle views and wildlife, a stay at Nayara Springs is all you can ask for in a high-end resort.
Travel tip: Take advantage of the Arenal area’s reputation as the Adventure Capital of Costa Rica with a canyoning and rappelling tour down rivers and through waterfalls.
After a quick flight from San José, touch down in Central America’s nightlife capital, Panama City. Its mix of colonial architecture, ocean views, and modern skyscrapers has enchanted more than a few of the many expats that call the city home.
One of the finest hotels in a city with many high-end choices, the Bristol Hotel is perfect for enjoying the essence of Panama City. Have coffee brought to your room each morning as part of the 24/7 butler service, and gaze out over the Financial District and marina. Feel like a swim? The Bristol’s outdoor pool on the fifth floor offers dramatic views of the city, whether day or night.
Be sure to spend an evening at one of the city’s hippest restaurants, Donde José. At the vanguard of the local food movement, founding chef Jose Carles offers a single tasting menu that will take you through multiple courses with a side of tradition and culture.
Travel tip: Don’t miss out on Panama’s most famous site: the canal! A private tour will take you through the history of both the canal and the city itself, with a ride through the former Canal Zone and a walking tour of the colonial Casco Viejo.
JW Marriott Panama Golf & Beach Resort
After the excitement of Panama City, you’ll be ready for relaxation, and that is just what you’ll find at the JW Marriott. While the turquoise waters of the resort’s beach may be enough to soothe your soul, you’ll also be pampered if you choose to stay in: think luxury bathrobes, Egyptian cotton bedding, high-end bath products, and twice-daily maid service. Try out a few of the five restaurants with scenic vistas, or choose to wrap up your time in Central America with a few rounds of golf in the sunshine, on the Nicklaus Design course with ocean views.
Travel tip: The Anton Valley is just an hour away, but a visit will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. A day trip to this volcanic region includes a visit to its famed thermal springs, as well as a view of the stunning valley itself.
Rob Harper is the Director of Business Development for Namu Travel Group.