A SECRET SANTUARY
American Spa: April, 2014
article by: Heather Mikesell
photography: Murphy O'Brian
A stunning resort spa in Nicaragua raises the bar on private pampering with treatments from around the world.
The secret is out on Mukul (the Mayan word for "secret"), a $250 million luxury boutique hotel and spa that is attracting jet-setters to Nicaragua's Emerald Coast. Located amid a 1,670-acre private beach community, Mukul Beach Golf & Spa (Guacalito de la Isla) is considered the crown jewel of the Pellas family legacy. Carlos Pellas, patriarch of the prominent Nicaraguan family, envisioned Mukul as a testament to the love of family and Nicaragua's rich history. In addition to 37 spacious accommodations that each feature an ocean view, pool, and handcrafted furnishings from Nicaraguan artisans, the property is home to Spa Mukul, which gives new meaning to the idea of a secluded retreat.
Perched on a hill overlooking Manzanillo Beach, the spa was designed by renowned spa consultant Angel Vezina Stewart, who also created The Spa at Las Ventanas (Cabo San Lucas, Mexico). The spa's location within the property lends itself to the private environment Stewart wanted to achieve. "Being on top of the hill gives guests such quiet moments in which they feel at peace and in harmony with nature," says spa director Ana Magno. "The fact that it is on the highest point makes it more appealing and more private, which is one of our top priorities."
In keeping with the exclusive charm of the property, the spa was designed without a reception area or communal locker rooms. Instead, guests are greeted in their villas or bohios (which are nestled like tree houses above Playa Manzanillo) by a spa concierge and escorted to one of the spa's six casitas. Each is essentially a spa within a spa, featuring its own distinct decor, theme, and treatments. All come with a private pool and hydrotherapy zone, changing area, bathroom, shower, and steam room, and relaxation area. Guests may choose to reserve a casita for three hours, a half day, or a full day. "Spa Mukul offers guests six paths to personal revitalization in six private sanctuaries," says Magno. Guests can choose from among the Secret Garden, a tropical oasis offering a host of water-themed experiences, such as Watsu; the Hammam, a private grotto in which they can partake in a traditional Turkish bath; the Rain Forest, where thalassotherapy treatments rely on algae and seaweed elements; the Crystal Temple, which offers energy work through crystals, light, and aromatherapy treatments; the Healing Hut, where guests opt for Asian rituals, including Ayurveda, Thai massage, reflexology, and more' and Mukul, the Secret Spa, which offers indigenous healing practices incorporating Nicaraguan medicinal plants, herbs, and spices grown on property. In addition to the signature spa ritual offered in each casita, the spa also offers an a la carte menu of traditional treatments, such as facials, massages, scrubs, and wraps.
Not surprisingly, most guests are looking to experience local services that differ from those they might find at home. "We wanted to offer our guests treatments from different corners of the world," says Magno. One of the spa's most popular services is the Couples' Hammam Ritual ($550, 2 hours 30 minutes). "Our biggest challenge right now is that we encourage our guests to really view this experience as a healing journey and body restoration," says Magno. "No one really believes how easy it is to damage the body with the daily stress of life, so we propose a minimum of three hours for the journey. Our guests are quite surprised about dedicating so much time to their bodies, but once they do, it is perfect, and they love the experience."
It's not hard to find much to love about Spa Mukul, as no detail is considered too small to go unnoticed. According to Magno, it was no easy feat launching a high-end spa in a country unfamiliar with the concept of such luxury. The fact that Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere certainly didn't help. Training the staff, which is primarily Nicaraguan, continues to be one of Magno's top priorities. "After a year of operation and with constant supervision, we have acquired a regular process, as well as protocols that the staff can understand and feel more confident each time they perform them." she says. "I believe the cultural challenges are more difficult than the operational ones, but little by little, and by creating this team spirit, our spa will be the best in the world. The Nicaraguan people are so warm and friendly and enjoy being of service."
While it's tempting to compare Mukul to other luxe properties, the team is intent on forging its own path. "We don't want our clients to see us as just another luxury brand like the Banyan Tree, Four Seasons, or Rosewood," says Magno. "Instead, we want to create our own identity that stems from the vision of our owner, Carlos Pellas, a man from Nicaragua who believes in his country and wants to greet guests as if they were friends staying in his own home." Regardless of what experience guests choose, they will certainly feel at home in the luxurious and private escape.