Back in 2003, friends and family thought we were reckless by planning to take our 2 year old baby girl with us on an unfamiliar adventure to Nicaragua. Our best friend Alicia from Managua convinced us to come and visit, insisting we should give her home country a chance. We did and we soon fell in love with the gentle climate, breathtaking landscapes, kind people and rich culture and have called it our second home ever since.
We are both passionate architects who love to travel and discover new cultures and different attitudes towards life and architecture. We are eager to uncover local secrets on living fully, in the moment and in harmony with nature and how this attitude impacts home design. For us, Nicaragua is about warmth and being one with nature. It's about taking the time to smell a flower. It's also about being grateful for what we take for granted in life and about sharing.
Playa Remanso is nestled in one of the most beautiful bays along the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, just north of Costa Rica. It sits in the breathtaking Bay of Remanso, flanked by dramatic cliffs dotted with cacti and rock outcrops shaped to the whim of the waves. At low tide the fine beach sand extends generously before reaching the bubbling waters edge. At high tide the beach may be reduced to just a narrow strip of sand and pebbles.
We chose this location for our future home for its scenic beauty and tranquility. Our property, perched on a ridge, offers 270 degree vistas towards the Pacific, the valley and the surrounding jungle covered hills. From the moment we set foot on the lot, we were sold on its' breathtaking panoramic quality. The sweet smelling, warm breeze in our faces and prospect of designing and building our own tropical getaway, sealed the deal.
Villa Pavela, a play on our names Pavel and Ela, is an environmentally conscious, open-air concept family vacation beach home that we enjoy renting out to guests throughout the year. We visit at least twice a year to unwind and to catch up on some quality time. It is a 4 minute easy walk to Playa Remanso and a 10 minute drive (6 km, 4 miles) to San Juan del Sur, a popular resort and fishing town. The town is conveniently close by for picking up groceries yet comfortably far away enough to let you abandon yourself to the peace and tranquility you will find at Villa Pavela.
Surrounded by tropical gardens, with ocean view over tropical landscape and sweeping mountain views, staffed, secure, self-catering with full cooking service option.
While traveling in Nicaragua, we thoroughly enjoyed the traditional open air living concept of the local hotels and casitas we stayed at. We became inspired by the Nicaraguan simple way of life and by the gentle climate, and how these stroke the perfect balance between being one with the environment and being sheltered from the elements at the same time.
The design of Villa Pavela incorporates the low-impact traditional open air living concept with all the comforts and necessities of home. The layout takes advantage of natural ventilation for cooling purposes. In addition to this, ceiling fans are provided throughout the house and both bedrooms are equipped with optional, paid air conditioning, just in case. Traditional heavy white masonry walls, ceramic roof tiles, exposed cedar roof beams, caña ceilings and red terra cotta floors, including local artwork, all draw on the traditional Spanish colonial style and available local building materials. We used a more contemporary architectural vocabulary to express the natural beauty of fine cedar screens and polished concrete counters studded with hand picked beach pebbles. Yes, my kids and I picked each and every one…
The house structural design incorporates North American seismic and high wind design principles, ensuring structural integrity and our guests safety.
The outdoor living spaces of the house fully engage our guests with the surrounding tropical environment. The front covered terrace is a cool, shaded oasis where you can relax in a traditional Nicaraguan rocking chair or hammock and enjoy the sweeping views of the tropical landscape and the Pacific ocean. A private patio overlooking the cordilleras and the valley is accessible from the master bedroom. The screened windows of the hallway catch the rays of the afternoon sun painting the interior with a pattern of light and shadow. The master bedroom is equipped with a king size bed and includes a cozy, 3 piece en-suite bathroom. The guest bedroom has a shower/sink/change room, a double-size bed and a 3-person bunk bed, single bed on the top, double size bed on the bottom. All beds are equipped with insect nets. A separate powder room is accessible from the hallway. The modern, fully-equipped kitchen may be opened to overlook the outdoor covered living space, which will most likely become your holiday headquarters during your stay at Villa Pavela.
One of our favourite things to do at Villa Pavela, is to wake up before the kids and run off to the beach for an early morning swim. Returning to the fresh smell of coffee and breakfast, prepared by our housekeeper Eliza, is simply heaven. It would be our pleasure to share this magical experience with you.
House staff: The house and the property are maintained for your safety and comfort by a full-time guard and maid. Eliza and Levys, our cuidadores live in separate quarters on the property. They are our "gate keepers". Daily house cleaning, except on weekends and holidays, is included in the rental. Elisa is a fine cook and for an additional fee of US$15.00 a day could prepare all of your meals. The purchase of groceries is our guests responsibility.
Water: the house has a private well and the domestic water supply is managed through a 2-stage water purification system with both sedimentary and ultraviolet light (UV) filters. However, as in any tropical setting purified bottled water should be used for drinking purposes. Rainwater, used for watering the garden, is harvested and stored in a 28,000 litre (7,400 US gallon) cistern. All bathrooms and the kitchen are serviced by on-demand water heaters. The house is on a 3-chamber septic system.
Kitchen: The fully-equipped kitchen features a large eating/working counter with 6 seating stools, 4-burner counter-mounted gas cooktop, toaster oven, toaster, refrigerator with freezer, coffee machine, coffee mill, electric tea kettle, blender, stick blender, rice cooker, food processor, and most importantly the manual juice squeezer and juicer. All types of dishes, cutlery, pots and pans and a basic selection of spices are provided for your cooking enjoyment.
Bedrooms: the house sleeps a maximum of 7 guests. The master bedroom is equipped with a king size bed, night tables and lamps, a bureau and a 3 piece en-suite bathroom. The second bedroom has a flat screen TV, double-size bed and a 3-person bunk bed (bottom-double, top-single). Both bedrooms are equipped with AC ($5/bedroom/night). Towels and bed linens are provided and changed once a week. More frequent linen and towel changes subject to additional fees. All windows are fitted with bug screens.
Entertainment: Flat screen satellite TV’s are located at the open air terrace and in the second bedroom. A large selection of movies are available on our home media server. A DVD and CD player are also provided. We also have a small library, board games and puzzles.
Outdoor features: The covered front terrace with ocean/mountain view is furnished with with two hammocks, coffee table, 4 rocking chairs, dining table with 4 chairs and additional foldable stools, six bar stools at kitchen island. The master bedroom patio has two hammocks and a coffee table for two and offers views towards the surrounding jungle covered hills. There is also an outdoor shower to wash off beach sand. Our garden with a large selection of beautiful, tropical plants and fruit trees, surrounds the house on three sides. The garden terraces feature two seating locations with 4 traditional outdoor lounge chairs.
Emergency power: Villa Pavela is now equipped with an auxiliary electrical system. Our new AirX wind turbine generates electricity which is stored in deep charging batteries. The house has a 110 Volt, 60 Hertz electrical service. To conserve energy all light fixtures use energy-saving lightbulbs. Exterior security lighting is controlled by photocells.
Internet: connect with the world anytime, anywhere in and around Villa Pavela. Our service is a high-speed 3.5 MGb connection.
Other amenities: Parking space is provided on site and is limited to two vehicles.
Kid-friendly: The beach, located just 4 minutes from the house, provides for endless beach fun, including swimming, snorkelling, body surfing, surfing and building sand castles. For little ones we have a pee-pod portable baby bed and a table top clip-on high chair.
Pet-friendly: four-legged friends are welcome but sadly may not share beds with their owners. Our chained guard dog can be friendly but you should consider restraining your pet, just to be safe. There is also a cat on our property, who thinks he’s the boss.
Smoking: smoking inside the house is prohibited. Smoking is permitted on the terrace. Please dispose of cigarette butts in the provided receptacle.
Cellular telephone access: available in areas around the property and in town.
On Arrival: On arrival, guests will be greeted by our staff. Eliza will show the house and grounds and hand over the house keys. She will explain how to secure the house and will provide you with our Internet password. If you wish to use the optional paid AC, you must request the remote control from Eliza. As long as you have the remote it is assumed you are using AC. Please return promptly if no longer required to avoid being charged unnecessarily. We provide a welcome start up kit which includes; a 5 gallon bottle of mineral water, small soaps and shampoo, toilet paper in each bathroom, kitchen paper towels, garbage bags in each bin and dish washing detergent. Once used up it is up to our guests to purchase necessary household items.
Here are some interesting and cool things you may want to consider doing once hanging out in the hammock and doing absolutely nothing finally gets a bit old:
• slice open a fresh 5 lbs papaya and sinfully eat it all up
• cook your own fine organic meals with fresh local produce and fish or cook with Eliza to learn local Nicaraguan dishes
• learn Spanish through immersion
• dance on the terrace
• listen to music or to the sounds of the tropics
• observe birds and butterflies that come to our garden bird feeder
• grab your favorite book or one from our ever expanding and changing collection
• sunbathe, swim, surf or snorkel
• fish off the beach
• build sand castles
There are also many structured attractions nearby. They include:
– eco-tour to Playa La Flor to see the giant sea turtles
– boat tours to other local beaches
– fishing expeditions. Just make sure they are licensed and have proper life safety equipment for all passengers.
– The Flying Frog zip lines are fantastic, if you're into that kind of thing. Very affordable and spectacular during the green season.
– Granada is worth visiting if you are interested in heritage architecture. Take a horse-drawn carriage and get a full tour of this historic city for approximately $20. It will be worth worth every penny. But you'll be longing for the beach in no time. The El Zaguan steak house behind the cathedral is renowned for the best Argentinian steak.
– Ometepe Island is a two day event. Among many other attractions on the island, you can hike up one of the two volcano with a guide. The hike is a full day event, strenuous and very challenging but an experience of a lifetime. This does require some planning and reservations.
– exploring the nearby town of San Juan del Sur and its wide variety of restaurants, shops and services such as spas or Yoga studios
Temperatures vary from low 80's F (26 C) to mid 90's F (34 C) throughout the year.
The most comfortable weather is at the end of November and in December. Cooler nights, perfect for sleeping.
In January the trade winds pick up and continue until February or March. It's hot and dry, especially closer towards March.
March, April and May are less windy, very hot and very dry.
June and July are hot, humid with some rain, things are green again.
There is typically a mini-dry season mid-July to mid-August that is also nice.
September is normally very wet and great for surfing. The vegetation is lush.
Best fishing (deep sea) is during the rainy season (June-November) as is the best surfing.
Fresh water fishing (lake Nicaragua, Apanas) is best in February through March.
October is traditionally the wettest of the rainy season. It is hot, humid with lush vegetation....simply breathtaking.
In November, you can expect some rain and humidity.
Just some advice on staying safe during your exotic adventure. Nicaragua is a third world country. "Having" and "not having" are very pronounced. Crime does occur, but by practicing common sense and following our advice you will be aware of some of the common risks and be better prepared to avoid them. If you have experience traveling abroad, then you should already have a good appreciation of how to ensure your personal safety.
Some people thought we were out of our minds throwing ourselves wholeheartedly at this adventure in Nicaragua with our gorgeous 2 year old baby girl. Our best friend, Alicia from Managua, convinced us to come and visit, insisting we should give her home country a chance. We did and have called it our second home ever since.
We have owned and regularly visited our Villa by Remanso Bay with all of our three kids for the last 8 years. We never found ourselves in any kind of trouble, but then again we always stay well aware of our surroundings. My three kids, the oldest being 20 at the time, would actually go to the beach early in the morning on their own. They would never have any items of value with them. Just their swimsuits, a kite, a bucket and shovel to play with in the sand, or the odd frisbee.
None of the beaches in the San Juan del Sur (SJDS) area have lifeguards and none are regularly patrolled by police. Our beach does benefit from frequent police visits thanks to the taco shack and it's "pop-and-taco-on-the-house-special" for the constables.
There have been incidents of theft at all of the beaches in and around SJDS. Surfers are the most common target. By leaving valuable belongings unattended on the beach, including cameras, wallets, passports, even fancy sandals, you may become an easy target.
Leave your valuables at home. I have lost 4 earrings and a pair of sunglasses while simply playing in the waves, the strength and frequency of which may catch you off guard. Leave your watch at home and let the sun be your guide throughout the day. Relax. At lunch time – the sun is directly above you. Sunset – a clue to head back for supper. Leave your expensive cameras at home, especially those with huge lenses proudly displayed around your neck. At the very least be discreet with your camera and download your photos regularly and have several memory cards. Your loss will be minimized in the event you loose your camera or it is stolen.
It is not safe to venture out on the rocks along the edges of our Bay or to wander off to the secluded beaches, especially if you are alone and have valuables with you. Also, while the sea may appear calm, with one rogue wave you may end up in serious trouble.
It's always safer to go to the beach with a buddy. After sunset you should not be going to the beach alone.
Photocopy all your credit cards, passports, divers licenses etc. and keep separate from your wallet. Limit the contents of your wallet to one credit card, one debit card and a few bucks. A secure electronic wall mounted safe is provided at Villa Pavela.
There is a secure ATM machine in SJDS at Hotel Casa Blanca. It's always supervised by an armed guard.
When shopping, make sure to check you are receiving accurate change and watch out for inflated "gringo" prices. Eliza could accompany you to make sure you do not get ripped off. Also, beware of the sweet little kids selling trinkets and pottery. Not all but some of them are skilled pickpockets.
You can pay in US dollars everywhere but be prepared to get change in cordobas. $50, $100 bills always raise a bit of suspicion, same as they do in North America. It's better to have $20's. We always bring a bunch of $1 and $5 bills for tips etc. Some of the grocery stores in SJDS accept credit cards. Always ask, before you shop.
There is an airport " welcome" tax, so be prepared to pay around US$7-10 per person as you pass through customs. Should your travel plans involve departure from the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, be prepared to pay a farewell airport tax of +/- US$35 per person. You will be exempt from paying this tax if you can prove that you are in transit and that you have been in the country for less than 12 hours. The airport in Managua does not charge a departure tax.
If you need to exchange money you can stop by the BDF bank, just a little farther down the road from Hotel Casa Blanca. Personally, I would recommend to use an ATM to withdraw smaller quantities of cash in US dollars or cordobas.
Don't exchange money on the street. You will most likely get ripped off.
Security at Villa Pavela
To ensure our guests security, Villa Pavela is permanently staffed and we have a guard dog, Eliza and Levys live on the premises and take care of the property. Levys will accompany guests to to the beach the first time simply to show the way.
In the event of a blackout, which unfortunately are quite frequent in SJDS, our back-up power will switch on automatically. During such times, I would advise that you limit the use of water by not taking showers and /or flushing. Also avoid using air-conditioning and non–essential appliances and reduce lighting. These power saving strategies will allow for the fridge and ceiling fans to run smoothly for a few hours.
For your own safety, please do not attempt to operate our back–up power system nor touch any of the electrical panels located in the kitchen. Eliza knows the system inside-out and is the only one authorized to adjust it, as needed. Also, as a courtesy to other guests, and for our sanity, please do not modify any of our Internet settings.
Welcome to the tropics! Be mindful of animals and insects you may encounter. Watch where you walk and don't wander into tall grasses. We do advise that you keep the bedroom doors at Villa Pavela closed at all times.
Watch what you touch! The agave-type plants in our garden, the line tree and even the blooming bougainvillea bushes all have spines that may leave a painful reminder for days.
Safety on the road
We always rent a car and drive even at night, but that should be done only if you know the road and have prior experience with driving in Nicaragua. Bicyclists, pedestrians and animals are not uncommon on the road at any time of day and night.
If you are arriving around noon, expect daylight to last up to around 5:30 pm. If you are arriving later in the afternoon and are concerned with the drive, there is a great shuttle bus service based in SJDS, www.adelanteexpres.com or you can stay for the night at the Best Western Las Mercedes hotel just across the street from the airport in Managua and only hit the road the next morning. Try avoiding having to take taxis in Managua.
Arranging for taxi service to and from Villa Pavela can be tricky. Your cell phone may not work in this area and only some local SIM cards seem to work. Movistar pay-as-you-go seems to be the best choice. Taxis can also be very expensive, especially for foreigners - US$15 !!! one way for a 7 minute drive into SJDS. Please note, Eliza is always available to help you out by calling our trusted taxi driver. Tipping Eliza is always appreciated as she needs to top up her mobile minutes.
Personally, I like to have my own vehicle for safety and convenience. In an emergency, it's right there.
You do have to be very careful when driving. Always buckle up. It's mandatory. Change lanes using caution and signaling and never change lanes while on a turnaround and when lines are continuous. Just go with the flow. Respect the speed limit religiously. Sometimes all it takes is a small traffic accident and everyone may end up at the police station. There used to be many check-points with cops stopping select cars, especially rentals and requesting vehicle registration papers, passport or cash claiming you committed a traffic violation. Nowadays this still happens but lately we found that not as frequently. It depends on your luck and also on your driving habits. Locals get away with the worst infractions. different story for tourists in rentals. Driving remains at your own risk. I am just offering some advice and sharing lessons learned.
Always make sure you and your passengers are wearing seat belts which is mandatory and simply common sense, lock all car doors first making sure the car keys are not left inside and never, ever leave any belongings out in plain sight. We learned the hard way. Keep everything in the trunk. Never offer rides to hitch hikers.
Nicaragua is a third world country. Very basic emergency services, such as a small hospital and ambulances are located in Rivas, a 40 minute drive. No guarantee however, on how long it could take for an ambulance to arrive. There is a very basic clinic and several pharmacies in SJDS. It is wise to travel with your own little first aid kit. Managua has a full blown hospital.
The advice above is all common sense. We used the same precautions on our recent trip to Italy and managed to stay out of trouble with great success, and there were a few close calls.