by Bob Lupton
Nicaragua is the Western Hemisphere’s best kept secret. Nestled on a narrow strip of land connecting North and South Americas, its unspoiled shorelines stretch along the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
A chain of volcanos adorn the entire length of the country, some glowing with molten lava, some sleeping under a blanket of tropical rain forests. Its ancient city of Granada reaches back to 1524, making it the first and oldest remaining European city in mainland America. Once the breadbasket of Central America, Nicaragua’s rich volcanic soil is ideal for agricultural abundance.
Were it not for decades of devastating political conflict, Nicaragua today would surely be the richest gem in the necklace of Central American states. Instead it is the poorest.
There is little point in describing Nicaraguan poverty. It resembles that of any other third-world country where peasants scratch out a bare existence while a narrow band of elites control the wealth. That’s how it has been for countless decades in Nicaragua, as one revolution after another has seized power and made their empty promises. But all that could be changing.
Socialist president Daniel Ortega, while still spouting “power-to-the-people” rhetoric, is behaving somewhat more like a capitalist these days. And with one of his chief allies (the Castro brothers) normalizing relations with the US, the incendiary revolutionary oratory of the past appears to have diminishing returns. Enough stability has returned to the country to induce a trickle of international investors to take a risk.
That’s precisely what a small group of Atlanta investors are doing. They secured a piece of land high on the rim of a huge caldera. Centuries ago underground springs filled this dormant volcano, creating a lake nearly five miles across.
The water is pristine, a deep blue. Breezes from the cool water keep tropical temperatures comfortable day and night. The views from the top of the crater are breath-taking – miles of untouched rain forest, sister volcanos in the distance, the skyline of ancient Granada on the horizon.
It is an idyllic location for a small destination hotel tucked into the natural beauty of this setting. Its name: Pacaya Lodge and Spa.
But Pacaya Lodge and Spa is more than a five star financial investment. Though the investors do expect an acceptable rate of economic return, they are actually expecting much more. The lodge is a training ground for young Nicaraguans who will become experts in a budding hospitality industry.
Students from Emprendedora, an entrepreneurial high school we established in partnership with Opportunity International, engage in hands-on internships that train them in every facet of hotel operations. By the time they complete two years of on-the-job learning, they will have a command of the English language and possess marketable skills in management, marketing, maintenance, finance, and food service. They will be prepared to take their place in a new generation of young entrepreneurs equipped to lead their nation into a new day of prosperity.
Pacaya Lodge and Spa is tourism with a purpose.
Want to take an exotic weekend get-away a mere three-and-a-half hour plane ride from Atlanta? Go to pacayalodge.com and book a romantic “casita.” And while you are in the country, make arrangements to visit Emprendedora and meet some of our bright young students.
In addition to hospitality majors, you can also meet our agronomy students and allow them to show you around their impressive experimental farm. You may also want to see our state-of-the-art food processing plant that serves more than 1000 Nicaraguan farmers. By providing them agronomy support to increase their yields and by connecting them to international markets, subsistence farmers are now beginning to thrive.
All this represents the new face of global missions, a new paradigm of promise that goes to the heart of poverty alleviation. Go see for yourself!
Photo credit: Ant & Carrie Coleman