Overland Traveller



Totoco Eco Lodge, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Best for…eco types with a taste for luxury and volcano vistas

Totoco honeymoon cabin © Craig Fast“Where does my wee go?” was my not-so-classy first question for Isla de Ometepe’s most expensive hotel.

Not such an odd question considering that Totoco is an eco hotel of the highest order. In fact, it felt like I gave so much back to the hotel that they should have paid me for services rendered.

My question was triggered by the urine separator in the hotel’s composting toilets. I’m used to composting toilets but had never seen this. The telling answer was that all urine is collected to water the plants; nitrogen, a key component of urine, is vital for their nutrition. Not that you have to think about your wee while you are here (I suffer from over-curiosity) – Totoco is Isla de Ometepe’s premier hotel and works hard to give its guests a comfortable, relaxing, memorable and eco-friendly stay; not worrying about wee comes under the first three categories.

View from Totoco © Craig FastAccommodation
My cabin, Tonatiu, was large, cool and comfortably furnished with a king-size bed, day bed (which can be turned into a bed if needed) and locally-sourced decorations. The en suite had a composting toilet, fluffy towels and rather temperamental hot shower. While the inside was pleasant, the outside veranda was jaw dropping. A choice of seating (rocking chairs, hammocks, dining chairs around a large table) faced Concepción Volcano and the waters of Lake Nicaragua encircling it on both sides. In the evening, the sunset to the west of the volcano was entrancing.

Food and drink
The bar and restaurant enjoyed the same view. It serves breakfasts, simple lunches and three-course dinners. Unless you’re prepared to walk uphill in the dark (this kind of view doesn’t come at a leg-friendly altitude) or fork out for one of the island’s notoriously expensive taxis, this is where you’ll be eating every evening. Good thing then, that the food is good, with simple Nicaraguan dishes or more elaborate dishes with beef, chicken or fish, and the bar is well stocked.

Totoco cabin interior © Craig FastEco ethics
Totoco has a four-pronged approach to its eco label: community, energy, water and waste. Its friendly staff are from the island and trained at the hotel; service is excellent. Tours are organised through local operators; the hotel stresses that using a local guide for volcano or waterfall hikes, kayaking and horse riding will not only heighten your appreciation of the island, but benefit the local community as well. I went kayaking on the River Istian, which, thanks to the amiable and knowledgeable English-speaking local guide, doubled as a bird-watching bonanza.

The hotel gets all of its energy from solar panels. It runs on a decentralised system; each cabin has its own panel to provide its own energy. Rechargeable batteries store energy for use at night. The only energy the solar panels can’t provide is for hot water in the showers. Showers are currently gas heated, which the hotel admits isn’t ideal but there are plans to heat the water using compost, as unusual as that may sound!

Totoco cabin patio © Craig FastThere are elaborate water systems in place. The hotel gets its water from volcanic run off, the same as everyone else on the island. However, during the six months of dry season, water on the island can be scarce with those further down the slopes being the first to suffer from a water shortage. In order to minimise its water usage and ensure everybody on the island gets their fair share, Totoco recycles over 90% of its grey water. Water used in the kitchen, showers, toilets and sinks is cleaned through ingenious natural filtration systems before being used to water the garden. Rainwater is collected for use on the organic farm.

Finally, the most difficult area to deal with is waste. Totoco splits all waste into seven materials (guests are asked to sort their waste into three bins to help this process): organic waste, glass, metals, tin and copper, paper and cardboard, hard plastic and flimsy plastic. While the first six categories can be dealt with, there is currently nothing that can be done with flimsy plastic, such as plastic bags. For now, Totoco is storing them in big sacks lined up against the wall in the hope that one day soon a recycling process will be available in Nicaragua. It’s an eye-opening sight.

Organic farm
Totoco sprawls over 16 acres, roughly split into three main sections: the four cabins (there are plans for five more), reception, restaurant and flower gardens are at the top of the hill. The middle section is second- and third-generation forest and the lower section is dedicated to the organic farm. Volunteers can work here for a minimum of one month, focusing on land regeneration projects such as planting trees (most of the land was clear cut before Totoco bought it in 2008) and helping to introduce ‘permaculture’ – sustainable farming practices. The long-term aims are to provide the hotel’s restaurant with a steady supply of produce, reintroduce biodiversity to the forest areas and work with the local community to encourage sustainable farming practices.

It’s a very admirable project and one that hopes to be an example to other eco hotels around the world. Totoco is committed to truly achieving a sustainable eco-ethic that so many other hotels, tours and business only pay lip service. My stay there was both relaxing and educational and, for once, I felt able to enjoy my time in there without the environmental guilt I am frequently troubled by in luxury hotels. The spectacular sunsets helped too. And so did the fact that every time I went for a wee I knew I was doing so much more than just that!

Totoco Eco Lodge
Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Tel: (505) 8425 2027/8659 8558/8942 6014

See related features, reviews and images
Feature: 15 things to do on Isla de Ometepe
Review: Hotel Finca del Sol, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Review: Hotel La Omaja, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Images: Nicaragua - Isla de Ometepe & Granada


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