THE BASICS Once a home belonging to Hope Somoza, the widow of the former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, this Pacific beachfront Victorian has been carefully restored into a comfortable, 21-room hotel, which opened a year ago. A suite has been named after Mark Twain, who arrived in San Juan del Sur by sea in 1886, and wrote that “bright green hills never looked so welcome, so enchanting, so altogether lovely.”
THE LOCATION San Juan del Sur, a perfect horseshoe-shaped beach and surfers’ haven nestled into the side of a lush mountain, has long been a refuge for wealthy Nicaraguans. The hotel’s sweeping verandas provide glimpses of these palatial beach retreats, including an eye-catching pink house owned by Eduardo Montealegre, a politician who ran for the presidency of Nicaragua in 2006. The hotel overlooks the beach, where couples in rainbow-hued T-shirts, arms linked at the hips, cuddle at night in the shadows of swaying palm trees. Also a port, the town is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Managua airport. (A shuttle costs about $45 each way.)
THE ROOMS In spite of the Pottery Barn-like palette — cream-colored drapes with silk tassels, white walls and dark wood furniture — the Victoriano still feels Nicaraguan. The bedspread is a vibrant, orange and green hibiscus print, and the double bed is hand-carved teak, as is a large freestanding mirror and desk. Six rooms have French doors that open out onto balconies overlooking a small pool, with deck chairs and umbrellas, and the beach. Other rooms face a pretty courtyard.
THE BATHROOMS Tiny — the door will hit the sink if you don’t open it carefully — but have large shower stalls (no bathtub) with medium water pressure. The hotel provides a refreshing oatmeal-peppermint body bar, plenty of towels and a robe.
THE LOBBY Airy and spacious, guests can sink into a chocolate leather sofa or check e-mail (free Wi-Fi), with views of the beach and men on scooters selling milk, rice and beans. Paintings by Nicaraguan artists adorn the walls, and the polished wooden floors are covered with antique rugs.
ROOM SERVICE Available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. It is best to speak some Spanish when in Nicaragua. One order over the phone, for coffee, was interpreted as tea, then finally a man arrived at the door to ask in person. Once it was understood what I was ordering, service was prompt, just 10 minutes ($1.50). And it was delicious Nicaraguan coffee. The food is excellent and fresh, a simple sandwich of ham and cheese ($4) was delivered in 20 minutes, but breakfast, which is included in the rate, is best en plein air on the veranda.
AMENITIES There is no gym, but San Juan del Sur is perfect for exploring on foot. Its streets are lined with cafes, bars, surf shops and a bookstore.
THE BOTTOM LINE With rates for double rooms starting at $100, this hotel is on the high end of the local spectrum (surfer-style accommodations can be found for as little as $20 a night), but no one could call it overpriced, given its idyllic location. While service is sometimes a bit slow — my checkout took 15 minutes, and involved much official stamping of a wad of receipts — the staff was friendly and helpful.
Victoriano Hotel; Paseo de la Mar, Costado Norte Enitel, San Juan del Sur; (505-2) 568-2006; www.hotelvictoriano.com.ni.