By: Ann Abel
There’s something irresistible about a hotel where no one dresses up for dinner but everyone kicks off their shoes in the dining pavilion. The new eco-chic Yemaya Island Hideaway is that kind of place.
It’s laid-back but quietly luxurious, flash-free but flawlessly executed, and the first stylish place to stay on the remote, tiny Little Corn Island, a speck in the Caribbean about 43 miles from Nicaragua’s east coast. The 16 cabanas are spacious, with decks overlooking the sea, big comfortable beds, hot stone-walled showers with locally made coconut-oil bath products, and plenty of room to spread out. They’re simply but attractively decorated, with brightly embroidered throws strewn across the simple white beds, and direct access to the beach.
The hotel’s most beautiful space is either the covered yoga platform, where daily classes (soon twice-daily classes) are held amid the jungle greenery, or the dining pavilion overlooking the sea. It has the calm, almost reverent feeling of a yoga space too (hence the removal of shoes, or maybe it’s just because everyone’s usually sandy), and the guests are more likely to be sipping detox fruit smoothies at lunch than the local Toña beer.
The island itself is blissfully untouched, home to about 1,200 people, a rotating crew of backpackers and scuba divers, and no automobiles or paved roads. None of the beaches have furniture, just hammocks. Bathing suits are acceptable attire. To get from Yemaya to “town” entails a 30-minute hike through the jungle. (The path is well-maintained, but if you go for sunset cocktails, a headlamp for the walk home is a good idea.)
The comparisons to Costa Rica (or, rather, Costa Rica 20 years ago) are obvious, both from Nicaragua’s geography and Yemaya’s wellness focus. But when I arrived—after an insanely early 90-minute flight from Managua to Corn Island, a 20-minute ferry ride to the dock on Little Corn, and a second boat trip to Yemaya’s side of the island—my first impression was that I’d somehow wound up in Tulum. But Tulum back before the Mexican yoga-retreat town got as scene-y as it can be now. Barefoot guests, mostly in their 30s and glowing with relaxed good health, were finishing breakfast as I checked in and was served a fresh coconut with the top cut off and a straw stuck in, and young staffers were writing out the chalkboard menus.
The peace and simplicity were profound, but a high style quotient was clearly lurking in the background. It didn’t come as a surprise to learn that the owner also has three hotels in Tulum, and the managers previously worked at one of them. (Nor did it come as a shock to see that the A-list yoga chain Exhale held its New Year’s retreat here and is about to hold a teacher training.)