In this issue we are adding a security column with the help of AS Solution, a leading provider of security solutions for large multinational companies and Ultra High Net Worth private individuals and families. To start, we take a look at what you should know before you or any of your employees drive a car in Cuba.
We also continue with Suite Spotlight, following the positive response to feature Villa One at One & Only Palmilla and then last week Crystal Mozart.
Also, an encore of our popular report on Mukul, an entry which combines the adventure travel, fishing, diving and surfing of Nicaragua to a luxury level, adding championship golf and excellent spa, all easily accessed by a new general aviation airport.
I hope a
ll your trips are amazing experiences!
DG Amazing Experiences
Please Note - DG Amazing Experiences is not commercially affiliated with any of the resorts we profile or travel advisors we reference.
1. Should You Drive In Cuba?
Cuba is in the news, and I understand from private jet operators, it has already been the site of corporate meetings. Before you or one of your employees get behind the wheel of a car in Cuba, you will want to read this column:
U.S. citizens are now free to visit Cuba for purposes of business or cultural exchange only. Unlike Canadians and Europeans, who have flocked to the Caribbean island as tourists since the 1990s, Americans are still not free to travel to Cuba for recreational purposes. However, this too will surely change soon.
Like many other countries where we work, the single most dangerous activity for foreign visitors to Cuba is travel by motor vehicle. As the number of cars has increased over the last few years, incidents involving motor vehicles are now the leading cause of accidental death in the country.
If that statistic isn't enough to make foreigners think twice about how they travel in-country, they should also consider a few more things:
- Drivers involved in traffic accidents risk up to 10 years in prison if they are considered guilty of causing death or serious harm.
- Rental car drivers are not allowed to leave the country until all claims are settled after an accident in which they were involved. Even if the driver is a foreigner who requires medical attention best delivered in his or her home country.
- Although main roads in major urban areas are usually in decent shape, secondary roads are often not. Potholes abound, signage is poor, and anything and everything in addition to cars frequent the roads.
- Driving in rural areas demands extreme attentiveness at all times, and is not recommended at night, period. Pedestrians, bikes, mopeds, horse carts and tractors might all appear suddenly on the road - as does livestock. Roads are poorly lit, and neither bikes, mopeds or old cars can be counted on to have suitable lights or reflectors.
2. Suite Spotlight: Grand Royal Suite, Mandarin Oriental Bankgok
Beginning with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Joseph Conrad during the late nineteenth century, the hotel has welcomed numerous heads of state, captains of industry and a host of world-renowned writers and celebrities over the years. Designed to accommodate the requirements of the most larger traveling parties, the new Grand Royal Suite combines opulence and sophistication.
The six-bedroom, 6,600 sq. ft. Grand Royal Suite at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok opened in April and occupies the entire first floor of the Authors' Wing, which was the original Oriental Hotel, built in 1876. It has private elevator access and is comprised of the one-bedroom, 3,500 sq. ft. square Royal Suite and the adjoining 1,800 sq. ft. Ambassador Suite with two bedrooms, as well as three further separate guest rooms to accommodate family and entourage. There is even a meeting room offering state-of-the-art security monitoring and communication facilities.
Space includes a formal lounge, a second living room, a study and a dining room for 12 guests with a fully equipped kitchen and a bar pantry. A light-filled Victorian-inspired glass conservatory offers dining for six guests and lounge seating. The 140-year-old building's restored original open balcony affords views over the tropical gardens of the Authors' Wing and the majestic river.
Rates start at Baht 343,200 (US$9,650 at current exchange rates) and goes up to Baht 572,700 (US$16,150) seasonally. General Manager is Amanda Hyndman.
3. Billionaire Carlos Pellas Creates A Spa and Sports Paradise On Nicaragua's Pacific Coast...
The writer, Maura Egan, catalogued a litany of reasons to visit, from the colorful colonial city of Granada (which she calls the next Cartagena) to the rustic fishing villages on its Pacific Coast that channel the west coast of Mexico before forty years of development. Extra dimensions include that the country, better known to many Americans for the Iran-Contra Affair of the '80s, is a paradise for sporting and adventure travel enthusiasts.
Last May it hosted the World Surfing Games and every August there is the Flor de Cana International Billfish Tournament. SaltWater Sportsman reports, "There have not been a lot of boats fishing these waters for long enough to get it all figured out." The journal says marlin range between 550 to 800 pounds. "Some of the best fishing days of my career," says one angler.
Marlin Magazine offers similar stories.
Inland are rain forests, coffee plantations, zip-lining, hiking and exploring small towns with colorfully painted buildings and cobblestone streets. When Travel + Leisure decided last fall for the first-time ever to have its editors design their own dream vacations, Nicaragua was the starting point for one of 17 global adventures, and Mukul Beach Golf & Spa
served as the luxurious home base. The travel magazine's itinerary includes a visit to Ometepe Island, a volcanic islet in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (at one point, before the Panama Canal, an important water link between the Caribbean Sea to the East and the Pacific to the West) as well as sand boarding down Cerro Negro, an active volcano.
Since the end of the civil war in 1990, the country has been popular with surfers and backpackers, and gradually saw some small boutique hotels open. However, it wasn't until 2013 when Carlos Pellas, Nicaragua's first billionaire, according to Bloomberg, debuted Mukul, that luxury accommodations were added to the mix.
, president of Direct Travel Luxe, visited about a year ago and told me, "They've spared nothing on this. The staff is local and it's genuine warmth that people are looking for." On the spa, she says, "It's almost got a spiritual element."
And while travel writing is often overfilled with superlatives, Mukul's spa (below) is indeed unique in several ways. Instead of a large single complex, there are
six different stand-alone spa suites
, completely private, each offering a different experience (Secret Garden, Rain Forest, Crystal Temple, Healing Hut, Ancient Sanctuary and Hammam) ranging from three hours to a full day. Each suite has its own private relaxation areas, showers, changing area and outdoor pool so you can relax between treatments.
If your relaxation is conquering a new golf course, Bandon Dunes architect David McLay Kidd's work here was chosen by
as one of
"The 5 Best New Resort Courses of 2013."
listed it as one of "10 Golf Courses With Epic Views." McLay Kidd's layout is extra challenging as the designer left numerous trees he originally was going to remove once he saw that they form a sort of aerial highway for the local population of monkeys. A popular way to celebrate completion of a round is to take off your shoes and walk from the 18
green into the adjacent ocean, casually leaving one's belongings at the sparsely used course.
For all of the facilities, there are only 37 villas and bohios on over 1,600 acres, and in December Mukul made
Architectural Digest's list of "Five Beautiful Eco-Friendly Lodges for a Refreshing Escape." The article cites use of recycled materials, sustainably sourced timber and over 1,500 trees that were replanted instead of being cut down, perhaps one reason the development cost $250 million to build.
Despite racking up a shelf of awards, getting to Mukul until November meant a flight into Managua and then a two-hour car ride or a helicopter, but since the opening of Costa Esmeralda Airport, with full customs and immigrations, and only 15 minutes away, access via private jets up to BBJs and ACJs has meant you can be on the beach or tee box within 30 minutes of touchdown.
A word of warning: If you are looking for wild nightlife, you'll need to turn to your fellow traveling companions. That said, there are several small fishing villages nearby where as I did, you can enjoy a cold beer, eat fresh seafood from a picnic table with your feet in the sand, and talk about the waves with the 20-something mix of artists and surfers who are winding down from another day in paradise.
Fast Facts: Mukul Beach Golf & Spa
There are 37 stand-alone units. Casona Don Carlos (below), the Pellas family's private beach residence, featuring 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor-outdoor living space, has 80-foot-high palapa ceilings, four bedroom suites, a stone terrace and full size pool with direct access to the beach. Rates range from $5,800 to $13,500, based on season.
Suite Dona Vivian, named for Pellas' wife, is part of the complex, 7,746 sq. ft., with two master bedroom suites, including indoor and outdoor garden showers, a massage room and nearly 360 degree ocean views. Rates range from $4,320 to $10,000 per night, based on season. Both can be booked when the family isn't visiting.
There are a dozen 1-and-2 bedroom beach villas (below) set in two beachfront rows, with outdoor showers, 500-sq. ft. bathroom suites, kitchens and private pools, starting from $1,245 and $2,350 per night during the high season, including airport transfers and breakfast.
Of the four 1-bedroom villas directly on the beach, Villa 5 offers the most privacy. The 2-bedroom villas are better to share with couples or older children as there are separate outdoor entrances to the bedrooms.
Bohios are smaller, 621-sq. ft. tree-house style villas, away from the beach, elevated along a jungle hillside providing great views, starting from $725. If you are traveling with teenagers or your crew, these are a great option for them.
The focus is on seafood, steaks sourced from grass-fed Nicaraguan cattle and produce grown by local farmers. There are four separate restaurants. La Mesa is elegant dining for dinner only. La Terraza is for daytime dining overlooking the beach. The Palapa Lounge next to the Beach Club offers rum tastings and board games, and is a place guests come to socialize. Tres Ceibas is the sports bar and features wood-oven pizza, fish tacos and other munchies perfect for watching the big game with friends. There is a walk-in humidor if you want to enjoy a cigar. The resort also will cater private dinners on the beach and other special experiences on request.
Beginning last November, the resort launched an annual visiting chef program with Cyril Cheminot, known for his work with molecular gastronomy, pastry and chocolate.
In addition to the spa and 18-hole golf course, there is a comprehensive kids club that offers juniors camping on the beach, kitchen apprenticeships, spa experiences, movie nights and nature experiences. There is direct access to world-class surfing and charter boats for fishing. There is also 24-hour room service.
High season: January-March
Low season: April-November
Peak season- November-New Year's
Rainy season- July-November, with the only heavy rainfall occurring a couple weeks in October.
Best months to visit depend on what you're interested in: Surf (June-September); Golf (November-June); Value for money (April-November), Greenery (July-January)
The resort has hosted several weddings, and is available for full takeovers on request.
Costa Esmeralda Airport
, 15 minutes from the resort. The runway is 5,000 feet long. It opened last November, built by Pellas to help make access to Mukul easy.
Conde Nast Traveler
- October 2015 #3 in Top 15 Resorts in Central & South America #78 in Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the World
- June 2015 Best of the Best Awards - Best Eco-Lodge
- 2015 World Legacy Awards
Robb Report México
- July 2014 Best of the Best - Resort
- July 2014 101 Top Suites of the World
- June/July 2014 Top Resorts in Central & South America
- June 2014 Best of the Best - Resorts
- June 2014 HD Awards 2014 - Spa Finalist
- May 2014 The Robb Report 100 Resorts
Conde Nast Traveler
- May 2014 Hot List - Best Beach Hotels
- December 2013 Professional's Choice Awards - Favorite New International Spa
- September/October 2013 Best of the Best - Best Spa
Travel + Leisure
- June 2013 It List - Beach
4. Special Reports Library
DG Amazing Experiences Special Reports give you comprehensive inside information that is a "must-read" before you go. See links to some of our most popular Special Reports below:
Special Report: Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea - A look at two very different, new Presidential Suites.
Join Geoffrey Kent for a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Palau by private jet and superyacht.
In Zurich's luxury hotel scene, the Baur au Lac offers a grand dame experience with modern amenities in a central location.
The Haven aboard the Norwegian Breakaway - Is it possible to have a luxury experience on one of the world's largest cruise ships?
The first report from Crystal Cruise's new 62-person yacht Crystal Esprit, including its two-man submarine.
We travel through Asia, the Middle East and Europe to pick the best villas and residences at nine Six Senses properties.