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Nicaragua, Best Deal?

Published: Feb 4th, 2005
Source: Wall Streeet Journal

DOLLAR'S PERFORMANCE: Up 17%
BEST DEAL: Old colonial house, $100,000
Nicaragua Dollar up 17%; deluxe new resorts

Nicaragua? For many Americans, the name alone conjures images of revolutionaries and civil war. But that all ended 15 years ago, time enough to build infrastructure and some deluxe properties. Just last October, the group that runs the Lapa Rios ecolodge in Costa Rica opened a sister property in Playa Ocotal, Nicaragua, called Morgan's Rock. Now, Leigh Ann Cloutier of Rico Tours in Austin, Texas, books travelers on joint jaunts to the Four Seasons in Costa Rica and then on to Morgan's Rock; she hires cars and drivers for the roughly three-hour trip between the two resorts.

Travelers who have been to both countries say Nicaragua is like Costa Rica was 20 years ago, except there's even more on view, from an active volcano to a rich history. "It was an extraordinary learning experience," says Alan Bloch, a retired investment manager from Los Angeles who took his wife and two daughters there a few months ago. Mr. Bloch says the draw wasn't just in talking to people about the war and the political history, it was also about meeting adventurous people from around the world. The family swam on a private beach, planted trees and visited a butterfly farm.

Some travelers are so enthusiastic they're investing in the country and even buying homes. Jeff Kaller, a real-estate executive from St. Augustine, Fla., recently decided Nicaragua is "poised to explode" and is investing $20 million in a boutique hotel near Morgan's Rock. New Yorkers Joe and Elke Bergeron just bought a three-bedroom colonial house in Granada, where the old national theater is being renovated and galleries are springing up. Such houses need work, but are going for $100,000. With its horse-drawn carriages and old churches, Nicaragua "feels like going back in time," says Mrs. Bergeron.

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