It’s been just a little over a decade since our founder Karen Emanuel spotted an “Island for sale” sign on a journey through Nicaragua. On any journey, it is important to look back and honor roots and so with this post, we look back at Karen’s path, which led to the opening of Jicaro.
When Karen set up her first business back in 1990, the London-based Key Production, a creative music, and media manufacturing agency still thriving today as a trusted brand, little did she know that two decades down the line she would set up a booming hospitality business – on a tiny island in Nicaragua. But life writes unexpected stories, especially if you’re a resilient risk-taker with an open mind, a smart entrepreneurial spirit and a love of adventure.
Travel was a passion that Karen pursued since her days working in a genetics lab at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Bent on discovering the world beyond petri dishes and test tubes, she set out with a backpack, propelled by her love of wildlife and the open road. Over the years, as her music industry business blossomed, Karen continued traveling, grabbing every chance to see another corner of the world. Always with an alternative twist in her lifestyle choices, Karen was increasingly keen on leaving only footprints and taking just photos as mementos of her adventures. In her choice of lodgings, she grew to love barefoot luxury with a conscience. Perhaps it was serendipity or her true calling that led Karen to open a sustainable lodge and become a global leader in barefoot luxury with a conscience.
On a trip through Nicaragua in winter 2006, Karen saw an A-board in a restaurant advertising an “Island for sale.” This fired up her business brain and the fantasy of building a hotel on her own island in Nicaragua grew fast. Latin countries always pulled at Karen’s heart strings, and so she purchased the island and set out to build a dream retreat.
Doing so responsibly in a developing world country presented its own set of challenges and led to adventures like “smuggling” recycled yoga mats into Nicaragua from the UK. Four years, much sweat and tears but mostly bursts of love and passion later, all the pieces fell into place. The right people appeared, the local community was invited in and embraced the project, and in January 2010, Jicaro Island Lodge opened its doors to guests. In 2017, managed by the award-winning Cayuga Collection, Jicaro became a member of the prestigious National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.
And here we are, ten years down the line from Karen’s spotting of the fateful sign and seven years since the opening of the lodge. It’s been an amazing journey.