Hacienda Merida: Ecotourism in Nicaragua

ecotourism in nicaragua

Hacienda Merida: Ecotourism in Nicaragua

For my birthday this year, we had the pleasure of discovering some ecotourism in Nicaragua, while staying at Haceinda Merida on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Though the last 7km cycling down the dirt road to the hotel was a bit of a challenge, it was worth it in the end.

Hacienda Merida is a unique hotel, as it provides funding to a number of different projects, as well as using eco-bricks to build a free, bilingual school for the kids in the area.

We spent 4 nights at the hotel, and had the opportunity to explore the school as well as visit the Ometepe Biological Station, which is the starting point for the hike to San Ramon waterfall.

The San Ramon Waterfall ecotourism in nicaragua
The San Ramon Waterfall – another good example of ecotourism in Nicaragua.

What are Eco-Bricks? 

Hacienda Merida buys eco-bricks from the community. An eco-brick is essential a 1.5L plastic bottles, filled with rubbish. Each brick cost US0.50 cents, and contains 500g of non-organic waste. This incentive helps to educate the local community about non-organic waste, as well as reducing the amount of waste that ends up in the environment, or being burnt in the streets. These bricks are then used to build the walls of the school, and other structures such as outdoor tables and chairs.

eco brick table ecotourism in nicaragua
Eco-bricks being used to make some tables and chairs.

The School

Public education is free in Nicaragua, however it’s generally not very good, and definitely not bilingual. The Ometepe Bilingual School is funded solely by Hacienda Merida, and offers free quality education to children. The school currently has 84 students, and is bilingual, with the aim to educate children in environmental awareness, sustainability and ecotourism.

bilingual school ecotourism in nicaragua
The bilingual school at Hacienda Merida.

Haceinda Merida: The Hotel

The hotel was established in a pre-existing building, so no land was cleared to create the hotel. The hotel also promotes sustainable activities such as cycling, hiking and kayaking, opposed to renting a motorcycle. It was also one of the few places I discovered in Nicaragua that actually separates recyclables and organic waste. All organic waste (such as left overs from the hotel restaurant) is used to feed the hotel’s pigs and chickens. The food served in the hotel is locally sourced, reducing the carbon emissions generated from transportation. I believe they also have a generator that runs off solar panels.

Recycled flowers made from coke bottles ecotourism in nicaragua
These flowers are made out of old coke bottles, and were used to decorate the classrooms. It thought they looked really cool! I might even try this at home.

Get Involved:

Volunteering at the School

The school offers a volunteer program to either long or short-term visitors. Contact Hacienda Merida to find out more.

school eco bricks
You can still see the eco-bricks in the wall – some of the walls have also being plastered over.

Send Emails, Blog or Vlog

I briefly met the owner, who told me about his concerns about the pollution and rubbish in Nicaragua. He believes that tourists provide an opportunity to make a difference, by putting pressure on the government to invest in a better wastage/ recycling system in Nicaragua. So, instead of just bitching about the rubbish you see, amongst your friends and family, write to the country’s politicians or governing body and voice your opinion. He believes if enough people do this, then change will happen. Whether this is true or not, there is only one-way to find out.

Admittedly, I’ve travelled through a lot of countries that have issues with rubbish, and I’ve never considered writing about it before. So this time, I will take 5 minutes and send an email voicing my opinion, and I urge others to do the same. After all what’s 5 minutes of your time.

Stay at the hotel

Currently 40% of the profits generated by the hotel goes towards funding the bilingual school, eco-bricks and a few other sustainable projects on the island. By staying at the hotel you are supporting a great cause, and ensuring your money goes towards protecting the island and promoting sustainability.

If you enjoyed this article about ecotourism in Nicaragua, check our some of our other ecodiscoveries.

We spent about 5 weeks cycling around Nicaragua – check out our Nica post to find out what else we’ve been up to!

Ecotourism Jamaica: Durga’s Den

ecotourism jamaica

Yes, I went to Jamaica! No, I didn’t cycle there, and no, Michael did not go with me. So why did I go to Jamaica? Well firstly, my Canadian work permit expired and with 70cm of snow on the ground, there was no way we were ready to hop back on the bikes and start cycling through the USA. Instead, I decided the best option was to leave the country and reenter Canada on a tourist visa. We’d then wait out the rest of the winter before heading off on the bikes on 2nd April 2017.

If you thought the cheapest flights from Canada to out-of-the-country would be to the USA – you’d be wrong. As it turns out, Jamaica was my cheapest option and I wasn’t complaining. I was missing the sun and the heat – so take me to Jamaica and let’s discover ecotourism Jamaica!

Now you are probably wondering why Michael didn’t go with me. Well, originally he arrived into Canada 6 weeks after I did, which means Michael has another 6 weeks of work before his visa is up – don’t feel sorry for him, he’s off on a lads holiday to Vegas for his “visa run” in 6 weeks time.

So enough about that and more about ecotourism Jamaica!

Durgas Den: Ecotourism Jamaica

I decided this trip was a great opportunity to help out on an organic farm and learn a few things about agro-forestry, sustainable living and ecotourism in Jamaica – something we plan on implementing in our future guesthouse.

I ended up staying 2 weeks at Durgas Den in Colgate, near Ocho Rios (I actually extended my stay by a week, because I loved it so much). Durgas Den is a sustainable, organic farm situated on the top of Breadnut Hill (awesome name). The farm is hidden right in amongst the forest. Though the farm isn’t completely self-sufficient this is something they are working towards.

Besides being a farm, the Den also offers simple accommodation in cabins. Some which have amazing views. The cabins are advertised via their website and on Airbnb – get $50 of free Airbnb travel credit here.

The farm and accommodation is very rustic and simple. One thing cycle touring has taught me is to appreciate the simple things and live with the bear minimum, so the accommodation was definitely not an issue for me – luxurious even.

[ctt template=”8″ link=”k44cy” via=”yes” nofollow=”yes”]One thing cycle touring has taught me is to appreciate the simple things[/ctt]

The farm has compostable toilets, rainwater tanks for the showers and solar panels for hot water. All the fruit and vegetables are completely organic. This means no nasty chemicals, pesticides or herbicides used at all. The only pesticides occasional used are natural ones, such as pepper.

The farm also has a bunch of healthy free ranged chickens, some rabbits (to make compost), a cute goat, a couple of dogs, and a cat (who is really the boss of the farm).

Ecotourism Jamaica Durgas Farm
Helping out on Durgas Farm

The Work

The deal was, I work on the farm for about 4 hours each morning, Monday to Friday. In return I get free accommodation, cheap meals and an awesome experience. I got to learn a lot about the work that went into running an organic farm. On top of this I worked along side locals. This gave me a glimpse into real, local life on the island – not just the tourist world.

Though volunteers have the weekends off, I did decide to head down to Kingston and helped out at the organic markets. The stall for Durga’s Den was swarmed by customers! It was great to see such a great turn out and high demand for organic veggies. I was also surprised to see such a diverse crowd of people. I had an absolute blast before heading off to check out Bob Marley’s house and explore Kingston.

Organic markets in Kingston
Organic markets in Kingston


Being self-sufficient and growing our own organic veggies is definitely something we would aim to do in the future. Actually, if we could mimic what Durgas’s Den has achieved then we would be extremely delighted. We are definitely looking forward to checking out some more organic farms once we start cycling again. Thanks Durgas Den for adding to our ecodiscoveries and sharing your ecotourism Jamaica with us.


Little Dunn Falls near Ocho Rios
Little Dunn Falls near Ocho Rios


I found these two books really interesting. Though I didn’t read the entire book, I did spend a couple of hours relaxing in the hammock and reading through a couple of the chapters.

The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook for Green Building by Johan van Lengen

The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins

Durga’s Den website

Discovering the Patagonia Store in Halifax

Refocusing on our purpose

Right, so when I initially set up this website I wanted to focus on the environmental aspects of the trip. The eco-friendly establishments, organisation and buildings that we encounter. Admittedly, I’ve gotten a bit distracted by the cycling, the challenges and the amazing Canadian scenery and of course the people, that I’ve pretty much failed at doing this so far! That was until I rediscovered my inspiration when I came across the Patagonia store in Halifax!

A bit about Patagonia

I have loved Patagonia since my uni days. Not just because I have a soft spot for the place, Patagonia in South America, but because of the company’s values and their ethics. Patagonia is probably the most well-known and most successful company that has embraced sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Patagonia is what most other eco-minded companies strive towards. Their values and achievements are something that other companies can learn from – no matter what the industry.

Their mission is: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

The Patagonia Store in Halifax

Unfortunately, Perth doesn’t have a Patagonia store, and until now I have NEVER stepped foot into a Patagonia store. So you can image my excitement when I, by chance came across the Patagonia store in Halifax (conveniently located next to Alexander Keith’s Brewery – like I said complete chance I found the store). Before I knew it I had arranged a meeting with someone at the store whom passionately told me everything I needed to know about the building, the company and their values.

patagonia store in halifax

The Building

The Patagonia store in Halifax has been around for 6 years. What I didn’t know about Patagonia is that the company will only open a store in a pre-existing building, which can be transformed into an energy efficient and eco-friendly building. This demonstrates their commitment to their mission of “causing no unnecessary harm” as building a completely new building will involve far more energy and resources, as well as the potential of habitat loss and pollution.

The building that houses the Patagonia store in Halifax is over 200 years old and was originally apart of the old Halifax docks. The wood used for the floor panels and some store shelving is from an old aircraft hanger in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. The only virgin wood used is from bamboo. This is used to make the clothes hangers and some of the other shelving. Bamboo is a more eco-friendly product. It grows quick (quick to produce and harvest), requires less land and minimises rainforest and habitat destruction.

The building also has 5 solar panels on the roof that power the store’s lighting. Any power drawn from the grid (such as the power to run the store computer) is offset through Bullfrog Power.

Patagonia Halifax

What else is Patagonia doing?

On top of ensuring each store has the most eco-friendly store possible, the company has remained completely privately owned! Why? Because that’s the only way the family can ensure Patagonia maintains its mission.

They also promote “Worn Wear” and everlasting clothing and products. The company founder, Yvon Chouinard, openly says, it’s better to buy old, second hand clothes than to buy new; and that’s it’s better to repair your worn clothes than constantly replacing them. This reduces the amount of clothes ending up in landfill.

Most people that know me would likely know that I’m not a big fan of shopping, materialism or consumerism. So you can image how impressed I was when the shop assistant in the Patagonia store in Hailfax told me that last year for Black Friday the company decided to give 100% of sales (not just profits) to grassroots environmental organisations. $10 million+ dollar donation was the results! It’s totally crazy, unheard of and just outright amazing!

All these things I’ve mentioned goes completely against the supply and demand economics of owning a clothing/ retail company. A company that in theory should rely on customers having to return, time and time again to replace their products and buy the latest version. However, Yvon and Patagonia has proved that despite this, it’s possible to have a success business. 

Patagonia Store in halifax

Lessons Learnt

Patagonia products reflect the actual cost of the product, which means consumers pay a premium compared to the “fast fashion products. My concern would be whether there are enough people in the world that demand clothes that are completely traceable, humanely sourced and environmental friendly. Whether people want to pay that extra money to ensure their clothes have a minimal negative impact on the world. And, whether providing ‘ever-lasting’ clothes and products will limit your repeat customers and business. In other words: is it sustainable from a business prospective?

Patagonia is a billion dollar company and is expanding. This shows that there is a demand and the demand is growing. I also learnt that a younger demographic of customers were moving in, and Patagonia were now seeing customers in their teens shopping at the store. It’s proof to me that the world is moving in a positive way – even though at times it doesn’t seem like it. The establishment and success of Patagonia definitely fills me with happy, hope and inspiration!

I haven’t talked too much about Patagonia as a company. If you want to find out more check out some of these resources.

The Truth to Materials

Interesting facts about reclaimed cotton and other materials. After witnessing first hand the forced labour on cotton farms in Uzbekistan, and knowing about the insane amount of clothes that end up in landfill, I’m definitely interested in find out more about the reclaimed cotton industry (and other similar industries).

Let my people go surfing

A book written by Yvon Chouinard about the creation of one of the most respected environmentally friendly businesses in the world. Now on my booklist for when I start cycling again.

Other cools resources:


It’s all about repairing clothes instead of throwing them away. Worn wear focuses on the stories your clothes tell and the connections we make with our clothes. I love their instagram. Lots of different people with ripped clothes that have been patched up! I recently added my hat to the list – 13 years and still going strong!

Footprint chronicles

Pick a Patagonia product. Take the item code from the tag and input it into the website. Information about the supply chain of that product, including information on the factories involved, the location etc will pop up.

You can also check out some of our other ecodiscoveries – The Greenhouse, Perth and Durgas Den, Jamaica!

  • Patagonia and/or the Patagonia Store in Halifax has not sponsored us or provided any gear for our trip. All opinions are purely of our own, as nature lovers, environmentalists and as future business owners.

Eco Discoveries

10 secrets to cycle touring, british columbia cycling, ecodiscoveries, Eco Discoveries

What are Eco Discoveries?

One day we want to own a cycle-friendly, eco-guesthouse or hostel. We appreciate the need to be sustainable and want to make our hostel, as eco-friendly as possible. What better way to research and collect ideas for our future endeavour, than making eco discoveries through visiting established and aspiring eco-friendly businesses, buildings and organisations all over the world? We hope to learn how these businesses have achieved their dreams, what obstacles they’ve had to overcome, and what tips they have for ‘newbies’.

Already, we have been inspired to take a page from Patagonia’s book. To own a business that will cause no unnecessary harm, and be used to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. This is apart of Patagonia’s mission statement, and something we want to take onboard. This is an example of an eco discovery – a lesson we have learnt from a green business during our cycle trip.

The Plan

During our cycle trips, we plan to visit and learn as much as we can from different green businesses. The plan is to add our eco discoveries to this site during our travels. This will include information about what we’ve learnt, eco-friendly ideas, environmental issues that we encounter along the way, and anything else that we think might be helpful or inspirational.

How you can get involved

Get in touch, if you know of, or are the owner of a green business that might be interested in helping with our eco discoveries.

Some examples of the business we would love to hear from, include:

  • Eco-lodges, eco-guesthouses or eco-hostels.
  • Sustainable kitchens.
  • Cafes.
  • Breweries.
  • Shops.
  • Ecotourism attractions.
  • Tour companies.
  • Businesses that have implemented green/ sustainable building practices.
  • Organic Farms.

If your eco-business doesn’t fall into one of these categories, don’t worry, we would still love to hear all about it.

Why get in touch?

  • This is a great opportunity for the green business to gain some free local as well as global advertising.
  • Exposure on our social media sites.
  • Exposure on our website, in the form of reviews, interview posts and blog posts. Check out an article we’ve written for the Greenhouse restaurant, and Durgas Den.
  • You will be helping others (and us), learn to build their very own ‘green’ business, which of course, is a great way to increase sustainability, awareness and the green movement.

Greenhouse Interview: Becoming an Eco-friendly Business

Greenhouse Interview

A Greenhouse Interview with Gus of Greenhouse Restaurant, Perth, Australia

Michael and I, have the dream of one day owning our very own eco-friendly and sustainable business. To work towards achieving our dream, we plan on exploring and discovering not only new countries and cultures during our cycle trip, but also different eco-friendly businesses. By speaking to different green businesses, we hope to discover the secrets to running a successful green business.

What better way to start doing this than asking our local eco-friendly businesses for tips in our hometown Perth, Australia?

Here is our the Greenhouse Interview Our very first, “Green Interview.” During the Greenhouse interview we spoken to Gustavo Potenza the venue manager at the inspirational Greenhouse Perth. We’re discovered the challenges Greenhouse has endured in their journey to becoming sustainable. And, what tips he has for new sustainable businesses.

For those of you that have never heard of Greenhouse Perth, I’ll give you the run down;

Greenhouse is a Joost Bakker creation. Originally he opened the doors to the Greenhouse in Melbourne, as a temporary interactive art installation showcasing his revolutionary new building design and a whole lot of other ideas on how to use waste products. The project was a great success and after its removal the search was on to find the perfect location for a more permanent venture, and what better place than Perth?

Greenhouse Perth opened its doors to the public in December 2009. Over the next 2 ½ years Paul and a group of passionate individuals worked tirelessly to shape the venue into one of Perth’s most exciting and sustainable destinations. In 2010 Greenhouse Perth was named WA restaurant of the year.

Greenhouse Interview: Questions and Answers 

1. What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Gus: I’ve been here since June 2015. One of the biggest challenges is basically to keep a venue on the trends while so many other venues launch often in the city. The new venues have that inaugural hype and a venue trying to stay on the top needs to reinvent itself all the time! Maintaining that status is the biggest challenge with a fierce competition that is often choosing the cheapest produce while we keep competitive prices with organic locally sourced produce.

2. What are the restaurant’s goals?

Gus: Greenhouse has established itself as one of the icon venues in CBD and even in Greater Perth. Maintaining that status is already an achievement. Greenhouse development is entirely about reinventing the possibilities within a sustainable culture and cuisine. Chefs working to create great seasonal recipes from locally sourced produce mixing all kinds of cuisine for a very modern mix. Matching cocktails using homemade syrups (some with herbs supplied from our own garden) and organic spirits. Greenhouse goals for this moment are all about maintaining the venue where it belongs while being able to offer good fresh produce for a competitive price and also being able to invest in initiatives such as the City of Perth or OZ Harvest ones.

3.  What has the restaurant achieved? 

Gus: On its first and second year the restaurant achieved awards and recognition. Maintaining the venue on top for so many years is a big achievement, if I may say! We’re soon launching a campaign with City of Perth to give proper destination to coffee grind (which is a big issue especially on the CBD with hundreds of coffee shops around) and lessening waste on disposable take-away cups since Greenhouse is the ONLY venue on CBD to compost and return the coffee grind to the community for gardening purposes, and one of the few to offer compostable disposable cups and a discount for people who bring their own coffee mug. Greenhouse and its sous-chef Grant O’Brien participated on OZ Harvest WA’s 1st Birthday event cooking for 500 people in need with rescued food produce.

greenhouse interview

4. What do you think the market demand for sustainable restaurants will be like in the future? Is it just a current fad? Or do people really care about sustainability?

Gus: I see it both ways. I even believe the hype about sustainability is not at its peak anymore like it was 5 years ago. As with everything else it’s a cycle. I do believe governments and organizations will keep pushing the issue more and more, but the customer in general doesn’t really care if the restaurant uses only recycled paper for instance. Especially in a city’s CBD where people have to eat somewhere, I don’t believe they come to Greenhouse specifically for that.

People come to Greenhouse because compared to any restaurant chain they know they will pay a similar price for a homemade kind of meal with lots of love involved in its production. It tastes better, really! There are some people who really care. We have regulars, people who proudly bring friends and family. Many of them would do a whole tour around the venue showing around every single sustainable aspect of it. Unfortunately the amount of sustainability passionate people around is not enough to keep a business open.

5. Has the restaurants been able to maintain a zero-carbon footprint? And what are some of the ways the restaurant is able to do this? If not, how is the restaurant working towards reducing it’s carbon footprint?

Gus: Unfortunately, no, not a zero carbon footprint, but all the initiatives we take part in bring us among the top restaurants/bars/cafes in Australia. We compost all the organic waste and some of the packaging used in the restaurant, and return it for free to the community as a dense high nutrient compost for their garden. We also reuse many kinds of materials such as bottles, jars and more, and recycle all the glass and paper used in the venue.

Greenhouse uses only recycled and/or carbon neutral paper for printing menus and any other documents, including recycled paper towels and toilet paper in the toilets. The male toilets in the restaurant use a waterless systems, and all toilets use a reusing flush system that utilizes the next flushes water’s to wash hands while the cistern is being filled. Greenhouse uses only compostable Envirocup to serve take-away coffees. We offer a 50 cent discount on take away coffees to people who bring their own coffee mug.

greenhouse sign

6. What’s your background? Do you have a background in sustainability? Or running a sustainable/ green restaurant? Or other business?

Gus: I’m Brazilian, in general that’s a trend topic in Brazil due to its immense forests and how fast they’re being consumed by humans. Both my parents are Chefs and Restaurateurs and have owned restaurants for over 20 years in Brazil. I basically was trained from scratch by them and I hold a Hospitality Diploma. Apart from being a sustainability supporter myself and being involved in some Sustainable NGO initiatives in Brazil related to keeping the Beaches and Ocean clean, I’ve never had the pleasure of working nor running a Green establishment before.

One of my parent’s restaurants in Boicucanga, Brazil was a very sustainability aware place and held many of the sustainable initiatives we practice here at Greenhouse, such as buying local products, producing compost from organic waste, maintaining herbs garden for the restaurant’s use and getting foraged produce, menus designed for a minimum waste generation and the initiative of reusing many materials supplied with products such as bottles and jars.

7.   There are some beautiful pieces in the Greenhouse. I love the recycled gas cylinder bowls in the roof bar. What’s your favourite piece? And where do you find them?

Gus: I love the coiled old fencing wires used as light shades downstairs in the main area. All the material was scavenged by Joost Bakker for Greenhouse’s construction, so everything is recycled. This shade sets the tone for a very cozy ambient at night!

Greenhouse eco toilet
I loved the eco toilet in the Greenhouse! This is definitely something I would love to have in our future guesthouse.

8.  What’s your biggest tip for someone wanting to open/ run their own “green” restaurant, or any other eco business? 

Gus: Do it only if you are really passionate about it since the obstacles and challenges will present bigger and more often than if you don’t follow that path. It’s not easy but it’s very rewarding!

Thank you Gus for your time, sharing your experience and knowledge with us, and letting us write this Greenhouse interview!

Takeaway #1: 

Coffee grind waste! I’m, like many other Perthians, a huge coffee lover! I’m aware of the environmental impact of takeaway coffee cups and the ethical issues related with sourcing coffee beans, but I can honestly say, I’ve never considered the environmental impact of the actual coffee grind. Particular, as Gus pointed out, it can be used to make good compost! Definitely, a big takeaway for me!

Takeaway #2:

Greenhouse is the ONLY venue on CBD to compost and return the coffee grind to the community for gardening purposes. It is also one of the few to offer compostable disposable cups. And, a discount for people who bring their own coffee mug.

Takeaway #3:

It’s important to consider in your business plan that the number of sustainability passionate people is sadly not enough to run a business.

Takeaway #4:

The biggest challenge is being competitive, as well as sustainable. Offering the cheapest produce with competitive prices and organic locally sourced produce.


Next time you’re in the city, head down to the Greenhouse Perth for some inspiration! Enjoy one of their delicious organic cocktails, while admiring their many sensational, recyclable pieces.

Did you enjoy our Greenhouse Interview? Then check out Ecotourism at Durga’s Den, 10 of the greenest cities in the world and Discovering the Patagonia Store in Halifax.
Do you know of a eco-business? If so we would love to hear from you. Send us an email at info@cycletrekkers.com