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Morgan's Rock and other ecolodges are defying and redefining the new "all-inclusive" resort experience. (Photograph courtesy Morgan's Rock)

The New All-Inclusive Resort

We expect a sense of thoughtful construction and attention to detail to pervade a luxury resort. But on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, not far from the surfer town of San Juan del Sur, Morgan’s Rock has concerns that go way beyond the fluff factors of thread count and pool temperature.

Sure, the subdued lighting in and around the restaurant, bar, and private beach makes for a romantic milieu when darkness falls. But the motivation is as much to minimize the impact on native creatures, from howler monkeys sleeping in the high trees to land crabs scuttling about the sand as it is to create an aura for guests.

Crossing a sturdy, 360-foot-long wooden suspension bridge that dangles high above a ravine is an exhilarating and scenic way to get to and from your bungalow, but it was constructed to avoid having to clear the forest below. This resort is part of a growing trend to defy — and redefine — the all-inclusive archetype.

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Morgan’s Rock constructed suspended bridges to preserve local flora. (Photograph courtesy Morgan’s Rock)

Where are the manicured grounds where every blade of grass knows its place? Or the temperature-controlled rooms that seal guests off from the unknown beyond resort boundaries?

Instead, on this 4,400-acre resort that includes an expansive nature preserve, it’s the health of the natural environment that’s front and center. And the proprietors are dedicated to helping both visitors and locals alike to adopt the same way of thinking.

The result is laid-back luxury infused with eco-consciousness. No wonder guests are accustomed to the sloth that’s taken to snoozing in a mangrove tree beside the poolside restaurant and the lizard sunning on the hand-cut stone steps leading to the natural saltwater pool.

Steps specially crafted to manage soil erosion along the steep hillside climb to the cliff-side bungalows – spacious, private sanctuaries tucked amongst a tangle of trees and shrubs. The chic, eco-correct construction, where no healthy trees were destroyed, relies extensively on tropical woods derived from reforestation or responsibly harvested logging.

In each of these 15 stilted treasures, a queen-sized day bed suspended from marine ropes beckons from the private terrace, and gossamer curtains billow in the natural sea breezes that, together with ceiling fans, keep the screened-in hideaways cool. The sound of the Pacific lulls you to sleep and you wake to a view of the gentle curve of private Ocotal Beach.

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Inside one of the open-sided bungalows. (Photograph courtesy Morgan’s Rock)

Before Morgan’s Rock came on the scene, much of the local landscape was decimated by long-term agricultural practices. So planting native trees, including mahogany and teak, and establishing a sustainable tree farm of 1.5 million tropical hardwoods was a priority. Likewise, plants like mango, muneco, hog plum, and neem are grown for their fruits, which spider monkeys, toucans and other jungle inhabitants find appetizing.

And, as for the human guests, the resort’s farm-to-table sensibility saturates its eclectic menu. The bounty from groves of papaya, grapefruit, Spanish lime, sapodilla, lemon, mango and banana trees finds its way into the juices, cocktails and entrees.

In fact, 30 percent of the food is sourced from the property and ocean waters just beyond (using traditional fishing methods) or purchased from local fishermen. Guests can learn the age-old method to nab jack, tuna, or mackerel sans rod and reel, instead relying on a hook and line to pull in the fish by hand.

A sustainable shrimp farm is the source of a soft corn taco filling that’s garnished with pico de gallo and sour cream. “When you catch shrimp in the sea, you also catch fish, many of which are not edible, and turtles which may die,” explains tour guide, Bismar Lopez.

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A hilltop view of the ocean. (Photograph courtesy Morgan’s Rock)

Families learn the health value of agri-tourism by signing up for a morning of cow milking and egg gathering, and then sitting down to a traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs with a tortilla and queso nica.

Other on-site activities immerse guests in the lively ecosystem and provide lessons in the resort’s overarching ethic. On the 1.5-mile, self-guided walk trail (which doubles as a mountain bike route) the surrounding forest is seemingly dead during the six-month dry season, thick with bare trees. But this woodland is, in fact, very much alive.

The air vibrates with the calls of great-tailed grackles, rufous-naped wrens, and other birds. Red ants dart inside the barbed wire acacia tree, protecting it from predators, and white-faced  monkeys swing from the limbs of mango trees after devouring the sweet fruit.

Along the “Jungle Walk,” another short path, guides point out the fearsome protective spines that the palms and other plants have evolved. Baseball-sized holes dot the ground, a sign of mud crabs with their brilliant blue thorax and crimson legs. These crabs never show up on the menu, though, reserved instead as food for opossums, raccoons, and hawks.

Kayaking along the mangrove estuary, guests discover that this vegetation is critical in the ecosystem, serving as a nursery for fish and shellfish. The black mangrove also provides ideal living conditions for Pallas’s long-tongued bats, which, in turn,  pollinate the Spanish cedar trees. “If you destroy the mangrove, you destroy the forest,” says Bismar.

Beyond educating guests, Morgan’s Rock shares its mission with the community, giving them trees to plant and teaching students and community leaders the process of recycling. They also support rural elementary schools, providing them with supplies and teacher training. After all, says Bismar, “education is the future of the people of Nicaragua” and the life of the planet.

Jeanine Barone is a freelance travel and food writer. Keep up with her on Twitter @JCreatureTravel