El Coyol: My private paradise

Snapping up her own island in Nicaragua for the price of a two-bedroom home in the UK, Nicky Ray followed her dream to create the ultimate modern hideaway

The 1.5-acre island’s lush vegetation includes numerous mango trees. On the terrace, the sofa and chairs were crafted by local carpenters; the planters were handmade and the sun loungers were imported from Costco in Miami. Photograph: Paul Massey

Have you ever gone to a place and felt immediately at home? For Cornish-born Nicky Ray, the connection to El Coyol – one of 365 small islands set on freshwater Lake Nicaragua in Central America – was instantaneous. ‘I came to Nicaragua in 2013 with my husband Peter, and we toured the archipelago. I wanted my 50s to embrace new adventures – as soon as I stepped on to the island, I knew I wanted to make a home here. With an overwhelming sense of calm, serenity and beauty, it felt like nowhere else I had ever been,’ says Nicky.

El Coyol
The beautiful decking area was designed by Nicky. El Coyol is also available to rent as a yoga retreat. Photograph: Paul Massey

Fortuitously, the island was up for sale, so the idea turned into an opportunity, with the off-radar location making land, labour and resources all affordable.

El Coyol
In the living space, the wall hangings are floor runners from rockettstgeorge.com. The coffee table was made from a fallen tree that was cut into 12 movable sections. The locally-made wicker lamps were bought from a roadside stall. The cushions were adapted from H&M covers. Photograph: Paul Massey

There was already a house on the site, ‘which made the possibility of creating our dream space cost-effective: no expensive groundworks and the chance to minimise structural costs,’ Nicky explains. She worked with a local architect and construction team to increase the workable space of the existing house by raising the roof height, knocking down internal walls and adding impactful glazed windows and doors. A kitchen-diner and two more bedrooms were added. Dark rooms were turned into lofty, light spaces that connect to new landscaped terraces and the pool with stunning views out to the lake beyond.

The ‘rancho’, which overlooks the pool, was carved using local frijolillo wood. The table is a repurposed door attached to a welded steel base. Photograph: Paul Massey

The hacienda-style villa sleeps eight: think secluded Robinson Crusoe hideaway meets intimate boutique home – mangoes on tap, private cook if required. Nothing is formulaic, everything is personal and handcrafted. ‘We wanted to minimise our carbon footprint so made inventive use of wood offcuts and naturally felled trees to create furniture to my designs. Tourism is welcomed, and it has been great to support local artisans and for guests to now rent our island too.

In the kitchen-diner, floating concrete shelves display replicas of pre-Colombian statues. The console table teams guanacaste timber with steel legs. The chairs, made on the mainland, slide away under the concrete island. Photograph: Paul Massey

‘We are living a life less ordinary; by day nestled among verdant flora and fauna; at night cocooned in a star-studded oasis. Life is too short to not have a go at living your dream.’

The monochrome bathroom adds a contemporary edge. The vanity unit is made from frijolillo timber and a local black granite top. A wood offcut adds a rustic touch to a circular mirror. The sink is by sinsa.com.ni and the stool is crafted from cedro timber. Photograph: Paul Massey

For more information, go to theislandnicaragua.com and @elcoyolprivateisland. From £575 per night for up to eight people; from 7 January 2022 you can book El Coyol for five nights or more and receive one night free

Words: Ali Heath