Travelers "in the know" can affirm that Nicaragua is becoming one of the hottest Central American destinations for culinary and luxury travel. Those in search of sand, sun, and sumptuous eats should consider Rancho Santana, a 2,700-acre resort located in Nicaragua's stunning Pacific-facing southwest region, with villas, homes, and a handsome, colonial-style boutique hotel spread among gorgeous beaches and forests. Read on for six great reasons you should add Rancho Santana to your Latin American luxe list.
Location, Location, Location
The Emerald Coast has become Nicaragua's most exciting tourism destination over the last few years. Fronted by the Pacific Ocean with an unspoiled dry forest landscape, upscale resorts like Rancho Santana have emerged to deliver world-class accommodation with authentic Nicaraguan hospitality. With hilly hikes in the rainforest, pristine beaches, safe surroundings, and some of the best surfing on Earth, the Emerald Coast is truly Nicaragua's best kept coastal secret - for now.
A Rustic-Luxe Boutique Hotel
Among the many villas and residences throughout the lush, sprawled coastal resort, Rancho Santana has one boutique hotel, The Inn at Rancho Santana, based alongside Playa Santana's lovely beachfront. The classic Spanish colonial-style hotel hosts 17 rooms and suites, and has been a hit with both couples and families with children in search of a laid-back luxury beach escape. There are five private beaches - some of which one might have all to oneself - along its two miles of handsome Pacific coastline, and guests have access to all of the plentiful amenities from the spa, off-site day tours, water sports, and restaurants.
A Sustainable-Conscious Food Program
Rancho Santana's sustainable dining program is perhaps the strongest in the country. Culinary director Brian Block leads the resort's dining initiative, helping to grow and maintain the resort's on-site organic garden and farm, which now supplies most of the menu items at Rancho's four restaurants. Everything from pork, milk, lamb, and eggs to herbs, sweet potatoes, and carrots are ranch-made or raised, and once the resort's newly-planted orchard lot matures, Rancho guests will also delight in limes, oranges, guava, and soursop grown right on the grounds. Garden and farm tours are available and are a great way to explore more of the resort, and to further appreciate their devotion to sustainable practices.
Farm-to-Table Dining Excellence
The beachside Finca y el Mar is the resort's flagship restaurant and bar, and arguably the finest farm-to-table restaurant in the region. Based adjacent to The Inn and open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the casual yet elegant space serves seasonal contemporary dishes like coffee-rubbed pork chop with plantain hash; piña-colada French toast with pineapple-rum compote and the restaurant's eponymous, Latin-flavored "surf and turf" dish with potatoes and garden vegetables.
The must-try dish, if you enjoy meat, is the panceta de cerdo: crispy pork belly cubes with watermelon, ricotta, and a thin chile-caramel sauce (the pork and ricotta came straight from Rancho's farm). The starter's sweet, salty, tangy, and multi-textural combination is a jubilee on the tongue, and this writer may or may not have urged culinary director Brian Block to make it a permanent fixture on the menu.
A Bevy of Great Activities
Though one can happily eat and drink fresh cocktails for the entire visit, there are plenty of active options to pry visitors away from the dining table. There are 12 miles of scenic forest hiking trails within the property's 2,700 acres (look out for tree-hanging monkeys and iguanas), as well as gym facilities and yoga classes. For something unusual, guests head to Playa Duna to go sandboarding on its steep, sandy hill, which slopes into the Pacific. Horseback rides on a peaceful, endless beach are available throughout the day, but the sunset hours are truly the way to go.
A Surfer's Paradise
The most essential activity to try at Rancho Santana - even for a complete newbie like myself - is surfing. The Emerald Coast region is world-renowned for its Pacific waves, brought on by consistent offshore winds from nearby Lake Nicaragua. Rancho Santana offers lessons for all levels at their Beach & Surf Club in Playa Los Perros, a beach that's great for beginners as there are no rocks on the seabed. Whether you're able to successfully ride a few waves or you achieve nothing but (gentle) wipeouts, celebrate your surfing efforts at La Taquiera, Rancho Santana's "surf shack," which serves baja-style tacos, ceviches, and salsa made straight from the resort's garden.
You Can Stay on the Resort Forever (If You'd Like)