Did you know that The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America? The beautiful country is sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica. Unfortunately, political unrests and negative press impacted tourism in Nicaragua for several years. But if you do go there, you will find that the reality is very different. Nicaragua is actually a very safe country for tourists where you can travel sustainably. The people are polite and welcoming. The scenery is stunning! And best of all, it is an affordable travel destination.
Fly into Managua, the capital and drive up north to be in the coffee plantations and cooler mountains, or west to get to Pacific Beaches and east to the Atlantic. You can also fly to Liberia airport in Costa Rica and be at the border within minutes. Whichever direction you choose to go, on your drive expect to see lots of banana plantations, cattle ranches, wooded forests and open fields. Keep an eye for towering cone shaped volcanoes against the skyline. There are 17 volcanoes in Nicaragua, though none are active.
San Juan Del Sur
Lately, Nicaragua has become a popular beach resort destination among immigrants and vacationers from USA and Canada. The town of San Juan Del Sur is a quintessential example of this. You will see lots of high risers and surf shops. I would suggest going there for a day, if you must, but head north to one of my favorite spots in the country.
Private Resort in Tola
When you arrive at Rancho Santana in Tola, it may appear like an upscale resort in Southern California. Picture terra cotta roofs and beige stucco against the blue ocean and white sand in the background. “The Ranch,” is a sprawling, sustainable private resort and residential community located on 2,700 acres of Nicaragua’s pristine Emerald Coast. It is must visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and be in a peaceful, undisturbed atmosphere. The Ranch is so spread out that you may feel you are one of the handful guests here, but that is by design. I stayed at The Inn, a charming boutique hotel that is the focal point of The Ranch.
Make Your Own Retreat
While surfing is the main reason to come to this part of Nicaragua, there are tons of activities right at The Ranch. Start your day with guided morning yoga at the pavilion overlooking the coast. Spend a couple of hours at the 6,000-square-foot treetop retreat The Spa in El Bosque. In the afternoon, take a swim and relax at resort’s five beaches (there’s a pink one too!) or three pools.
The Ranch has a very knowledgeable staff with tour guides who offer everything from sandboarding down coastal dunes, hiking in the pristine woods, birdwatching and monkey spotting too. You can take a nature tour or horseback ride along the beach without ever having to leave Rancho Santana.
Farm to table is not a concept but the norm at this resort in Nicaragua. The Ranch grows about 2,500 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs each month. Take a tour of the farm just outside the Inn and you’ll spot greens, cherry tomatoes, colorful peppers, sweet corn, a variety of succulent citrus, and habanero chilis (a favorite). All of the ingredients are used at the property’s four restaurants and the tienda (farm store). If you are staying longer at one of the condos, you can pick up fresh produce, breads, meat and cook your own food.
If you are looking to eat healthy and organic during your vacation, you will like the options at Rancho Santana. I enjoyed a bowl of fresh fruit, homemade granola and yogurt each morning. There were plenty of vegetarian options too, my favorite being the veggie bowl with falafel, sweet plantains, greens, cashew curry, avocado and radish at La Finca y el Mar-Bar. All of the menus have a Nicaraguan flair helmed by local chefs. From fresh catch fish burgers to coffee rubbed pork chops with sweet plantains, everything is farm sourced and offers authentic flavors.
Make sure to also take a cooking class with Chef Carmen and learn to make gallo pinto – the national dish of Nicaragua.
By staying at Rancho Santana, you also help uplift the community around. Take the new Conectando Corazones tour to learn about all the charitable programs that Rancho Santana supports in the area. Many of the guests and residents created the nonprofits using their own skills and resources. Some of these you can visit include Fun Lemon (where the gym is also located), a vocational school and after school program for learning English, computer skills, plumbing and housekeeping. Many of the graduates are hired to work at The Ranch.
Roberto Clemente is a fully functional health clinic where you can also volunteer your medical, nursing or dental abilities. Besides providing a lab and pharmacy, they also do workshops to educate people on how to eat healthy, grow their own food and ward off diseases.
The Blue Water program purifies the undrinkable well water and sells it in jars to schools and households at 1/10th the cost of name brands.
Lastly, CREA is an educational resource center where kids can get help with homework, after-school lessons, reading and activities.
One thing you will find distinct at Rancho Santana is that all of the staff is from Nicaragua. They are truly passionate about their culture and community, always eager to offer tips on where to go and which dishes to try.
The Ranch employs over 600 people from the neighboring villages and offers job training, security and healthcare. From farming, to woodworking and iron welding, everything is done on the property itself, creating a sustainable self-sufficient enterprise in this magical corner of Nicaragua.
~ All photos credit to Frederick Choi on behalf of Go Eat Give.