When the owners asked them to add Rancho Santana’s Food & Beverage Director and Events Director, Brian Block and Erik Wetz, to open a simple beach restaurant near Rancho Santana’s surf club on Playa Los Perros they said they could do better. Why just serve burgers and hot dogs? So, instead of a stripped down grill the two New York restaurant veterans created an open-air taqueria with margaritas, ceviches, and great tostadas and tacos with fresh ground corn masa.
The 2,700-acre residential and resort complex on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast, not far from the new Costa Esmeralda airport, is a former a cattle ranch that’s full of rolling hills and sea cliffs covered with tropical dry forests. There are five different beaches on the five miles of shoreline, anchored by a clubhouse, restaurant and the inn, which opened in 2015. A farm, surf club, spa, and grocery store, not to mention luxury homes, are all spread out around the property, requiring a hike, bike ride, or drive to each destination. What’s particularly intriguing is that the roads throughout Rancho Santana are left intentionally unpaved. They have the equipment; they just prefer to leave the land undisturbed.
A few meters from the dining room at Rancho Santana’s farm to table restaurant, La Finca y El Mar, is a rocky beach that is exposed only during low tide, leaving small pools filled with sea creatures like limpets, sea urchins, and and snails. Shore fisherman and artisnal boats just off shore catch spiny lobster, red snapper, and mackerel. A short walk inland from the beach, is an organic farm and nursery where they raise poultry and grow their own grains for the café and bakery (a separate dining option), plus various herbs, fruits, and vegetables like beets, papaya, and tomatillos. Just outside the property the hotel helps support a community farm that they helped install, supplying much of the resort’s eggs, milk, and livestock. Of any resort I‘ve ever stayed at in Central America, Rancho Santana has thought about where their food comes from and has tried to source everything as local as possible.
The menu at La Finca y El Mar isn’t Nicaraguan by any means, but rather it was developed around the ingredients they have in their immediate vicinity and who their diners are. As many of the residents and visitors are American, there are the obligatory dishes like rigatoni Bolognese and surf n’ turf. The more interesting dishes are more reflective of where you are: smoked fish cakes, grilled local cheese with gardens greens, and coffee rubbed pork loin. The restaurant forages for the sea snails and sautées them on occasion, adding them as a special. Grouper is grilled and served with lemongrass puree and coconut rice cakes.
The resort counts four dining options total: La Finca y El Mar, the taqueria, the bakery/café, and a Spanish tapas restaurant (added in the poolhouse after my stay). Guest chefs frequent the property for special dinners, such as Mark Dommen of San Francisco’s Michelin starred restaurant One Market.
In 2015, Rancho Santana, which was formerly solely a residential complex, added the 17-room Rancho Santana Inn. The cushy Spanish hacienda style hotel is adjacent to the main clubhouse, which is home to the café and La Finca y El Mar, and fronts the waterfront. The main pool area is beside the inn. This section of the resort acts as an anchor for the entire property.
The airy rooms range in size from 350-850 square feet and all have a private terrace looking out over the Pacific. The furniture was created by an on-site woodshop, while hand-painted tiles and ceramics were sourced from area communities. Ceilings are either wood beams or recessed bricks. An iPad concierge system connects you to room service or reception. Pied-á-terre and Pacific Suite rooms add a separate living area. Vacation properties in multi-bedroom houses and villas with private pools, many isolated on coastal cliffs and beachfronts, are also available for rent.
Rancho Santana is on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, a 15-minute drive from the new Costa Esmeralda airport (or a two-hour drive from Managua, or Liberia, Costa Rica). It’s just north of famed Nicaragua beach and surf areas like El Gigante, Mukul, and San Juan del Sur.
Tola-Rivas, Popoyo Nicaragua
Tel: 310-929-5221 (as dialed from the U.S.)