Trade from here: Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

March 29, 2016 09:00 AM

The expat life is tempting. 

Beaches, boats, boards and beer. 

But that life can come without the luxury of modern-day amenities. Trying to unplug from a digital world, particularly as an active investor, is nearly impossible for an extended period of time. 

But tucked away in along the pristine Pacific Coast of Nicaragua is world-class resort and residential community called Rancho Santana. Once a secret, it is now a place that surged to the travel page of the New York Times. Reviewers find it challenging to find the adequate words to describe just how perfect and magnificent this place is.  TripAdviser gives it a perfect five stars. The thing is, that might not be a high-enough ranking.

Our residence is a three-bedroom sky castle called Casa Cumbre with a wide-open deck that overlooks the entire north side of the ranch. On day one, we enjoyed rum in the millennium pool, day two in-house massages. Later in the week, a chef has come to the house to cook steak and lobster. 

Every night, we visit the large pool overlooking Playa Santana, one of five beaches that stretch across the 2,700 acres of the property. This beach is distinct, as surfers from as far away as Australia and Belgium are lining up to catch rolling waves. A short drive across the ranch leads travelers to Playa Los Perros, a pristine four-mile stretch of wide beach where professional cameramen are snapping photos of surfers. Our guide then takes us to Alta Vista, a ridge overlooking Playa Escondida. Here is what could be the breathtaking view of Nicaragua, offering 360-degree panoramic views of the Pacific Coast and the feeling of freedom that only eagles enjoy in flight.

At the Ranch, there is no shortage of things to do. For the beach bum, sip $2 local beers or $4 daiquiris and check your trades at the pool bar where internet is abundant, and then play Bocce ball on the lush lawn at Playa Santana. For the more adventurous, take a hike through the hills to see the monkeys or a beach walk to see turtles hatch. We went stand-up paddle boarding – a rigorous workout – and then rode show horses up Playa Santana off the property to a restaurant run by expatriates. There we had breakfast overlooking several clear-water beaches as the surfers jockeyed for position below. 

The best quality of Rancho Santana is its customer service. The staff presents a complete first-world experience catering to a customer’s every need. Need a ride to Rivas? That can be arranged. We arrived to a stocked refrigerator, and received a smile and a wave everywhere we went. It is perhaps one of the most welcoming experiences that we’ve ever shared, as local employees are eager to show off the beauty and culture of their country in the post-revolution years. 

The secret is out

Rancho Santana has been under development since the 1990s, but the last year has seen two significant events that have pushed it from a hidden gem to a highly desired destination. First, the Ranch has seen a major boon from the development of The Inn, a 17-bedroom hotel with a world-class restaurant La Finca y El Mar. But the real boost comes from a significant increase in outside infrastructure. As we drive in from Managua, workers are developing a highway from Costa Esmeralda Airport (ECI), a recently opened airport that caters to the area. No longer do travelers need to fly through Managua and make the 90-minute drive or cross the border from Costa Rica. 

Meanwhile, Rancho Santana has been integral to the development of the Tolo and Rivas community. The Ranch employs more than 1,000 local workers, many of whom had once had to take weeks long trips to Costa Rica for employment. The Ranch also operates a hospital: The Roberto Clemente Health Clinic, which is the most developed healthcare facility in the area. Meanwhile, The Mark and Kathryn Ford Family Foundation at FunLimón across the street provides local children’s education, a gymnasium and sports fields for locals, and a wealth of community programs.

Selling fast

As the Holiday School Break kicked off during our final days of our trip, families flooded into the resort to hit the pool and first-class restaurant. The idea of never leaving is one that ensnares your thoughts as the final day of vacation approaches. Luckily, that is also an option. New construction is going up fast on all areas of the 2,700-acre property. 

The shell of a three-bedroom home with a massive deck and palm-leaf roof stares down from atop the hills and offers a private, reclusive view of a fiery orange sun setting over the Pacific. A mile down the hill, along Playa Santana, construction teams are building $650,000 three-bedroom villas just a short walk from the waves and a new adult-only pool. These units are an incredibly hot commodity right now, and the ability to rent the units to an expanding customer base makes it an intriguing long-term investment for anyone not ready to relocate to Central America on a full-time basis. 

We meet a retired couple from North Carolina who own a three-bedroom Villa off of Playa Santana. They’re well-sunned and spending a few months at their room. But when asked about the property management, they smile widely. The investment has paid handsomely, and the rental arrangement has more than covered their expenses. 

Rancho Santana is selling exclusivity and a first-world experience in one of the most tax- and politically friendly locales for expats. Lots are currently for sale and range anywhere from $80,000 and up depending on the desired view. In a conversation with a property manager, homes can be constructed for as little as $120 per square foot, and customization is highly encouraged. There are plans to cap the number of homes as part of the firm’s environmental commitments and emphasis on self-sustainability. Regardless of whether you’re just looking for a place to disconnect from the world for a few days or you’re looking for a dream retirement home, Rancho Santana offers a first-world experience in one of the most beautiful places in the Western Hemisphere.

About the Author

Garrett Baldwin is the Managing Editor of the Alpha Pages and the Features Editor of Modern Trader. An author and Baltimore native, he earned a BS in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University, an MA in Economic Policy (Security Studies) from The Johns Hopkins University, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University.