Award spotlight: Rancho Santana, Nicaragua


Rancho Santana is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts and is bookable with Choice Privileges points.  I stumbled upon this place when researching options for my 3 Cards 3 Continents trip, and even though I wasn’t able to bake it into that trip, I couldn’t get this resort out of my mind.  The many, many 5 star Trip Advisor reviews say things like “One of the best places on earth,” “Stunning and Breathtaking Resort,” “Vacation Perfection,” and “Rancho Santana is heaven on earth!”  I’m looking forward to trying this out someday!  In the meantime I figured that I might as well share this find with readers since I’m sure that some of you will have the opportunity to enjoy this well before I do.

Rancho Santana is both a resort and a residential community located between the Pacific ocean and Lake Nicaragua.  The resort’s website boasts that it is “bordered on both sides by water,” and “enjoys the distinction of nearly constant offshore breezes.”  The resort offers hiking trails, water sports, horseback riding, monkey scouting, mountain biking, and more.  And all of the dining is claimed to be farm-to-table.  They write “We grow a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables at our on-site gardens and orchards, and livestock is raised gently and ethically on our farm before becoming sustenance. Located on Nicaragua’s Pacific ‘Emerald Coast,’ the restaurants at Rancho Santana also serve a host of fish and seafood sourced from local fishermen.”  That all sounds awesome to me.

Standard King guestroom. Image courtesy of Rancho Santana’s website

My assumption is that when booking with Choice Privileges points, you would be put into a standard guest room at “The Inn.”  But, lest that sounds unimpressive, consider that each guestroom apparently offers a “spacious private terrace with wrap around ocean views.”  Even more impressive, all stays at The Inn include (details here):

  • Daily breakfast per person at El Café
  • Welcome beverage
  • Complimentary Kids Club Access
  • A guided monkey-viewing tour and a Sandboarding adventure at Playa Duna
  • Access to all Rancho Santana’s resort facilities and amenities
  • Airport transfers based on 4 nights or more

When you consider that airport transfers are approximately a 2 hour drive from Managua International Airport, or a 4 hour drive from Liberia International Airport in Costa Rica, that’s pretty darn impressive that transfers are included!  Just make sure to book a stay for 4 nights or longer!

Here’s the deal…

Many Preferred Hotels & Resorts can be booked with Choice Privileges points.  In this case, you can book the resort for 45,000 points per night:

After taxes and fees, this resort usually charges more than $500 per night (and sometimes well over $1,000 per night), so you should easily get more than 1 cent per Choice point value.  If you have a Citi Premier or Prestige card, though, you can do even better.  With either of those cards, your Citi ThankYou points transfer 1 to 2 to Choice.  As a result, you can book this resort for only 22,500 Citi ThankYou points per night!  That’s a steal!

Caution: Booking a Preferred hotel with Choice points can be extremely frustrating! See: My nightmare booking Preferred Hotels via Choice. If you want to precede anyway, here’s how:

1) Check for availability

  1. Start here:
  2. Select Country: Nicaragua
  3. Find “Rancho Santana” and click “Check Availability”.

You will then see a screen like this:

The days with Xs through them are not available for check-in, but the rest of the dates should be.  Caution: this display does not seem to be 100% accurate so you’ll have to verify availability when calling Choice.

2) Call Choice Privileges to book

This is the hard part.  Finding a Choice representative that has even heard of the ability to book Preferred hotels is a hurdle in itself.  Details about how to go about this can be found here: Preferred Hotels & Resorts via Choice: Value unlocked. Frustration assured.

Did you go? Let us know!

If you’ve been to this resort before, or if you go after reading this post, please come back to this post to let us know how the trip was, what was your experience booking through Choice, did you really get the free inclusions that are advertised (daily breakfast, airport transfer, etc.).  Please comment below!

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Any tips for getting flights to MGA for DTW. I feel like I need tips for award travel if we were to go over Christmas Holiday break.


The place looks lovely but isn’t Nicaragua rather unstable right now?


Any comment as to hotels like Pismo Beach that have pulled themselves from the program after you stayed there? It seems like it doesn’t take but a few point arbitraging guests to get these hotels to quit this deal

John Doe

Yes, I was wondering about this. The Californian in Santa Barbara has also been pulled.


No Way my Hotels knew I asked the front Desk.Award Booking ..

Last edited 1 month ago by Cavedweller

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this property several times dating back to 2010, and watched this rustic area transform into the world-class resort it is today. It is truly a special and uniquely gorgeous place. The hotel is one part – the ranch itself is largely comprised of a community of homes that can be rented.

While it is chill and remote (you’re not going night clubbing here), there is plenty to do on property: 5 unique beaches, tons of hiking, biking, surfing, horseback riding, yoga, spa, pool. There are many easy day trips from the property that are worthwhile, like San Juan del Sur, Granada, volcano tour.

There are geopolitical factors to consider, as with many countries, but I never felt unsafe. The Ranch property is extremely secure, and the staff is great and take great pains to arrange everything for you smoothly. The Pacific ocean beaches here are really unique and breathtaking. A rugged gem for sure.


Thanks for the heads up about this resort. Noticed a typo in this sentence: Find “Rancho Santa” and click “Check Availability”.


Had a work retreat here in 2017. The property is lovely but there is nothing else nearby. If you’re a resort person, you’ll love it. If you want to explore the local area, be prepared to arrange transportation and plan for some decent drive times.

Lots of pics & a video in this post: There were 47 of us on the trip so plenty of shots of small groups working in different areas of the resort.

I don’t recommend flying into Liberia if you can avoid it. We got stuck for hours at the border crossing. If you do go that route, there are bathrooms and some folks selling food and bottled water outside, but that’s about it.

Personally, I think the resort is a great spot for a honeymoon or vacation where you just want to relax and chill. The food was good and the poolside bar was fun. Our team had a great time.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jen
Gladys Russell

Would love to hear any current info from someone who’s been there recently. Sounds like a great place!


My first time at Rancho Santana was in 2005 when it was dirt roads, shanties and one extremely out of place luxury house. Hard to believe this particular Carlos Pellas dream became something sorta real.

A couple of things to note:

You’ll be a “resort captive”. While the amenities and the surroundings ARE spectacular, there’s not much nearby and what there is, um, rather underwhelming.

Nicawawa is run by the authoritarian Whoretega regime. Gringos are suspect and regularly denounced by the ruling class. “Yankees the enemy of mankind” is in their party anthem!

Lastly: only AV and CM currently fly into MGA. AA has had a flight schedule off/on since forever — they’ll sell you tickets but never fly!

LIR is an option but you should check *directly with the property* if they’re still providing transfers *especially* on an award stay. Add *at least* 2 hours for the border crossing mess at Peñas Blancas!

Good luck!