By Auxiliadora Rosales
One hundred million dollars in investment and over 20 years of work have been invested to create one of the most exclusive resorts in Nicaragua. A place full of luxury entrenched in forest and incredible vistas of the sea, called Rancho Santana, has generated 800 permanent jobs and 600 temporary ones, forming part of the statistics that have sparked tourist development in Tola, Rivas.
Rancho Santana is a resort and residential community in a paradise surrounded by five distinct beaches on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. It has a total area of 1,550 manzanas (2,700 acres) with 45 beachfront villas, 17 casitas, 90 vacation homes facing or overlooking the sea, two club houses, three restaurants, in addition to a cafeteria, boutique hotel, children’s club, mini market, horse stable, and surf club. It was founded with foreign capital in 1997 with an initial investment of 4 million dollars, at present worth about 6 million dollars with an annual inflation rate of 2%.
Alan Vílchez, legal representative and director of engineering and development at Rancho Santana (Tola Development Group) indicates that the market and demand in tourism is very dynamic and they saw the need to create a broad menu of quality products to offer to its demanding clientele.
“The initial investment grew exponentially from 2004 when we decided to not only develop lots for building houses. We also build turnkey products such as villas, condominiums, and houses that include amenities to satisfy 21st century demands such as club houses, restaurants, and a boutique hotel. This also entailed investing in infrastructure such as administrative buildings, rooms and apartments for employees, new streets, fiber optic installation, water, and electricity with an additional investment of about 50 million dollars. ” says the director of engineering and development at Rancho Santana.
The private investments of those that have acquired lots are summed up together. “There are about 90 houses, each with an average investment of US $ 450,000. This adds US $ 40.5 million to the total investment worth 100 million dollars to date in the development of Rancho Santana,” says Vílchez.
The most recent development investment was in March 2015 with the opening of the boutique hotel The Inn. With its luxurious rustic type of infrastructure, it is located near the main entrance of the complex and has 17 rooms, an art gallery, cafeteria, conference room and boardroom. Just a few steps from it is the beautiful Santana beach that welcomes visitors with its warm breeze.
ELECTRICAL ENERGY CONTINUES TO BE A CHALLENGE
Despite the exceptional beauty of the site, investors have had to overcome many challenges to provide high quality services to tourists. The main obstacle has been the single access route that in winter did not let anyone pass.
Vílchez recalls that the road was paved only to the city of Rivas. In order to reach Rancho Santana visitors had to travel 35 kilometers on a road that during the rainy season was very difficult to traverse, especially during 2007 to 2010. When rivers overflowed, they stopped traffic for hours, and even days, preventing workers and tourists from passing and forced them to use only four-wheel drive vehicles. At present, it is only necessary to travel 4.5 kilometers of unpaved road to reach Rancho Santana and it is no longer necessary to have a four-wheel drive vehicle.
One problem that this luxurious destination has still been unable to overcome is the quality of electrical energy. “In the early years, we suffered from intermittent electrical power in both winter and summer. The energy failed for very long periods, sometimes for a full day. Power generators (plants) were installed in all facilities which increased operating costs. There are still many problems with the quality of energy. During the high season, the electrical voltage falls to very low values which cannot operate the three-phase equipment, so we have to make use of generators, “says the director of engineering and development at Rancho Santana (Tola Development Group)”.
Vílchez considers the energy problem in Tola that persists because the municipality has grown at an accelerated pace with relation to tourism. The electrical infrastructure has not grown at this same pace and has insufficient capacity for this growth. It is necessary to build an electrical substation to provide an integral solution to the energy problem, otherwise this will continue to limit tourist investments in the municipality. I understand that the government is planning the construction of a new electrical substation.”
Another challenge faced during the development was the human factor. Since tourism was emerging at that time, we had to hire bilingual staff from Managua to attend the resort. As time passed, the local staff from Tola and Rivas have been trained to such a degree, that at present, 95% of our staff comes from the municipality.
VERY POSITIVE IMPACT
The impact of this pioneer tourism development in Tola. has been very positive and important, not only for the creation of decent employment sources, but also for raising the level of education and quality of life for many people and families in the surrounding community.
The development has also had a positive impact on health by bringing low-cost potable water to communities and the construction of a clinic named “Roberto Clemente”, a gift from the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh that provides services to all surrounding communities.
Another benefit to the community has been the opening of the Foundation for Technical and Vocational Education of El Limón that trains some 150 young people and adolescents. “Mark Ford, one of the founders of Rancho Santana, and his wife Kathryn, decided to establish a community center for local people called FunLimon (http://funlimon.org/). This community center offers a reading and writing program for children in addition to English, computer science, technical and vocational courses such as electricity, carpentry, plumbing, and air conditioning for young people. It also includes a scholarship program for the poor. ” comments Vílchez.
The foundation also offers a loan program for all employees of both Rancho Santana and the foundation to improve their homes, the production of their farms and other activities that benefit the residents.
In addition to the classrooms, in this center there has a first-class sports center with an indoor basketball court, a baseball field, a soccer field and a gym with very modern equipment, as well as an academy for the teaching of mixed martial arts.
Matt Turner, investor and CEO of Rancho Santana, says that investing in this development has been a wise move, motivated by a safe country, beautiful beaches, and friendly people. “We invite local and foreign tourists to discover Nicaragua’s most beautiful beaches, ideal for surfing and for living.”
Turner’s confidence in Nicaragua and tourism continues. He reveals that the group has acquired a couple of additional properties in the same municipality which they plan to develop in the near future. “We now work to make Rancho Santana the best resort and residential beach community in the world. We will celebrate our 20th anniversary of providing excellent service to our guests. It’s the best way that we can celebrate,” says the CEO.