South for Winter: Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

Embracing yoga and surfing comes naturally at this Pacific coast playground.

By Susan Hall Mahon

"Shine your heart to the ocean," says my yoga instructor, as our class moves into upward dog. I stretch the crown of my head up and open my eyes. Before me is a panorama as invigorating as the yoga we are all practicing: A surfer drops into Playa Rosada's famous left break, a plumeria tree is decked out in pinwheel-shaped white blooms, and surrounding palm trees sway, creating a swish that harmonizes sweetly with the rumble of the Pacific.

As we exhale into downward dog, my view turns to my teal yoga mat. It's lightly dusted with pink sand, a souvenir from my short walk across the beach to the yoga patio. It's a second, albeit slightly abstract, landscape, and it's the perfect companion to my Pacific vista. Both views bring me surf, sand, and Zen.

Which tells me that I've picked the perfect spot to do two things (three, if you count escaping the cold): reclaim my love of yoga and deepen my crush on surfing. I'm on Nicaragua's southern Pacific coast at Rancho Santana, a 2,700-acre property with five beaches, an inn, oceanfront villas, and a renowned restaurant, in an effort to make a New Year's–worthy attempt at reigniting those twinned passions.

I became enamored with yoga 10 years ago because of its transformative effect, but recently I've struggled to make time for my mat. Then, two years ago, I took surf lessons and fell hard for the sport's physicality, innate immersion in nature, and intoxicating reward of gliding to shore. Every time I've come near the beach since, I've longed to be back out there, on a board.

One step at a time, however: What better way to get back to surfing than to park myself on the inn's beachfront patio; fortify with a panino filled with farm-fresh greens and a smoothie blended from coconut, watermelon, and banana; and watch a pack of surfers working the 6-foot waves of Playa Santana's sun-drenched water? And while 6 feet looks just fine on my husband, when it's made of water, it looks pretty intimidating. I sip my smoothie, grateful that my first time back on the board will be on the gentlest of Rancho Santana's five beaches: Playa los Perros.

If beaches had symbols like those given to ski runs, Los Perros would get a sweet, green dot for its warm, newbie-friendly surf that peaks at around 4 feet. After a quick overview on dry land with my bright-eyed instructor, I propel out to the waves. At his signal, I paddle hard toward shore and ungracefully clamber into my surfer crouch, my wobbly beginning sending me quickly right off the board—a friendly baptism, but a dunk nonetheless. After several more attempts, I find my sweet spot and cruise all the way to the beach. It's a floating feeling that I immediately recall and want more of, with a pretty view of the wide, sleepy beach to boot.

The mounting joys of my getaway are amplified by the gorgeous place I get to call home. My first two nights are spent at the Inn at Rancho Santana, with its dark wood and wicker decor, ocean views, and butterfly-rich gardens filled with manicured hedges of white and purple bougainvillea and mounds of bright pink lantana. I spend another two in Villa Escondida, a stunning four-bedroom home perched high above Playa Escondido.

My last afternoon I spend completely alone on that beach, napping on the latte-colored sand and floating in the powerful push and pull of the shore break. The waves never crash on me—they simply heave toward the sand, carrying me swiftly to shore and then sending me back out again. I giddily surrender to being adrift as my passions come together in one glorious place—a little surf, a little Zen, for a whole new year.

THE DETAILS

GET HERE
Rancho Santana is a two-hour drive from the Managua airport. Pickup by the hotel is recom–mended, as many roads are unpaved.

STAY HERE
The ranch's 17-room inn features private terraces and cozy furnishings made at the property's millworks. Rates start at $275; 310-929-5221. The 25 beach-view villas are available for families and groups.

EAT HERE
La Finca y El Mar serves farm-to-table breakfast, lunch, and dinner in its oceanfront dining room and patio. The Beach & Surf Club at Playa los Perros is famous for mouthwatering tacos and cold Nicaraguan beer. The café at the inn serves coffee, smoothies, and panini. In-home chef services by La Finca y El Mar are available for villa stays.

PLAY HERE
Rancho Santana offers yoga, surfing lessons, guided surf expeditions to neighboring breaks, stand-up paddleboarding, horseback riding, nature walks, bocce, horseshoes, two pools, and a spa where you can unwind from it all.

SMART APP
Whether heading to a beach yoga retreat or a business meeting, Yoga+Travel has sequences for all levels that are tailored to help you stay relaxed and loose in the parts of your body most affected by travel. Download: iTunes, Windows Phone Store

SPECIAL READER DISCOUNT!
Book three nights in a Pied-A-Terre Suite and receive two extra nights at no cost. Stay includes private transport, arrival treats on your terrace, and tours of the inn and art gallery for $1,300. Offer valid February 1–May 31, and is subject to availability. E-mail 
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