by Heather Mundt – Natalie Robertson was just a tween 17 years ago when her dad, Chris, bought an untouched slice of paradise above the cliffs of the popular beachside town of San Juan del Sur in southwest Nicaragua. With a vision to create a safe, healthy haven for his three kids, the Northern California real-estate developer built his version of utopia: of a self-sustaining, organic farm where his family could live and work, while also supporting the local San Juan del Sur community. “When I first came to see the property, I was in awe of the land itself,” says Robertson, 27. “But it was hard for me to envision my dad’s plans, as there was nothing here in San Juan del Sur — no road, no well, no power. Nothing.”
Building a Dream in San Juan del Sur
Within a year, the groundwork was laid (pun intended) for a 240-acre, private nature reserve and organic farm called Finca Las Nubes (FLN) or “farm in the clouds.” Its entire infrastructure was built around the lay of the land instead of clear-cutting when possible, she says, and labor and materials were sourced locally in and around San Juan del Sur to support the Nicaraguan economy.
The land was also replanted with native trees to be used for food, building materials and animals, including howler monkeys, sloths, birds and more. “When my dad starting building the farm, the intention he set out with was to create a community of like-minded people living on a self-sufficient farm,” says Robertson, who now owns, manages and lives on the property with her two young children.
That self-sustaining vision now includes 40+ staff, who receive room and board while working there; an on-site school, the San Juan Day School, where staff children, including Natalie’s daughter and son, are taught alongside local kids; and several houses, in addition to Robertson’s and her dad’s. But plans changed around 2008, she says, after the U.S. recession hit.
“We started offering all-inclusive vacation rentals for like-minded families to offset operation costs and to continue providing job security for our beloved employees,” Natalie says. Families can choose from five houses—accommodating four to 10 guest—for a flat fee of $999 per person (discounts available for groups of five or more).
The rate includes a house with a private infinity pool and sweeping views of San Juan del Sur (just 2 miles away); cleaning and cooking staff; laundry service; and all meals, made primarily with ingredients cultivated on FLN, including honey, coffee and moringa, considered a “superfood.” As well, the fee includes a vehicle/driver and all activities (with rare exception) throughout Nicaragua’s so-called Triangle of the South: San Juan del Sur, Granada to the north and Ometepe Island to the northeast on Lake Nicaragua.
Family Friendly Oasis in San Juan del Sur
The idea is to provide families the amenities of an all-inclusive resort while maintaining the authenticity of the land and local San Juan del Sur culture, says Brad Holland, FLN marketing manager and owner of the property’s newest home, Casa Buenavida, completed in 2016. “I want guests to get a unique experience that’s not canned but is instead tailored for their family,” he says. “We’re not just going to book something without getting to know you first. And because of our farm’s resources—local staff, on-site activities and vehicles—we can customize activities for any preference.”
Whether it’s an on-the-go family who prefers to cram in a ton of activities for the week, or others who want just to hang out or have kids who are too young to be active, Holland says, there’s something for them to do during their stay. “We’ve had nursing moms here who don’t even leave the property,” Holland says. “We have teenagers who want to go zip-lining, surfing and hiking. And we’ve got grandparents who aren’t in great shape but still want to have experiences with their family. At any activity level, age or preference, there’s something they can do.”
Adventurous Offerings in San Juan del Sur
My family’s week-long stay there included off-site excursions like surfing lessons on Playa Maderas in San Juan del Sur; riding a horse carriage through Spanish-colonial stronghold Granada; and boating through Lake Nicargua’s Las Isletas.
We also squeezed in some new activities we’ve never experienced before on our several previous family trips to Nicaragua, from viewing the angry lava lake in the bowels of Masaya Volcano’s Santiago pit crater; to diving in the clear waters of the Apoyo Lagoon; watching olive ridley sea turtles lay eggs one night at the beach; and taking a ferry to the uber-hip Ometepe Island for up-close views of its famed, twin volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas.
We also stayed busy with several on-site activities, including horseback riding; enjoying poolside massages for us grownups while while our two kids met the farm animals and searched for sloths, “perezoso,” in the trees; zip-lining at Parque de Aventura Las Nubes, located on the property as a separate business; and playing mini-golf on one of two turf greens, one at Chris’ house and another near FLN’s store, “Nica Organica,” which features local beer and soft drinks, and a pool table. There’s even a nearby skate skate park, originally created to provide the San Juan del Sur community with a healthy social option, that’s also available to guests.
A Slice of Heaven in San Juan del Sur
“You don’t see places like this anymore,” Robertson says. “I know what went into making it and how special it is. It’s our own little slice of heaven.” She also loves sharing it with visitors. “When guests visit here, I hope they reconnect with their families, with nature, with themselves. I want them to be able to check out of their crazy world and see this as their wonderland,” Robertson says. “I want people to really relax and enjoy their time here, and have it be an authentic experience. And I hope that they are charmed as much by the culture as I have been.”
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Freelance writer Heather Mundt lives in Longmont, Colo., with her husband and two boys. She writes about traveling with kids on her site, Momfari.com, inspiring parents to get out and discover the world with their children.