Las Catalinas, Costa Rica: A Renaissance Village in the Tropical Forest

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It’s walkable, it’s tropical, and it looks like a village out of Renaissance Italy. But Las Catalinas, Costa Rica, is located on a beautiful beach in Guanacaste, surrounded by virgin wilderness – and this meticulously planned 10-year-old town is a gem.

Another “housing development” this is not. It’s an honest-to-goodness town, with car-free streets, some 180 residences, two hotels, restaurants, shops, offices, plazas, fountains and recreational facilities. Yet all of it was centrally planned according to an exacting vision.

The most unusual thing about this place? No cars! Sure, you have to drive to get here, but then to leave your vehicle in the parking lot or along the road. The walkable “streets,” some of which have stairs, are made of paving stones and are broken up with attractive fountains and courtyards.

Walk this way! Las Catalinas is a small, walkable village where there are no cars.

Las Catalinas real estate

The homes are stunning and primarily stand-alone – no cookie-cutter condos here. Las Catalinas real estate owners can live here full-time or generate income through the vacation rental market.

The homes in Las Catalinas are all unique, and many are multimillion-dollar properties.

For example, $1.499 million will buy you the spectacular 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath Casa Blue Jay, with three fully furnished floors of living space and breathtaking ocean views.

Some 1,000 acres of tropical dry forest surround Las Catalinas, with the beautiful Playa Danta and the Pacific Ocean beckoning on the other side. The steep topography allows for good views from almost everywhere and makes Las Catalinas a popular destination for mountain biking on an extensive series of trails.

Playa Danta, right in front of Las Catalinas, is an excellent place to leave your worries behind.

Playa Danta (“tapir”) is a fantastic beach, with lots of shade, open to the public like all beaches in Costa Rica. A short hike away is another excellent stretch of sand called Playa Dantita (“little tapir”). At either of these, you can go swimming, boogie-boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and snorkeling.

Las Catalinas is a great destination for families to have fun together.

How to get to Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Las Catalinas is at the northern end of a paved road that connects to Potrero, Flamingo, Brasilito and points beyond, including the regional surf capital of Tamarindo. The nearby “Monkey Trail” (paved but with a creek crossing) also connects to Playas del Coco in the north, and the international airport in Liberia is an hour away. But because it’s at the end of the road, nobody drives through Las Catalinas on their way to somewhere else.

To get to Las Catalinas, you can drive there in your rented car or take a taxi or shuttle, whether from the airport or any other spot in Guanacaste that you have chosen to visit previously.

You may need a rental car to get to Las Catalinas, or you can take a taxi, but you won’t need a car once you’re there.

Two spectacular hotels here have a total of 67 rooms. The cliffside Casa Chameleon Hotel offers exclusive villas with ocean views and private plunge pools. One of the guests is invited to strike a gong in the open-air restaurant at sunset, and fiery jets are lighted in the infinity pool. Also, Santarena Hotel, in the heart of town, is fairly described as a “bohemian pearl” and “an elegant oasis where cosmopolitan minds and curious spirits gather and connect.”

Guests can enjoy spectacular ocean views from the spacious pool and deck at Casa Chameleon Hotel.
Guests can enjoy the bohemian vibes at the Santarena Hotel in Las Catalinas.

Is Las Catalinas safe? Absolutely. It’s one of the most exclusive communities in Costa Rica, and though it’s open to the public, the security is excellent.

Las Catalinas is safe for adults and kids alike.

Las Catalinas restaurants

Las Catalinas restaurants include Casa Chameleon’s exquisite Sentido Norte, the Mediterranean cuisine at Santarena’s Poinciana, and more casual options like the beachfront Limonada or the family-oriented La Taqueria, plus a bakery and a deli.

Las Catalinas also has a robust retail presence. Do some shopping at a gourmet grocery store with a wine cellar (Copper & Stone). Search for furniture at D-Aquí Design Studio. Pick up some new threads at Las Catalinas Collection. Roam through the outdoor outfitter Pura Vida Rides (and rent a mountain bike), or learn to scuba dive with Connectocean.

The Catalinas Islands are one of Costa Rica’s top scuba diving locations.

Catalinas Islands

The town is named for the Catalinas Islands, or Islas Santa Catalina, one of Costa Rica’s top scuba diving spots. These are located about a 20- to 30-minute boat ride away from the Guanacaste coast, with most dive boats departing from Playas del Coco, Flamingo or Tamarindo.

The Catalinas Islands consist of a series of uninhabited islands and islets. Here divers can spot several types of rays and sharks, and whales and dolphins are sometimes seen during the boat ride to get there.

A group of people snorkeling in the Catalinas Islands.

Weather in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Las Catalinas weather is usually warm and sunny during the dry season (mid-November to April), with frequent showers in the afternoons during the rainy season (May to mid-November).

Average temperatures in Costa Rica range from 70° to 81° Fahrenheit (12° to 27° Celsius), with the higher averages on the coasts, in places like Las Catalinas. Temperatures throughout the country vary depending on elevation, but in any one place, there is a slight variation in average temperatures year-round.

The concept behind Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Las Catalinas, Costa Rica, is based on New Urbanism, which seeks to eliminate sprawling, low-density development in favor of walkable, more intimate spaces. It focuses on neighborhoods that are a five-minute walk from the center to the edge. The idea is to build spaces to live, work and play on a “human scale,” where you don’t need a Hummer to get to the store.

Who started Las Catalinas? The town was founded primarily by Charles Brewer, a U.S. entrepreneur who founded the Internet service provider Mindspring. The land was purchased in 2006, and construction began in 2009.

Planners say they were inspired by hilly Mediterranean towns in Italy, France and Spain, Latin American influences in Guatemala, Panama and Mexico, and resort towns like Aspen, Carmel and St. Barths. But they also say that while Mediterranean hill towns were built for defense, Las Catalinas was built for pleasure, with an eye toward open spaces and outdoor living, so it’s truly unique.

So while you won’t find another place in Costa Rica like this, you also won’t find another place quite like it anywhere.

The beautiful coastal views near Las Catalinas.

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