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Visiting Las Catalinas, Costa Rica: Best Things to See & Do

Visiting Las Catalinas, Costa Rica: Best Things to See & Do

Would you give up your automobile for the chance to live in paradise? Many people would in Las Catalina, Costa Rica. It’s walkable, tropical, and looks like something out of the Italian Renaissance era.

Surrounded by untouched nature, on a golden sand beach in Guanacaste, Las Catalinas is a meticulously-planned, semi-forced town you should check out to see whether or not it vibes with your type of vacation or not.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the developer-planned city of Las Catalinas, started in 2006 by Charles Brewer.

The Atlanta-based entrepreneur purchased 1,200 acres of land along the Pacific Ocean in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, dreaming of creating a walkable resort town that is completely free from motorized vehicles.

This is not just another meticulously-planned “housing development,” but a town in its own right. However, keep in mind the only way to get here is by car and there’s a lot of them right outside of the “town.”

We see the vision but it’s obvious there is a bit more work to be done to make this actually a “town” and not just a resort. I mean think about resorts, they are generally “car-free” too. You either get picked up by the resort or leave your car parked at the resort. At its current form, the same applies here as well.

There are car-free streets, 180 residences, two hotels, shops, restaurants, plazas, offices, fountains, and recreational facilities. However, all of it was centrally planned with a vision in mind.

We’ll cover everything you need to know about this contemporary development and potential beach town. So without further ado, let’s get started.

Watch our YouTube video of Las Catalinas for a visual travel guide below.

Las Catalinas, Costa Rica: Visiting This Car-Free Beach Town
Watch this video on YouTube.

Tips for Visiting Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Aerial View of Las Catalinas

Here are some things to know and consider before visiting Las Catalinas.

How to Get to Las Catalinas

Real Estate in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Given the relatively remote nature of this beach town, getting to Las Catalinas is particularly interesting. From the north and Liberia, you’ll drive along winding, hilly roads to get there. A big sticking point for me is the sustainability side of Las Catalinas.

It’s branded as sustainable but the way to get there clearly is not set up to handle more tourism so that resorts to one thing expanding the current infrastructure which would severely impact local wildlife.

Or, at its current form, the infrastructure is not set up to handle increased tourism and is still damaging to local wildlife. I’d like to see and hear how the owners and managers of Las Catalinas plan to support the local area in light of a semi-forced development.

The fastest way is to take the Monkey Trail, which like its name, will give you some monkey jungle vibes cruising through rivers (yes, really) on a dirt road. The “Monkey Trail” connects from Playas del Coco to the south into Las Catalinas right after you pass the famous Congo Trail billboard.

You can take a different route but it will add about 20 minutes of driving time. Plus, it’s Costa Rica. You need to drive through a river before you leave.

Despite all these shared connections, Las Catalinas is not on the way to anything else – located at the end of the road, there’s limited through traffic to worry about. So just follow the Las Catalinas sign to the beautiful beach.

You have to take a taxi, shuttle, or rental car to get to Las Catalinas, but once you’re there, the town is uniquely built with walking in mind – so everything will be within your grasp.

To get to Las Catalinas from the south such as San José, you have to make your way to the northern end of a paved road connecting to Playa Potrero, Playa Flamingo, Playa Brasilito, Playa Danta, and other points, including the surf capital of Tamarindo. 

Las Catalinas is a car-free town. If you rent a car, you have to leave your vehicle outside of the town and then take a short walk into the main town.

Where to Stay in Las Catalinas

Hotel at Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

The homes throughout are primarily standalone – no cookie-cutter designs, condos, or townhomes. Las Catalinas’ homeowners live here year-round or list their residences as a vacation rental.

So, if you prefer more of a vacation rental experience there are plenty of great options to choose from.

But for those looking to visit, there are two small hotels with 67 rooms available. Let’s evaluate the primary Las Catalinas hotels and resorts to choose from.

Casa Chameleon, Las Catalinas

First is the cliffside Casa Chameleon Hotel, with stunning villas, ocean views, as well as your own plunge pool that is exclusively private for guests.

The villas are exquisitely designed and furnished with modern amenities, and the staff is attentive and hospitable. This is an ideal destination for a romantic getaway or a relaxing vacation.

The Casa Chameleon Hotel is a luxurious cliff-side hotel that offers stunning ocean views and your own plunge pool for guests.

Santarena Hotel

The Santarena Hotel is a wonderful place to stay while in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica. The hotel is described as a bohemian pearl or an “elegant oasis” for cosmopolitan minds and curious spirits alike.

The Santarena Hotel features comfortable rooms, a delightful pool area, and a great location in the heart of town. It is the perfect place to stay while exploring everything Las Catalinas has to offer.

The hotel believes in conserving its local environment and initiatives include water-saving, locally produced bath products, monthly beaches clean-ups, non-toxic cleaning supplies, solar-heated water, and energy-efficient lighting.

Restaurants in Las Catalinas

Outdoor Restaurant at Las Catalinas

There are a few local restaurants in Las Catalinas, from casual beachfront eateries to more upscale options. One of the most popular restaurants is Casa Chameleon, which serves up exquisite Japanese cuisine.

If you’re looking for Mediterranean food, head to Santa Rena’s Poinciana. And for a more casual dining experience, check out Limonada or La Taqueria.

If you are spending an extended period of time, I’d suggest that you bring some extra food from a local market. Otherwise, you will end up eating at the same restaurant day after day. There isn’t really an extensive selection at the current moment.

Weather in Las Catalinas

Condos and Villas at Las Catalinas

The weather in Las Catalinas and the Guanacaste coast is hot and dry during January and February, while March and April are known to be a little stormier.

May is known to be the rainy season of the year in Guanacaste. June through November is somewhat drier with slightly lower temperatures during some periods.

Average Temperatures

  • January 81°F  | 29°C
  • February 81°F  | 29°C
  • March 80°F  | 27°C
  • April 78°F  | 26°C
  • May 77°F  | 25°C
  • June 75°F  | 24°C
  • July 74°F  | 23°C
  • August 73.5°F  | 22.5°C
  • September 74°F  | 23°C
  • October 73.2°F  | 22.4°C
  • November 74.8°F  | 23.8°C
  • December 77.3 °F  | 25.1 °C(E)

See Related: Best Places to Travel in December on a Budget

Best Things to do in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Aerial View of Guanacaste Coastline and Shores

Looking for fun things to do in Las Catalinas, here are some of the most well-known attractions and activities.

Go Scuba Diving

The town is named the Catalinas Islands, or Islas Santa Catalina, and is one of Costa Rica’s best scuba diving spots. They have located just a 20-to-30 min boat ride away from the Guanacaste coast, with most dive boats departing out of Playas del Coco, Flamingo, or Tamarindo.

They consist of a series of uninhabited islands and islets, where divers can spot several different types of sharks, rays, dolphins, and whales that come through from time to time.

Relax or Take on Beach Activities

Beach at Las Catalinas

Around 1,000 acres of lush, tropical dry forest surround the beautiful town of Las Catalinas. But that’s not all, the town is situated along Costa Rica’s Gold Coast featuring some of the finest beaches in the region with great swimming.

You’ll be in the enclave of Playa Datana and the Pacific Ocean beckoning on the other side. Playa Santa, “Tapir,” is a lovely beach with tons of shade. Like all beaches in Costa Rica, it’s open to the public.

Just a short hike away, you’ll find another excellent beach called Playa Dantita.

Either one of these locations has excellent opportunities for swimming, boogie boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling alike.

Hiking

Not a fan of the water? The steep topography allows for amazing views from just about anywhere along with extensive hiking options to choose from. These combine to make the town a famous biking or hiking location for well-seasoned adventurers looking for breathtaking sights.

Las Catalinas’ concept is based on the idea of “New Urbanism,” which seeks to eliminate low-density, sprawling developments in favor of more intimate, walkable spaces.

This design focuses on neighborhoods just a five-minute walk from the center to the edges.

Tropical Mountain Biking

The trails at Las Catalinas offer mountain bikers a unique experience. The mountain biking trails wind through the forests and provide stunning views of the ocean. The trails are well-maintained and challenging, making them a popular choice for riders of all levels.

As you bike throughout the sprawling mountains, you’ll notice a wide array of plants, animals, and birds.

Live the Beach Town Life

Interior Courtyard with Palm Trees and Ivy

The idea is to build spaces to live, work, and play, where you don’t need your car to just run to the store.

Planners were inspired by hilly Mediterranean towns in France, Italy, and France and Latin American influences in Mexico, Panama, and Guatemala – with touches of resort towns of Carmel-by-the-sea, St. Barths, and Aspen.

But, while some of those were designed originally for defense, Las Catalinas was built for pleasure, geared towards open spaces and outdoor living. 

The walkable streets feature paved stones and stairs. The streets are broken up by fountains and attractive courtyards. Residents report being happier, healthier, and enjoying taking more walks with their loved ones.

Once people adopted the lifestyle, they felt freer – and construction volume grew to nearly 80,000 square feet per year once they realized the benefits this sort of lifestyle could bring them.

Families are often drawn to Las Catalinas because it’s safer for kids to run free, and it has easy access to quality healthcare and schools. While it’s open to the public, it’s got stellar security and is one of the most exclusive communities in all of Costa Rica

See Related: Best Travel Sandals for Beach Destinations

Slowly take in the iconic sunsets

There’s something about the sunset over the Pacific side of the sea that is just so truly special and in Guanacaste, it’s no exception. It’s called the Gold Coast for a reason.

So, each night you are either at the comfort of your room to watch the sunset over the sea or watch it from the beach.

Either way, don’t miss it each night. Take the moment out of your day to enjoy the sunset.

See Related: Best Credit Cards for Travel Perks

Final Thoughts

The stunning little town of Las Catalinas is a concept that baffles some and enchants others. It’s built with community in mind, as well as the quality of life of its residents.

The long-term goals include establishing the plaza as a small business hub with shops while hoping to expand and balance the dynamic of both full and part-time residents.

They hope to entice professionals from all across Costa Rica to the small community and develop more residential and commercial spaces to accommodate them.

It’s one-of-a-kind in the world, and you may not discover anything like it in Costa Rica.

If you want to join us in our journey around the world, please subscribe to our travel newsletter where we will cover not just Costa Rica but how to travel the world without it breaking your bank account.

Pura Vida.

FAQ

Where do you fly into to visit Las Catalinas?

The nearest airport to Las Catalinas is Liberia Airport (also known as Guanacaste Airport or Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport), within 1 hour of driving time and is approximately 41 kilometers of distance.

How do you get to Las Catalinas Costa Rica?

Several major airlines service Liberia Daniel Oduber Quiros Airport (LIR) as well as San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJ). Liberia is the closest airport in the area of Casa Chameleon at La Catalinas which is less than 15 minutes drive from the city.

Who developed Las Catalinas Costa Rica?

The 1,200-acre, car-free development, secluded by tropical forest hillsides on a crescent-shaped beach, was developed by Atlanta-based entrepreneur Charles Brewer, the founder of broadband enterprise Mindspring.

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