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Costa Rica is a legendarily eco-friendly destination. It attracts adventure seekers and nature lovers to its cloud forests, diverse wildlife, picturesque beaches, incredible national parks, and epic outdoor experiences. This Central American country’s best-kept secret, though, is a tranquil, car-free resort town named Las Catalinas. Although it resembles medieval Europe, everything about this coastal utopia, from its guiding principles and renewable energy sources to its good-hearted people, is purely Costa Rican.

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Perched on a hilly area near the beaches of Playa Danta and Playa Dantita, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, Las Catalinas doesn’t creep into the surrounding wilderness. Instead, this eco-conscious town rises upward to save space, leaving as much forest as possible for wildlife to thrive. The development is built on the principles of the New Urbanism movement, which favors upward development and intimate spaces, as opposed to a sprawling, low-density development.

Whether you are seeking a permanent residence, short-term rental, or a sustainable vacation, Las Catalinas brings you closer to nature and each other.

The Beginnings Of Las Catalinas

Charles Brewer, a U.S. entrepreneur and founder of the Internet service provider Mindspring, had a vision. He imagined a coastal village, inspired by Mediterranean hill towns, and purchased land in Guanacaste in 2006. Las Catalinas began in 2009 with the development of Beach Town, with a focus on environmentally conscious design, walking neighborhoods, mixed-use structures, studio apartments and multi-bedroom villas, each building featuring its own architecture.

The gateless community of Beach Town takes up just 19 acres (out of the 1,200 acres), and offers residents and vacationers 25 miles of hiking and biking trails in the surrounding tropical dry forest. Private and public spaces commingle to provide social interaction. Outdoor spaces are intimate, tree-shaded, and centered around attractive fountains. The goal was to create a community where people are just as inclined to take in the views from their balconies as they are with having lunch with friends at one of the seaside restaurants, or coming together for surfing, hiking, or mountain biking.

Scenic Vistas And Surprises At Every Turn

The Beach Town may seem compact, but it boasts two hotels, 142 residences, eight restaurants, shops, offices, a beach club, grocery store, wellness retreat, and plazas, recreational facilities, all connected with a maze of cobblestone pedestrian streets and stair pathways, all without a need for four wheels.

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with the architecture and individuality of each structure. It’s easy to get lost admiring the various villas, coming in all different facades and designs, transporting you to places like Tuscany, New Orleans, or Valencia. At every turn, your eye catches scenic vistas of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and a different design element – be it Switzerland chalet-inspired facades, brightly-colored doors, and windows, or cacti-fenced Scottsdale abodes.

Forging A Sense Of Community

There is a reason Las Catalinas doesn’t have motorized vehicles. It allows for people to walk, get to know their neighbors, and enjoy all the town has to offer, together. As everything is a stone’s throw away, it’s convenient to dine at seaside restaurants like La Taqueria or Limonada, spend a day at the WAKE Day Spa, go shopping, or simply hang out in Plaza Central.

For those seeking adventure, the outdoor outfitter, Pura Vida Ride, provides guided tours of the area and rentals of stand-up-paddle boards, mountain bikes, kayaks, and other ocean and mountain sports equipment. With no cars disrupting the streets, kids are safe to run around, play football, and enjoy their time under the sun. Fitness enthusiasts can stay fit with a range of classes and training regimens at CORE by Chakfitness, a unique outdoor gym with all weights and machines made almost entirely of wood.

Whether you are on vacation, or spending time at your winter residence, a day at the Beach Club is sure to relax. Sitting on a bluff at the edge of the Beach Town, this gathering spot offers plenty of amenities, including an adults-only infinity pool, lounge terrace, a kid-friendly pool, jacuzzi, poolside restaurant and bar, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Related: Osa Peninsula: Visiting The Last Remaining Lowland Rainforests In Central America

Living In Harmony With Nature

For Las Catalina residents and visitors, having as little of an environmental footprint as possible is paramount. Structures in Las Catalinas are built to last for centuries, using local materials and design techniques that respond well to the elements. Facades are reinforced with lime stucco and mineral-based pigments to prevent disintegration from the salty air. Wood such as Guanacaste, Melina, and teak, is locally and sustainably sourced, can handle the climate, and resist termites. The terra-cotta clay tiles that give the town a Mediterranean feel are perfectly equipped to resist fire, rot from rain, and wind damage.

Buildings are designed to allow for ample natural ventilation, without excessive air conditioning, to drive energy efficiency. Las Catalinas obtains energy from Costa Rica’s grid, which is powered by renewable energy sources. An onsite, state-of-the-art water treatment plant converts wastewater that can be used for irrigation and forest fire control. As water is a prized resource in the often dry province, Las Catalinas ensures the safety of wild animals by building and maintaining stone watering holes in the ravines to provide year-round drinking water. To further engage with the environment positively, the community has planted more than 5,000 trees of native evergreen species since 2007 and started a recycling education campaign for visitors and community members.

Eco-conscious living is strongly encouraged. Within Beach Town, local partner ConnectOcean promotes ocean stewardship by way of guided expeditions, social outreach programs, swimming lessons, scuba diving, and hands-on activities. The Las Catalinas Community Outreach Fund connects donors with regional grassroots organizations taking on numerous environmental and social initiatives in Guanacaste.

Accommodations

For short-term stays, visitors can choose from luxury hotels to well-appointed villas. Santarena Hotel, located in the heart of Las Catalinas, offers an elegant oasis with 45 guest rooms, Ponciana restaurant, Cuatro Calle la Ronda bakery, and nature-themed public spaces, with walls adorned with lush paintings of flora and fauna found in the regions.

  • Cost: Room rates start at $200 per night

A few steps from Playa Danta is Posada san Rafael, an architecturally stunning inn with Latin American-inspired decor, offering four suites (three of which are adults-only) with ocean views from every room, a rooftop terrace, and a pool. Those looking for a vacation home can browse through 113 residencies offered by Las Catalinas Collection Vacation Rentals. The new partnership with Homes & Villas by Marriott International, will allow Marriott members to book top properties from the Las Catalinas Collection directly on their website and earn and redeem points.

  • Cost: Vacation rental rates range from $180 to $7000 per night

Future Of Las Catalinas

In the coming years, Las Catalinas will expand to include Beach Town North and El Prado. Life in Beach Town North will revolve around Plaza del Mercado, featuring ground-floor restaurants and shops catering to small business owners. Town homes, apartments, villas, and a hostel will be built upward around the market.

East of Beach Town will be El Prado, another hill town to complement the existing village, spread over 60 acres with a main road, plazas, shops, cafes, sidewalks, and living options that include flats, townhouses, houses, and lots for larger homes. Its Parque Central (Central Park) will offer four tennis courts, a neighborhood pool, playing fields, and a plethora of walking paths. Many of the homes will open up directly onto the existing trail network.

Getting There

With the Liberia International Airport in Guanacaste just an hour drive away, Las Catalinas is easily accessible from major North American airports.