Las Catalinas: An idyllic, New Urbanist beach town emerges in Costa Rica for tourists and instant locals

The laid-back Costa Rican town on the rise is the stuff of screensaver dreams

10 Sep 2020

I visited Las Catalinas in February before the coronavirus pandemic began. It was the ultimate vacation - the perfect mix of relaxation with appreciating architecture and New Urbanist designs that made it more than simply a beach vacation.

Since then, I've dreamt of the escape and even considered returning; after all, it would be the perfect place to be at the moment, with sweeping ocean views, tiny pools as part of every home and the ability to self-isolate while still feeling like you're part of a community

In Costa Rica, a new beach town has emerged - but it’s not the typical resort. Instead, it’s a retreat for everyone from tech bros to recent retirees who flock to the walkable town that’s the stuff of idyllic screensaver dreams.

The entire experience of visiting Las Catalinas will make you consider starting a new life in Costa Rica, complete with an unlimited supply of fresh guacamole replenished daily by the villa’s "house moms" who make elaborate meals you'll be dreaming about for the rest of eternity, multiple infinity pools to choose from, and sightings of the nearby wildlife that roams freely (although if you're not adventurous enough to hike, you can also appreciate said wildlife from a more comfortable distance via YouTube).

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Visitors venturing to Las Catalinas (or considering a more permanent move there) first fly into the Liberia airport, which is about an hour's drive. The drive goes through unexpected terrain - it’s a tropical dry forest, which is also what surrounds the town. More than 1,000 acres are preserved, although guests can hike and bike within them - and they can also see online what kind of critters are crawling around on the rugged terrain.

Las Catalinas was founded by Atlanta resident Charles Brewer after he bought 1,200 acres on the Pacific Ocean in Guanacaste Province in an effort to create the ultimate vacation destination - a walkable New Urbanism-influenced town without cars but with plenty of blissful residents and an enormous wellness center that’s almost ready (it just needs to undergo a quick cleanse first).

The town itself has Instagrammable nooks and crannies aplenty, as well as decor details that will make you reconsider renovating when you return home. Much of the building was done onsite and there’s even a blacksmith who makes windows, doors and Cuban and French tiles.

The lowdown

At the moment, 25 people live in Las Catalinas full time. There are 90 homes, two hotels and office space, with many people telecommuting. It’s easy to work from the town, as it’s about a five hour flight from both New York and Los Angeles.

The tiny town looks like an old-world city with a modern twist, with terraces perched in the mountains. The town offers everything from two-bedroom flats to large estate homes.

Building started in 2011 with seven homes that took two years to build and while walking through town it’s easy to see why. All of the homes have architectural touches that are well thought out, from copper gutters to windows facing each other precisely. Even the plazas are literally made for the town and the houses that surround them. The plazas are designed only after the buildings are so they can see how the architecture plays out, especially since the plazas can be seen from multiple homes at once.

The villas

If you for some reason don’t want to stay in a villa, there’s also Santarena, a new 45-room boutique hotel that opened in February of 2019.

Santarena has what might be one of the best spots in the entire town - a rooftop, infinity edge blue on blue pool that overlooks the water providing ample Isntagram opportunities. In fact, the whole town is an influencer's paradise. And best of all, you can get cocktails delivered directly to you while you look out on the town.

There’s also a bed and breakfast. The variety of options has made it a go-to wedding venue. Newlyweds overlook the ocean and host everything from extremely intimate dinner parties to late night parties complete with live music.

Things to do

For nature lovers, there are plenty of critters to see nearby - Las Catalinas even has a biologist on staff.

Mountain biking, surfing, stand up paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving are all offered.

If you’re not exactly adventurous, there’s still plenty to do - shopping, visiting the spa, or basking in one of the many pools onsite for the ultimate escape.

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