Las Catalinas is a beach town recently developed along the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the Guanacaste Province of northwest Costa Rica. Envisioned as a compact, car-free, and fully walkable beach town, Las Catalinas was founded in 2006 by Charles Brewer (businessman) to foster a way of life that aims to be healthy, sustainable, fulfilling, and fun. Is it based on the principles of New Urbanism.
Las Catalinas is located on the coast of Playa Danta and Playa Dantita near Potrero, about an hour drive from Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica. Projected as a 20+ year project, the beach town incorporates the principles of New Urbanism to enable an environment that favors human connection and interaction in a wide array of pedestrian streets, public plazas, recreational facilities, houses, apartment buildings, a beach club, shops, restaurants, and a boutique, adults-only hotel.
Embraced by over 404 hectares of tropical dry forest hills and valleys with extensive hiking, running, and biking trails, the town is a favored destination of both nature and athletes, fitness and recreation enthusiasts, with the annual Las Catalinas Triathlon and Open Water competitions growing in importance among local and international competitors in recent years. Swimming, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, boogie boarding, and snorkeling are also popular sports in the area.
As a travel destination, Las Catalinas has grown in importance in recent years, being featured in pieces and covers of major travel publications such as Travel + Leisure, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Described as a "Costa Rican paradise, made to order for travellers", this coastal resort town has gained international acclaim for its small-town vibe, authentic Costa Rican culture, and scenic beauty. While its luxurious boutique hotel Casa Chameleon has won awards for its zero-edge infinity pool, the town grounds also offer a large share of its 70+ villas and apartments as vacation homes, with guests being able to mingle with full and part-time residents and turning this local community into a more international, cultural melting-pot of like-minded types.
Inspired by colonial towns in Latin America such as Antigua, Panama's Casco Viejo, Panama, and San Miguel de Allende, as well as by Mediterranean hill and coastal towns, Las Catalinas was built not just as a resort town, but also as a combination of timeless, beautiful architecture and a gorgeous natural setting. Its proximity to the sea, along with its nature reserve and system of nature trails, have made it an increasingly popular destination in Guanacaste. Though initially questioned, the absence of cars in town has been an object of particular praise by different publications, making it easy for residents and guests to safely walk from any point in town to the beach in a matter of minutes, and encouraging as much as possible human interaction along the way.
Approximately 400 ha (990 acres) of the 490 ha (1,200 acres) acres of the project is currently a natural forest reserve, which harbors diverse, local flora and fauna including numerous bird species, howler monkeys, iguanas, and the occasional wild cat. There are about 35 kilometers of hiking, running and single track mountain biking trails, from easy to fairly sweat-inducing, with many spots offering panoramic views of the Pacific.
The master plan was primarily designed by Douglas Duany, currently a professor of the practice at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. It is a dense urbanism that focuses on an interesting pedestrian experience, maximizing views, and integrating nature. Of the 490 hectares, approximately 80 hectares are planned to be built, the remaining 404 hectares being left as a natural reserve.
Many urban designers and architects have since done design work in Las Catalinas, including:
- Robert Orr
- Abraham Valenzuela
- Gary Justiss
- Michael G. Imber
- Garrison Foundry
- BCV Architects
- Lauren Richa
- Studio Sky