An unlikely Italianesque village rises from narrow cobblestone streets dotted with fountains and lined with tropical plants on a pristine beach in Costa Rica. A luxury carless village was developed over the past decade on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Guanacaste Costa Rica. Las Catalinas Costa Rica recently became the most recent multigen vacation destination for a Thanksgiving trip for our family. Here’s what we discovered about this quaint village.
We had visited the beach town of Potrero just south of Las Catalinas three years prior, and hadn’t even realized that Las Catalinas existed. I thought Playa Potrero home of the most beautiful sunsets in the world until a stay in Las Catalinas gave us a very similar view of the stunning oranges, reds and golds of the never-ending sky over the blue ocean waters on this aptly named gold coast of Costa Rica.
Las Catalinas may be a far cry from authentic Costa Rica. But the luxury and safety of a walking beach village has both an attraction and charm for a certain audience. And, it can still be a home base for those authentic Pura Vida experiences. As someone who calls Vail, Colorado home, I can certainly see the attraction.
Hiking trails connect the beach to villas, town and the beach. Biking trails offer the opportunity to get even a bit further out.
A spray park in the town square keeps children entertained, while adults dine alfresco or shop.
An outdoor gym keeps busy with workout classes. This gym may be the most unique I’ve seen, with local wood and other natural materials making up the workout equipment.
Every detail of this village has been meticulously planned and crafted. Around corners visitors and residents will discover swings and benches to rest weary feet, and fountains to delight the senses.
The area just before the beach has been leveled offering open views. Yet local trees and brush have been maintained on the hillsides.
The town’s residents appear to mostly be Americans, with many being second homeowners. The developer is from Atlanta, Georgia, and that connection seems to run strong.
Shopping & Dining in Las Catalinas
There are a handful of small restaurants catering to Americans with local healthy fare.
Pots & Bowls was one of our favorites during our visit. From healthy and deliciously refreshing smoothies to tuna one bowls we enjoyed breakfast and lunch here a couple of times, and even ordered food delivered to our villa up the hill a couple of evenings.
There’s also a brewery with a limited menu, but fun swings. There’s a tapas restaurant. Limonada was undergoing a remodel while we visited so we didn’t dine there.
But we did get smoothies, drinks and pastries from Santarena Hotel.
Sendido Norte at Hotel Chameleon doesn’t allow children under 12 so we forwent visiting this romantic restaurant just step from our villa at the top of the hill overlooking the spectacular bay.
The Las Catalinas Collection offers fashionable clothing and jewelry. One member of our party found some beautiful items to take home from here. The most unique of the stores is a combo milkshake bar and consignment clothing store, Chunches Consignment, offering specialty Nike’s among other luxury brands.
A small grocery store, Copper and Stone, offers delicious bread, coffee and pastries, as well as all kind of intention foods, wine and liquor, at a premium.
A car will allow you the opportunity to explore the restaurants of Potrero and Flamingo when you tire of what’s available in Las Catalinas. It will also give you the opportunity to purchase basic groceries elsewhere, not at a premium.
Las Catalinas Location
One of the most important considerations if you are thinking of visiting is how to get there.
Located on the Monkey Road just north of Flamingo and Potrero and south of Playa del Coco. From the small Liberia Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport it is about an hour and a half drive the long way, or 45 minutes or so for those who brave the Monkey Road and the water crossing requires this route.
From San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport you’ll have quite the haul, more than a four hour drive.
Once you arrive, you will need to valet or park your car as other than a few of the homes on the outskirt of the town, there is no car access.
Driving to Las Catalinas
Rental car companies will discourage drivers from taking the rental cars over Monkey Road. Two of our party ended up going that way. One with a hired driver, and the other would not recommend it. Either way, driving in Costa Rica, particularly at dark has its dangers. People, bikers and dogs like to hang out on the narrow roads with no street lights. One way bridges abound, as do steep, narrow curvy roads.
We found it helpful to have a car while in Las Catalinas. Much less for getting around the village than for exploring the surrounding area. Should you wish to just stay in the village, you may be better served hiring a driver than renting a car.
Hotels in Las Catalinas Costa Rica
Las Catalinas offers a couple of boutique hotels both in town and also perched above town for spectacular ocean views of the coastline.
This luxury hotel is situated on the hill above Las Catalinas Costa Rica and is touted as the romance destination. Children under twelve are not allowed, for a reason. Casa Chameleon may have the best views in town. But it is also a bit more of a walk to reach town. It is also home to the renowned restaurant, Sendido Norte,
Located in the heart of Las Catalinas village, just steps to the beach, Santarena Hotel is an elegantly designed hotel with a rooftop pool. Some of the hotel rooms offer private balconies.
Posada San Rafael
This villa operates as a hotel and offers four suites available for individual rent. This also seems like it might be a good option for larger groups to stay together. It also has a rooftop pool.
Las Catalinas Vacation Home Rentals
Our group was a total of 11 people ranging from ages four to over eighty. We opted to rent a villa.
Most of the homes and villas available for rent are managed by Beach Town Travel. However, we rented ours through VRBO and Tropical Homes.
It was pricey, but luxurious and came with a small private pool and one-car garage. There was a large outdoor dining area located just above the pool and an outdoor yoga studio on the lower level. Paths below led to an area of the beach that we often had entirely to our selves, and also led into town.
In hindsight, it may have been better to have stayed in town located for the youngsters and grandparents.
The advantage of renting through Beach Town Travel is that likely your accommodations will come with beach club access. We didn’t find this necessary as we had out own pool at our house. Though for fun one day we did splurge on the $15 per person entry fee to play and eat there.
Things to Do in the Las Catalinas Area
This is the main beach in front of Las Catalinas. There are a handful of benches set back in the shade. But many people bring their own beach chairs to set up. Access is easy from Las Catalinas village. And, the sunsets are beautiful.
This beach is a fairly short hike away on the local hiking trails. It is a smaller beach and a bit of a work out to get there. But the views along the way are spectacular. And, chances are that you may almost have the beach to yourself.
Hike & Bike
There are more than 40 kilometers of hiking and biking trails in Las Catalinas. Trail map here. Some of these connect the homes and Casa Chameleon on the south side of town to the village center. The more extensive trails run from the north side of town along the beach and through the preserve adjacent to Las Catalinas.
Pura Vida Ride in the town center has a variety of mountain bikes for rent.
The waters off of Playa Danta are ideal for boogie boarding, stand up paddle boarding or ocean kayaking. Again, Pura Vida Ride in town can rent any of these to you. We rented boogie boards for the kids one day. But honestly the kids were just as happy building sand castles and jumping in the waves.
I actually brought my own inflatable paddle board along. With Southwest Airlines two bags fly free, I figured why not. I was happy to be on my own board while learning to SUP on the ocean. My previous experience was limited to Colorado’s alpine lakes and rivers. The waves of the acean are much different to navigate, or at least to get out on while tide is coming in. My favorite Maui Jim’s ended up victim.
You’ll want to head over to Noasara, Tamarindo or another Guanacaste beach for surfing.
While this area is connected to a dry forest, not a rain forest, you will still be able to spot monkeys, iguanas and birds. One morning we awoke to monkeys balled up and sleeping in the tree above our villa. And, multiple days we passed them in the trees above the beach club. We spotted iguanas both in town and right outside our villa.
Core, the very unique outdoor gym in Las Catalinas offers yoga classes. But you can also ask your concierge to set up a private class at your villa.
For adventure you’ll want to day trip to surrounding rain forest areas.
Buena Vista del Rincon is a good spot to fit as much into one day as possible. It is over a two hour drive away, unless you go over the water crossing on Monkey Road. There you can slide the longest jungle waterslide in the world, ride horses, zipline, cross hanging bridges and then relax in hot springs. This is probably ideal for ages eight to fifty.
Diamonte is about an hour and a half drive away, unless you go over the water crossing on Monkey Road. My parents hired a drive who went this way making it a much quicker trip there and back. This park is better for all ages as there is an animal sanctuary as well as zipline.
Palo Verde National Park is a fun place to take a river tour and possibly see crocodiles, as well as monkeys and a variety of birds. It is an interesting ecosystem. And, the tour ends with a delicious typical lunch.
Arenal (La Fortuna) is a bit further away. I would recommend taking a couple of days to visit rather than a day trip.
I have heard that the La Leona Waterfalls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Costa Rica, and maybe the world. Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to go this trip. I suppose that means that we’ll have to make a return trip.
ATV tours are available out of Potrero and a great way to get around and see areas that aren’t reachable by car or foot. We did an ATV tour in Manual Antonio that was lots of fun.
Is Las Catalinas Safe?
Generally I’d always advise travelers to never bring expensive jewelry and to never leave items unattended. But we did here. We left our beach chairs and some personal items on the beach while we had lunch nearby and they were still there when we returned. I am not suggesting that you should do this. But there are security guards all around. I’d definitely be more careful in any other area of the country,
What have been some of your favorite things to do in Costa Rica? Have you been to Las Catalinas? What are your favorite Costa Rica destinations? Tell us in the comments!