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 became the most recent multi-gen vacation destination for a Thanksgiving trip for our family, not just once, but twice. 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 water of the Pacific Ocean on this aptly named Costa Rican gold coast.
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. Mountain 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 first visit. From healthy and deliciously refreshing smoothies to tuna poke 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 the Papayago Brew House with a limited menu, but fun swings. My husband was able to catch his football game there.
Limonada has been replaced with a new high-end beachfront restaurant Celeste.
There’s a new asian restaurant, Tamaki, that we all enjoyed. They had surprisingly good sushi.
This visit we also enjoyed fresh pasta from Ponciana, located in Hotel Santarena.
The only restaurant in Las Catalinas that we didn’t try, for no good reason, was Pascual, featuring tapas.
We also had dinner catered to the house from Copper and Stone. This was really good, and a way to have a nice meal in a more casual environment.
Sendido Norte at Hotel Chameleon doesn’t allow children under 12 so we forwent visiting this romantic restaurant just steps 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 international 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. The Liberia airport is the closest. 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 (paid bridge with limited hours at The Congo Trail) required for 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.
In November of 2023 the road into town was particularly torn up with quite a bit of construction, making it a bit harder to get in and out for day trips. It made some of our group late on more than one occasion.
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.
Casa Chameleon Hotel
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 romantic restaurant, Sentido 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. It is also home to Ponciana Restaurant and Luis, a friedly bartender who makes an excellent margarita.
Posada San Rafael
This villa operates as an inn and offers four suites available for individual rent., or the entire home available to a large group We made this our home for a week in November of 2023. They layout is ideal for a group of families or friends with plenty of privacy for each. But with gathering spaces for all. It offers the peaceful sound of fountains running as well as a couple of very small plunge pools to cool off in.
Notably, this villa comes with a house mom, Flor, who will make you breakfast, lunches and even afternoon snacks.
Posada San Rafael also offers access to the Las Catalinas Beach Club which we found a fun spot to enjoy lunch and splashing in the pools during our first visit.
Unfortunately the Beach Club went under construction in November 2023. Over Thanksgiving the main pool was open but with construction going on around. We had the opportunity to meet the new owner and I am sure the end result will be much improved. But from the end of 2023 into likely most of 2024 this amenity will not be as available or peaceful.
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 as vacation rentals 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 plunge 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, for the youngsters and grandparents. The views from the hill above are spectacular. But walking the trails or up and down the steep stairs was a workout.
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 ocean 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 Playa Grande, Noasara, Tamarindo or another Guanacaste beach for surfing though.
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, as does the Center of Joy. 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 driver 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 nearby 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.
You can find surfing at Playa Grande about an hour drive away, as well as a couple of other beaches in the area.
Catamaran tours and sport fishing tours go out of Flamingo marina just a few minutes away. This is a great way to see marine life and catch the beautiful sunsets from the ocean.
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 much more careful in almost any other place.
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!