This car-free city is Costa Rica’s best kept secret

Birds-eye view of Las Catalinas Beach Town Photo credit: Las Catalinas

Costa Rica is a legendary eco-friendly destination. It attracts adventurers and nature lovers to its cloud forests, diverse wildlife, picturesque beaches, incredible national parks and epic outdoor experiences. However, this Central American country’s best kept secret is a quiet, car-free beach town called Las Catalinas† Though it may resemble medieval Europe, everything about this coastal utopia, from its guiding principles and renewable energies to its kind-hearted people, is purely Costa Rican.

Located in 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 city rises to the top to conserve space, leaving as much forest as possible for wildlife. The development is based on the principles of the New Urbanism movement, which favors upward development and intimate spaces as opposed to sprawling low-density development.

Whether you are looking for a permanent home, short term rental or a sustainable holiday, Las Catalinas brings you closer to nature and together.

The Beginning of Las Catalinas

Charles Brewer, an American entrepreneur and founder of the Internet provider Mindspring, had a vision. He imagined a coastal village inspired by Mediterranean hill towns, and bought land in Guanacaste in 2006. Las Catalinas began developing Beach Town in 2009, with a focus on environmentally conscious design, pedestrian neighborhoods, mixed-use buildings, studio apartments and multi-bedroom villas, each building with its own architecture.

Beach Town’s gateless community spans just 19 acres (out of 1,200 acres) and offers residents and vacationers 40 miles of hiking and biking trails in the surrounding tropical dry forest. Private and public spaces come together to provide social interaction. Outdoor spaces are intimate, shaded and centered around attractive fountains. The aim was to create a community where people are just as likely to enjoy the view from their balconies as they are when they have lunch with friends at one of the seaside restaurants, or gather for surfing, hiking or mountain biking.

Scenic vistas and surprises at every turn

The Beach Town may seem compact, but it has two hotels, 142 residences, eight restaurants, shops, offices, a beach club, supermarket, wellness retreat and plazas, recreational facilities, all connected by a maze of cobbled pedestrian streets and stair paths, all without the 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 different villas, with all the different facades and designs, transporting you to places like Tuscany, New Orleans or Valencia. At every turn, scenic vistas of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and a different design element catch your eye—whether it’s chalet-inspired facades in Switzerland, brightly colored doors and windows, or cactus-enclosed abodes in Scottsdale.

There’s a reason Las Catalinas doesn’t have motorized vehicles. It allows people to walk together, get to know their neighbors and enjoy all that the city has to offer. With everything just steps away, it’s convenient to dine at seaside restaurants such as La Taqueria or Limonada, spend a day at the WAKE Day Spa, go shopping, or just hang out at Plaza Central.

For those seeking adventure, the outdoor outfitter, Pura Vida Ride, offers tours of the area and rentals of stand-up paddle boards, mountain bikes, kayaks, and other ocean and mountaineering equipment. With no cars disrupting the streets, kids can safely run around, play football and enjoy their time under the sun. Fitness enthusiasts can keep fit with a variety of classes and workout plans 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 in your winter residence, a day at the Beach Club is sure to relax. Perched on a bluff on the edge of the Beach Town, this meeting place offers a host of amenities including an adult infinity pool, lounge terrace, 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 residents and visitors of Las Catalina, a minimal ecological footprint is of the utmost importance. 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 pigments to prevent disintegration by the salty air. Wood such as Guanacaste, Melina and teak is locally and sustainably sourced, can withstand the climate and is resistant to termites. The terracotta clay tiles that give the city a Mediterranean feel are perfectly equipped to withstand fire, rot from rain and wind damage.

Buildings are designed to allow adequate natural ventilation, without excessive air conditioning, to encourage energy efficiency. Las Catalinas draws energy from Costa Rica’s grid, which is powered by renewable energy sources. A state-of-the-art on-site water treatment plant converts wastewater that can be used for irrigation and forest firefighting. Because water is a prized resource in the often arid province, Las Catalinas ensures wildlife safety by building and maintaining stone waterholes in the canyons to provide drinking water year-round. To be even more positive for the environment, since 2007 the community has planted more than 5,000 trees of native evergreen species and launched a recycling awareness campaign for visitors and community members.

Environmentally aware living is strongly encouraged. Within Beach Town, local partner ConnectOcean promotes ocean conservation through 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 that undertake numerous environmental and social initiatives in Guanacaste.


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

  • Cost: Room rates start at $200 per night

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

  • Cost: Vacation rental rates range from $180 to $7,000 per night

Future of Las Catalinas

In the coming years, Las Catalinas will expand with Beach Town North and El Prado. Life in Beach Town North will revolve around Plaza del Mercado, with restaurants and shops on the ground floor for small business owners. Townhouses, apartments, villas and a hostel are being built around the market.

East of Beach Town will be El Prado, another hilltop town to complement the existing village, spread over 60 acres with a main road, plazas, shops, cafes, sidewalks and housing options with condos, townhouses, houses and lots for larger homes. The Parque Central (Central Park) will offer four tennis courts, a neighborhood pool, playing fields and an abundance of walking trails. Many of the houses open directly onto the existing path network.

get there

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

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