Las Catalinas captures your soul. You won’t want to leave the tiny beachfront town, located on the Guanacaste coast of Costa Rica and surrounded by majestic mountains. Locals like to say the good life starts here, and they just might be right.
This is an unusual vacation spot. Las Catalinas is a master-planned community whose first houses and commercial buildings were completed in 2011. The town’s developers originally purchased 1,200 acres of land, but plan to leave 1,000 acres as a natural forest preserve. The remaining land is divided into several walkable neighborhoods with a look reminiscent of a hilly European village, with narrow brick and embedded stone passageways and lots of colonial architecture.
There are no mega hotels in Las Catalinas, and no cars on the roads. Visitors stay in one of the town’s fabulous condos or homes, all constructed close to one another. The roughly 240 full-time residents, who come from other parts of Costa Rica and from around the globe, form a self-contained community of sorts. While the town’s history is nontraditional, the ever-present mountains, ocean, flora and fauna make it clear that you’re in Costa Rica.
Limonada, an outdoor restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is a center of activity at Las Catalinas. Many of its wooden tables are a short distance to the beach. You won’t forget sitting there and watching the sunset while drinking a specialty cocktail, or one of the house-infused margaritas, such as the wild passion jalapeno margarita with infused tequila, triple sec, passion fruit and lime. Once darkness falls, the restaurant is lit only with strands of lovely, festive white lights. The scenery sets the tone and the food completes the good vibe.
Expect creative cuisine from chef Carlos Acuna — international fusion and local tastes with a twist. Start your dinner with appetizers like the Snapper Carpaccio, with ginger citrus, olives, grilled corn, spicy mayo, red onion chives, sweet potato chips, hearts of palm and chili flakes, or the Asiatica Ceviche, with roasted garlic, grilled corn, crispy pejibaye, crispy malanga and tomato ginger. Seafood is plentiful, as well as steaks and vegetarian fare. What sticks in my mind, though, is the Limonada Patacones, with fried green plantains, an avocado-olive spread, chicken, chives and bean puree. What a wonderful flavor explosion.
A second dining option is the recently opened tri-level Beach Club. The ocean views from up there are spectacular. The menu focuses on tacos — grilled fish, chicken, beef, shrimp — and tequila. The tequila bar is stocked with Milagro, Don Julio, Patron, Jarana and Jose Cuervo 1800, with three varieties of each.
Or forget about dining out. Buy the groceries and a “house mom” will make you an authentic Costa Rican breakfast. If your heart so desires, private chefs are available to whip up whatever you like for dinner, or even to handle all the fixings for a romantic dinner at the beach. Unlike an all-inclusive resort, though, all food, beverages, concierge services, in-room massages, tours and rental equipment cost extra.
The great outdoors
After enjoying all the great food, you’ll want to get rid of your guilt by taking advantage of the area’s many outdoor activities. There are about 25 miles of hiking trails suitable for all fitness levels, and the views are spectacular. During your adventure in the dry forest you’re likely to spot deer, raccoon, monkeys, iguanas and an array of birds. People come from all over the world to hike the hills around Las Catalinas, especially the trail that connects Danta and Dantita beaches. Ambitious visitors run or bike the trails. Even a nonathlete like me managed to do pretty well, hiking for nearly two hours until I got too confident, forgot my clumsiness, and let go of the guide’s hand at what proved to be the wrong moment. My tumble gave me a nice black-and-blue souvenir, but also bragging rights that I finished my trail.
Visitors can also work out in the Beach Club’s fully equipped gym or swim in the elevated infinity pools, which have panoramic views of the ocean and striking Verde Tikal marble and piedra coralina floors.
Water lovers will be in heaven, whether they’re boogie boarding, swimming in the calm, clear blue waters, kayaking, paddleboarding or jet skiing. You can rent equipment at Pura Vida Ride, not far from Limonada. Be adventurous. Despite my history with kayaking — a decade later family and friends still make fun of me for never getting far beyond the dock, and my best friend in the world will never get in a kayak with me again — I ventured off with a guide to slay my kayak demons. This time it seemed to go better. It’s hard to know. The guide was doing most of the work and was very kind. Mostly, though, just being in the middle of nowhere in all that water does something for the spirit. I was glad I didn’t chicken out.
Music in the night
Limonada typically features live music on the weekends, featuring salsa, bossa nova and other styles for dancers to sweat to. If you’re lucky, you might be in town during one of the restaurant’s quarterly parties, when there is a theme like salsa or Cuban night and customers dress accordingly. Outdoor movie screenings are held some evenings, and if you can’t resist the temptation to just chill, hammocks await you, as do in-room massages.
Explore the region
Much as you’ll love Las Catalinas, take the time to explore a bit. Just five minutes away, in Portero, are several nice restaurants. Also nearby are beach towns where you can swim, paddleboard and enjoy great food. Coco Loco, located on Flamingo Beach, features a mixture of American and local specialities, with an emphasis on seafood. Argentinian steak lovers must indulge themselves at Patagonia in Tamarindo. Ginger, a popular spot in Playa Hermosa, serves up Asian-style tapas. If you’re hankering to learn to surf, you can do so in Playa Grande, home to some of the most famous waves in all of Costa Rica and less than an hour from Las Catalinas. The folks at Las Catalinas can arrange sailboat and fishing trips, whitewater rafting on the Tenorio River (two hours away), tours of national parks, as well as adventures to nearby hot springs and mud baths.
Truth is, whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong in Las Catalinas.
Sheryl Nance-Nash, For The Tennessean
If you go
Where to stay:
Las Catalinas, Costa Rica
Potrero, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Where to eat outside Las Catalinas:
Coco Loco, Flamingo
Flamingo Beach Road
15 Calle del Parque, Tamarindo