Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

Photo: Pura Vida Ride

It’s time for the big reveal. You slip out from under a brightly patterned blanket, walk across the cool floor, pull apart the curtains, and open the glass doors of your villa. Your jaw drops when you see the view. There’s a wide terrace with sun loungers in front of you. The salt water in the plunge pool drops off its infinity edge. The tops of trees and sandy beaches are below that. Calm turquoise water and the rugged Pitahaya Islands are in the distance. The picturesque scene is only interrupted by a brown pelican that flies by at practically eye level. You already like Las Catalinas.

By the time you arrived in Northwestern Costa Rica last night, it was already dark. Though only a 45-minute drive from the airport in Liberia, you took a few wrong turns and managed to get lost as you drove along the sometimes narrow, sometimes steep, and mostly ill-maintained roads to the coast. Even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it was a rough trip. You were relieved when you finally reached Casa Chameleon. But, due to the darkness, you weren’t able to enjoy the view from the hillside hotel. At least Sentido Norte Restaurant & Lounge was still open. You sipped a Casarita cocktail while you waited for your rare seared tuna salad to arrive. Then you retired to your villa and quickly fell asleep.

Las Catalinas is a new beach town along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Most of its land—almost 1,000 of its 1,200 acres to be exact—is part of a natural forest reserve. It’s covered with a dense green jungle. Howler monkeys, pizotes (white-nosed coatis, which are related to raccoons), and peccaries (wild pigs) call it home. Twenty-five kilometers of hiking and mountain biking trails have been carved into it. While two black-sand beaches, Playa Danta and Playa Danita, look like volcanic ash along the coast.

Photo: Casa Chameleon Hotels

So, now that you can see the gorgeous view that lured you to Las Catalinas, what’s your plan for the day? You’re already in the plunge pool on your terrace. You climbed in right after you opened your villa’s doors. Breakfast sounds good after that. You’ll return to the open-air restaurant for a strong café con leche, a power smoothie, and housemade corn tortillas with crispy chicharrón (fried pork belly) and mashed avocado. Then, fortified for the rest of the morning, you’ll hike Punta Guachipelines. The ridge trail winds out to the edge of the peninsula, where cliffs drop down to the ocean on three sides.

After that, when the sun will be hot overhead, it’s beach time. You can take a paddleboard lesson or rent a sea kayak at Pura Vida Ride. You can drink a frozen coconut lemonade, eat tropical ceviche, and watch howler monkeys play from a picnic table in the sand at Limonada. Or you can just sit in a beach chair and relax in the sun.

Just be sure to head back up the hill to the hotel when shadows start to overtake the beach. You don’t want to miss what everyone claims is an amazing sunset again. You’ll quickly rinse off the sand and the sunscreen in your glass-walled shower and then head to the lounge. You’ll sit on a couch facing the water, try a different cocktail from the menu, and munch on homemade chips and guacamole as you wait for nature’s show to begin. You love everything that Las Catalinas has revealed so far.

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