Las Catalinas: Building a Town

by Catherine Trifiletti

How a tech millionaire from Atlanta is turning 1,200 acres on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Coast into an ecologically sustainable destination. 

An overhead view of Las Catalinas

Las Catalinas is brimming with what the Costa Rican town’s founder Charles Brewer, calls “happy people.” Whether it’s expats who have claimed residence along the ecologically-diverse coastline or visitors taking advantage of the establishment’s 26 miles of hiking and biking paths, the beach town radiates a Utopian vibe.

Brewer, 61, a computer engineer-turned-real estate developer, may be the happiest traveler in the bunch. The Atlanta-native, who made his fortune at the helm of web service provider MindSpring Enterprises during the Internet boom is now putting his energy into restoring and revitalizing land off Costa Rica’s northwest shoreline.

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The ambitious project, which began in 2009 and won’t be fully realized for another few decades, is modeled in the vein of “new urbanism,” a city planning formula that celebrates inclusion and interaction with nature. You won’t find oppressive gates or cars along the walkable cobblestone paths that connect dozens of highly-designed public squares, private villas, studios, flats and Las Catalinas’ new Santarena Hotel (from $295).

The town’s construction, will eventually grow up the hill and out from the coast, with the addition of schools, shops, a hospital and affordable housing for the local community.

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Brewer bought the farmland with the intention of restoring it to its original state – a tropical dry forest ecosystem. Through the prevention of wildfires, restoration of native trees (more than 5,000 have been planted over the last decade) and strict policing on hunting, Brewer is well on his way to achieving his vision.

The masterminds behind the scenes are full-time town architects who have turned to famous piazzas and hilltop communities across the globe for inspiration. The site includes a fully functional “wood shop” where more than 400 local workers craft finishes, flooring and tiles. An in-house interior designer helps ensure new construction aligns with the property’s “colonial Spanish” style, and actively sources from local vendors, keeping with the goal of integrating with Costa Rica’s rich culture and landscape rather than dictating it. Whenever the property’s shiny new features threaten to feel cookie cutter, a consideration is made to combat it.

Las Catalinas’ mission of healthy, sustainable and communal living is authenticated by its staff, residents and visitors alike. The Costa Rican tag line “pura vida,” or “simple life,” holds extra weight in the town. Yes, there are pools, swoon-worthy public beaches (Playa Danta and Playa Dantita), but it’s the thoughtfulness, kindness and genuine passion of its people that jolt the beach town to life.

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LOUNGE

Villas, condos and the new Santarena Hotel are available lodging options.

SNACK

Enjoy the town’s several dining options or hire a private chef for a meal spotlighting local cuisine.

RECREATE

Stand up paddle board, biking, hiking and surfing are just a few of the activities readily available on site. Pura Vida Ride has all your rental needs covered (and killer coffee).

CONVERSE

The town was built around a community of like-minded people, so don’t be shy.

GET THERE

Direct flights from BWI will get you to Liberia Airport in 3.5 hours. From there you can take back roads via car and save yourself 45 minutes, but buckle up and be prepared for what the locals call a “Costa Rican massage.”

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