What to see, eat and do.
First time in Costa Rica? Returning? Either way my advice is the same, meet the Ticos (native Costa Ricans, as they are self described). As a whole I have never met a kinder group of people.
Before landing in Costa Rica's Liberia airport, you'll first have to decide whether to rent a car and make your way to Las Catalinas on your own or schedule a driver (through Concierge) to arrange your trip. Either way you are a 45 minute trek through Sardinal, Artola, Nuevo Colon over the Monkey Trail (warning this is not paved, so sit back relax and enjoy the free massage) into Potrero and finally a breathtaking 5 KM along the coast to Las Catalinas.
Your first stop in Las Catalinas is Plaza Central, where you can leave your luggage, car (Las Catalinas is a car free zone) and worries. Pick up your house keys, a schedule of activities for your stay and either take the 2 minute walk or golf cart to Casa Blanca. Soon your bags will arrive and this is a great time to get out and get your bearings. Also, since most flights arrive in the early afternoon, a great chance to grab lunch. I suggest the Beach Club, just steps from the house.
You'll have just enough time to explore town and take a dip before heading up the hill to Casa Chameleon, an adults (and teens, 12+) only hotel who's sunset view is one of the best in the world. Reservations are required and I suggest making them before your arrival, but if you missed this note, ask Concierge, they can often get you in, particularly outside of high season. Another reminder, the sun sets in Costa Rica at 5:30 ish all year round, so be sure to be on your way by 5. You can plan for dinner there or come back to Las Catalinas for a casual dinner at Limonada on the beach. As noted, the sun sets early in Costa Rica and most visitors and locals alike fall into the up early, out early pattern.
The coffee at Las Catalinas is quite good, better than that, it is delicious. The Beach Club and Copper and Stone (Las Catalinas's gourmet market) are the first open, serving coffee at six. Pura Vida Ride and Limonada open at seven*. All make an excellent cup of coffee in a dreamy setting to read the paper or simply watch the birds, or the waves as town wakes up. It is also a good time to hike or mountain bike. There are over 22 Km of trails in Las Catalinas and each with a unique perspective of town, the mountains and the sea. Many days there are fitness classes offered, check the schedule you picked up at check-in. HIIT and Yoga are favorites. Juliana (pronounced Huliana), Casa Blanca's house mom, arrives at eight and you will want to have worked up an appetite for her Gallos Pinto, the traditional Costa Rican breakfast.
* Santarena Hotel is just opening as I write this, and will, I am sure, be another excellent addition for morning coffee!.
Two thoughts for today.
1. Spend the day enjoying Las Catalinas. Massages at Wake Spa. Paddle Boarding or Kayaking. Indulging in a great book at the Beach Club. A walk at low tide to Playa Danta's white sand neighbor, Playa Dantita (this is great fun with little ones to explore the tide pools).
2. Did you rent a car? Take a ride to Playa Grande thirty minutes south. A private surf instructor from Frijoles Locos will set you back $120 for up to 4 people including boards and rash guards. Playa Grande is widely known as one of the best surf beaches in all of Costa Rica. It is uncrowded, unspoiled and beautiful. Just before arriving to Frijoles Locos on the right is a charming restaurant and shop, Pots and Bowls. Juliana, the owner, has exceptional taste, both with the food she makes and the items she carries in her shop (she put together the succulents on the dining room table). Worth a stop for breakfast, lunch, or just a snack. Kids love her homemade popsicles and everyone her healthy, delicious bowls, toasts and smoothies. My favorite is a toss up between the Orzo bowl and Mushroom toast. Gee loves the Strawberry, Almond Butter and Honey toast.
Copper and Stone is just a two minute walk from the house and a great afternoon stop to pick up fresh meat, seafood, vegetables and prepared sides for a delicious dinner on the grill. The kitchen at Casa Blanca has everything you need to prepare a simple or gourmet meal. For those that would prefer to leave the cooking to others, private chefs are available through Concierge. Either at the house or in a private setting around Las Catalinas.
A visit to Las Catalinas no matter how short is not complete without time on the water. We love to sail with Matteo, Luca and the crew of Manta Ray*.
*Manta Ray is a catamaran and perfect for tooling around, for those looking to explore the famous fishing waters of this area, I highly recommend Sea Star Fishing Charters (seastarcr.com).
Sailing tours are $85/person, for larger parties it is not much more to charter the whole boat, $100/person with a minimum of 6 people (or at least paying for the 6 person minimum). In my opinion, this is always worth the extra cost.
There are two sailings, morning and sunset. Whichever you choose, a stop at the Surf Box before or after is a must do. The marina is 15 minutes south of Las Catalinas and the Surf Box is on the way. Run by one of our favorite Costa Rican couples (though they are from Philadelphia and Montreal), Dan and Natasha, the food and the menu are fantastic. I could eat here every single day, and often do. I love the Cold Brew (coffee) and if I must choose, the La Mexicana is my favorite, wheat toast, avocado mash, chili flakes, jalepenos, scrambled eggs and bacon if you wish. If it sounds big, it is, easily sharable. Gee loves the Acai Bowl, and we both love to splurge on the Ricotta Pancakes. While we mostly visit in the mornings, their lunch and dinner are fantastic too (shrimp tacos!)!
If you have gone fishing, you will likely return to Las Catalinas with dinner. On your way back to the house drop your catch at Limonada and let them prepare it for you to enjoy beachside later in the evening. You will not be disappointed, and this coming from someone who is not a fish person per se.
Most flights leave early afternoon from Liberia, which gives you the morning on your last day to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the house or on the beach at the Beach Club or Limonada. Take a stroll through town, pop in Mhari and Ivan's shop, Pula, on the bottom side of Plaza Central for a take home. They carry beautiful local and curated items.
There is never enough time in Las Catalinas, which means, you'll just have to come back.