Preserving Paradise: Las Catalinas' Journey in Conservation

September 15, 2023

At the heart of Las Catalinas lies a deep-seated commitment to living in harmony with nature. From its inception, all facets of Las Catalinas' planning and construction have been designed with respect for the natural world. Anchored in the principles of new urbanism, Las Catalinas advocates for promoting high-density construction within a confined area, reserving only 20% of town’s total land area for residences or commercial areas. This integrated approach aims to not only enhance the well-being of the community but also preserve the environment.  


Out of the 472 hectares of the project, only 94 hectares have been allocated for development, dedicating 377 hectares for conservation and habitat restoration, safeguarding water resources, and promotion of alternative environmental services such as regenerative agriculture, outdoor recreation, and fostering a deeper connection with nature. 


Costa Rica is renowned for hosting an astonishing six percent of the Earth's biodiversity, despite occupying only 0.03 percent of its land surface. This rich diversity includes iconic species like sloths, toucans, iguanas, humpback whales, and other species that are exclusive to the region. Safeguarding these unique species is paramount in maintaining a fragile ecological balance. Las Catalinas focuses its conservation efforts on rejuvenating the tropical dry forest, the native ecosystem of the surrounding region, and one of the most important ecosystems in the neotropics.  


The Early Stages of Conservation 


With the initial development of Las Catalinas, the preserved green space land faced considerable challenges. The ecosystem was weak, and forested areas were sparse due to factors like pastureland use, a lack of protection against forest fires, and the constant threat of rampant poaching. However, over the last decade, the green space has undergone a remarkable transformation thanks to the collaborative efforts of the community. Leading the charge in the conservation initiatives at Las Catalinas is Michael Garcia, a passionate advocate for Costa Rica's forests. Michael is also a seasoned trail designer with over twenty years of experience in ecotourism, community engagement, and wildlife conservation advocacy and enforcement. 


The Role of Multi-Use Trails in Conservation  


The development of the reforestation team was the first step in rejuvenating the preserved land. Their presence and patrolling of the area immediately began to deter poachers, especially as they began to replant trees and put into place their first major project: the single-track hiking and mountain biking trails. 


It might seem counterintuitive that any development within a forest could contribute positively to conservation efforts. However, the multi-use trails within Las Catalinas have proven to be immensely valuable in rejuvenating the forest and preventing forest fires. They serve a dual purpose by effectively combating issues like runoff and erosion caused by wind and rain, functioning as a drainage system and a natural structural support for the forest ecosystem. 


Unlike some regions where forest fires naturally clear dead brush as part of a cyclical process, fire does not play an intrinsic role in the Guanacaste ecosystem. In this immediate area, forest fires can ignite for distinct reasons, including hunting, land clearance by farmers, stray brush, or accidental sparks from yard waste fires. Before purchasing Las Catalinas in 2006, substantial portions of the area would burn every year. The multi-use trails incorporate sustainability, local materials, and responsiveness to the topography, serving as a natural defense mechanism against forest fires. These trails prevent fire spreads and provide quick access routes for the forest fire brigade to combat and suppress wildfires.

Thanks to these conservation efforts, no uncontrolled fires have taken place within Las Catalinas’ history. The fire brigade maintains over eighty kilometers of firebreaks and two thousand hectares of area within Las Catalinas and neighboring properties. With effective fire control measures in place, the regeneration of the tropical dry forest can be significantly accelerated and enriched through strategic tree-planting initiatives. 


Reforestation Efforts 



Since 2007, Las Catalinas has embarked on an ambitious reforestation initiative, planting more than 5,000 trees comprising thirteen native tree species. These trees have been sourced from local nurseries in Guanacaste, ensuring their adaptation to the regional climate and contributing to the local economy. The planting process has engaged local school children and staff members who have carefully placed these trees in ravines and watersheds to promote water conservation. 


 Wildlife in Las Catalinas 


The tropical dry forest within Las Catalinas is full of a diverse array of animal life, making it a common sight to encounter monkeys, coatis, deer, peccaries, and an array of exotic bird species. The dedicated reforestation team plays a pivotal role in nurturing this vibrant animal kingdom. 


Hunting is prohibited within Las Catalinas, with forestry workers and security staff unwaveringly enforcing this regulation. In rare instances where unwanted interactions with wildlife occur in urban areas, humane relocation is used, ensuring creatures, like raccoons, are safely transferred to remote areas within the property's tropical dry forest habitat. 


To provide essential support for wildlife, stone watering holes have been thoughtfully constructed in the ravines of Las Catalinas, ensuring a year-round supply of drinking water for animals. These watering holes are meticulously maintained by our team, effectively combatting the challenges posed by drought and other environmental stresses. 


Areas of town feature clever solutions to blend conservation seamlessly with development. For instance, hanging ropes create "monkey bridges" that allow monkeys and other wildlife to crossroads and power lines safely. The Monkey Corridor, nestled between the forest and beachfront, as well as the bridges spanning the protected mangrove just north of Playa Danta, exemplify Las Catalinas’ commitment to harmonizing nature and urban living. While strolling along the beachfront, it is a common sight to witness monkeys, iguanas, and birds coexisting with daily life, but within town’s green spaces, these conservation efforts are most prominently visible. 


In July 2019, six motion-activated video cameras were installed across town's 1,000-acre tropical dry forest reserve. These cameras continuously capture footage of the wildlife residing in the area, enabling the identification, and counting of each species. This initiative, conducted in partnership with Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, aims to highlight Costa Rica's hidden and breathtaking animal inhabitants to the public. Each recorded animal sighting is meticulously tracked and cataloged as part of our ongoing efforts to study and document the rich wildlife diversity on our property and in the Guanacaste, Costa Rica region. This video footage shows that because of careful reforestation endeavors, the landscape has flourished with lush vegetation, attracting larger mammals and birds back to the area, marking a tangible testament to the success of our conservation initiatives. 


Community Collaborations 


Las Catalinas actively fosters a culture of coexistence with wildlife and nature within our community. This involves encouraging not only residents but also operators, suppliers, and visitors to deeply respect the natural world and refrain from engaging in unwanted behaviors or actions, such as feeding or physically interacting with wild animals. Our commitment to nurturing this coexistence remains unwavering. Environmental endeavors beyond town’s borders are actively supported. Las Catalinas supports several local NGOs with conservation and community well-being goals. We take immense pride in our partnership with several organizations, prominently including Vida Verdiazul and FUNDECODES. 


Vida Verdiazul is a nonprofit group established in 2010 with the mission to champion the conservation of sea turtles and the Nandamojo River basin. Their headquarters are located on the neighboring beach of Playa Junquillal in Santa Cruz. 


FUNDECODES is a foundation tirelessly contributing to the conservation and management of natural resources in protected areas, particularly in the Tempisque Conservation Area. Their multifaceted initiatives encompass activities ranging from firefighting to environmental education programs, among other vital efforts. 


Towards a Greener Tomorrow 


When questioned about his work and the conservation achievements at Las Catalinas, Michael Garcia responds with enthusiasm: “Since the founding of Las Catalinas in 2006, there has been a concentrated effort to revitalize these 1,000 acres and protect them in perpetuity as a wildlife reserve. Seeing those efforts come to life in vivid color is exciting, especially after years of work, and it marks another milestone in nature conservation for us and all of Costa Rica.” 


Town's urban development approach, characterized by meticulous planning, advocates for high-density construction distributed across a limited total footprint. This minimizes environmental impact by reducing impervious surfaces, necessitating less infrastructure, and preserving substantial green and recreational spaces. 


Las Catalinas is poised to emerge as a global exemplar of a revitalized tropical dry forest. This achievement stems from a fundamental belief that has shaped the essence of Las Catalinas: that towns flourish when they exist in harmony with the natural world, fostering an environment where residents and visitors alike can experience a sustainable, healthier, more enriching, and enjoyable way of life. Looking ahead, Las Catalinas remains steadfast in its commitment to nurturing and safeguarding nature, placing it at the core of our values. Las Catalinas aims to set a precedent for future developments in the new tropical regions of the world as an inspiring example of the harmonious coexistence of human civilization and the natural environment.