An astoundingly beautiful area, Dominical is known as the place where the mountains crash into the sea. Lush rainforest lined hills surround this small pueblo and frame the volcanic rock and white sand beaches. Many describe this laid back area as the Manuel Antonio of 20 years ago. The town itself is small with a few connecting dirt roads which are lined with shops, restaurants and small bars making it reminiscent of the old Costa Rica.
Free Vacation Planning
The recently opened Costanera Highway has given paved access down the coast allowing for a shorter and easier drive to San Jose. Only time will tell if this is positive for the area. These days, the lost paradise feel is nice. The beaches are lined with palm trees and you won't find any fast food restaurants or high-rises.
Though the beaches are beautiful, they are not for swimming. This is a surfers paradise with big waves that usually provide consistent breaks. The surfing is so good here that the Billabong company sponsors annual competitions and it is considered among the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica.
Swimmers can venture further down the coast to Playa Dominicalito for better swimming conditions; though please do use caution as larger waves can come in quickly. If you must swim on the main Dominical Beach, only do so in front of lifeguards and look out for red flag areas, which indicate riptides.
Planning a vacation to Dominical
When planning a vacation to Dominical, we recommend a 3 – 5 day stay. This is an area with plenty to offer. Staying less time will not allow enough time to see the area’s attractions. Staying more will take away from visiting other parts of the country.
There are many budget hotels in Dominical, no luxury hotels and only a few mid-range accommodations. Out of those, we recommend Villas Rio Mar and Cuna del Angel (a little south of town). Anybody seeking a true ecolodge should not overlook Hacienda Baru, which is located a little north of town.
Aside from surfing, there are plenty of options for activities and tours in Dominical. If you have wildlife observation in your plans, there are few better places! Finca Baru National Wildlife Refuge is an eco-tourist paradise where several hundred species of birds have been identified. They also offer canopy zipline tours, tree climbing and many other activities. Not to be overlooked, the Osa Peninsula is within driving distance and tour operators offer day trips to Corcovado National Park.
It is nice to have a rental car when visiting the Dominical area, but not necessary. You would want a rental car if you plan to explore the Costa Ballena coastline beaches and waterfalls. Alternatively, taxis are readily available and most tour operators pick up and drop off at your hotel.
Reasons to visit
Off the beaten path beach destination
Plenty of wildlife nearby
Whale watching is available at certain times of the year
The area retains the feel of the real Costa Rica
It is a good alternative if you cannot afford to stay in Drake Bay. (long) Day trips to Corcovado area available.
There are several national parks and refuges within an hour drive
There are a lot of waterfalls in the area
The beauty of the surrounding area of Dominical is stunning
Reasons NOT to visit
There are big waves and dangerous riptides
It is 4 hours from San Jose
There are no resorts or luxury accommodations
Tour operators (generally) are not quite as professional as those found in more developed areas
Going off the beaten path is not for everybody. A general rule of thumb is if you prefer cities to countryside, you should not go to Dominical.
How to get there
From San Jose: From San Jose, the drive is approximately 4 hours. Go west on Autopista del Sol (the Caldera Highway) to the town of Orotina and take the Costanera Sur Highway after the Pavon toll booth. Take the exit to Jaco and then continue all the way down the coast until you reach Dominical.
Weather and packing list
The South Pacific is a region of vast contrasts in weather. Temperatures remain the same nearly year round with average day time highs in the upper 80s to low 90s and night time lows in the upper 70s. Precipitation varies by month with the months of December through April being the driest.
Visitors should pack a bathing suit, towel, shorts, tee shirts, appropriate shoes, rain gear, sun block, and insect repellent.
Fun Fact: Just 30 years ago, Hacienda Baru was a cow pasture. Thanks to Jack Ewing's effort and vision, there are trees that soar well over a hundred feet and the rainforest has re-claimed the land.