Dominical, located 25km southwest of San Isidro, is a laidback, but ever-expanding surfing town in Costa Rica. It is made up of 4km of rainforest-backed beach. Despite the arrival of hordes of expats and a spate of hotel and property building in the last decade, it's still largely unspoilt. Plan your trip to Dominical with our guide to Dominical — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Dominical
With development for the most part relatively low-key, Dominical remains a good place to chill out by the beach and visit the nearby Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge and Nauyaca Waterfalls.
Dominical village consists of a dusty or muddy, unpaved, unnamed main street — it's where you’ll find most of the town’s bars and restaurants.
Leading south off Hwy-34, a connecting beachfront road heading southeast from the Río Barú is lined with hotels and surf schools.
Whatever the village might be lacking, it more than makes up for it with its main draw — surfing. Thousands flock here every year to ride the big waves that crash onto the town’s dark-sand beach.
As is usual with surfing beaches, the swimming varies from not great to downright dangerous, and is plagued by riptides and crashing surf.
About twenty minutes’ walk south along the beach brings you to a small cove, where the water is calmer and you can paddle and snorkel.
As seasons can often pass between major cultural events in Dominical, the collective enthusiasm on display at the excellent Envision Festival is that much more pronounced. Held over four days in mid- to late-February, this festival features a com-pelling slate of concerts, dance, multimedia performances and yoga classes.
Top attractions and things to do in Dominical
Costa Rica is known for its picture perfect beaches and great surfing. Most surf spots are world famous and are eagerly visited. Dominical is still one of the few places where you don't get overrun by travelers. Besides surfing, these are the best things to do in Dominical.
#1 Go surfing
Dominical is home to half a dozen surf schools offering lessons for around US$50 per person for a two-hour session.
On a side street towards the beach off the main road, Costa Rica Surf Camp is an excellent surf school with experienced and patient instructors. They offer a variety of six-night packages that include accommodation, daily lessons, area tours, meals and transportation, plus private instruction for all levels.
Just back from the seafront, Green Iguana Surf Camp is the longest-running surf school in Dominical, and still going strong. As well as lessons and rentals, they offer multi-night packages that include accommodation at a nearby hotel, tours, and airport transfers.
#2 Get back to nature on a horse-riding tour
Away from the water, the best way to pass a half-day is on Don Lulo’s horseback waterfall tour. The tour begins with a 1hr horse ride to Don Lulo’s home, where you have breakfast and visit his small private zoo.
From here, you continue on horseback with knowledgeable guides through lush rainforest, to the two cascades that make up the Cataratas Nauyaca. The principal one drops 46m into a sparkling pool where you can swim. A típico lunch cooked over an open flame on the return trip completes the day.
#3 Enjoy yoga
Danyasa Eco-Retreat is a highly regarded yoga studio and eco-resort offering some of the finest classes in the area in an open-air studio space.
Classes are held Mon–Sat 10am & 6.30pm, Sun 9am, 11am & 6.30pm. The resort also arranges kayaking, surf lessons, horse-riding, and waterfall excursions.
#4 Hike, climb and watch wildlife at at Hacienda Barú
The private reserve at Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge comprises over three-square kilometres of rainforest, mangroves and protected beach.
There’s enough here to occupy the better part of a day, with climbing trips, hiking trails and an exhilarating canopy tour. This involves swooping from platform to platform through primary rainforest, with guides on hand to impart a wealth of forest folklore.
Adventurers could opt for the nineteen-hour overnight hiking tour, which includes sleeping at their jungle cabins.
This is also a great spot for birders and orchid lovers. 250 varieties of orchid grow in the reserve, plus there’s a butterfly enclosure, and an observation tower set high in the forest canopy.
#5 Visti Parque Reptilandia
Educational, and particularly popular with kids, Parque Reptilandia boasts a series of landscaped gardens containing reptile habitats of all kinds.
Highlights incude giant tortoises and komodo dragons, plus strong representation of Costa Rica's venomous snakes, frogs and other reptiles.
#6 Explore Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
7km south of Dominical, the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary does an excellent job caring for around 75 to 100 creatures at any one time. It's one of a growing number of nonprofit rescue centres for injured animals in Costa Rica.
Tours highlight the centre’s rehabilitation techniques and provide encounters with some of the current guests. These include sloths, monkeys, macaws and toucans.
Best areas to stay in Dominical
In Dominical itself, most lodgings are basic and cater to the surfing community. That said, you’ll also find a number of more upmarket places, usually owned by foreigners.
There are also a string of increasingly lavish hotels and B&Bs along the coast road south towards Uvita (Hwy-34), a number of which are in the hamlets of Dominicalito and Escaleras.
- Cool Vibes Beach Hostel: cosy hostel with comfy dorms, private rooms and cheap surfboard rental. Cash only.
- Río Lindo Resort: comfortable rooms with private bathroom, a lovely pool, bar and whirlpool.
- Tribe Boutique Hotel: an adults only resort with beautiful gardens and friendly vibe.
Best places to stay in Dominical
Explore more places to stay in Dominical.
- Café Ensueño: the best breakfast spot in town, with fresh fruit smoothies and sublime gallo pinto.
- Del Mar Taco Shop: delicious fish, beef and chicken tacos and hefty burritos.
- Phat Noodle: not strictly authentic, but the classic Thai dishes are fresh and tasty.
- Soda y Restaurante Nanyoa: this diner serves Costan Rican classics at low prices. You can bring your own beer.
Best restaurants and bars in Dominical
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How many days do you need in Dominical?
While surfers may well want to visit Dominical for a couple of weeks (at least), non- and-newbie-surfers will also find enough to do here for a few days to a week.
With horse-riding trips and yoga classes available in town, plus rewarding excursions to the likes of waterfalls and wildlife reserves, it’s fair to say that Dominical offers some variety to visitors. This is especially true if you’re interested in nature.
What is the best time to visit Dominical?
If you’re planning to hike, ride horses, or kayak, the best time to visit Dominical is during the dry season. This runs from December to April.
That said, if you're coming to surf, Dominical is one of the few places in Costa Rica that always has waves, though wet season storms can make conditions tricky.
Another of the best times to visit Dominical is for the Envision Festival — a four-day blast of dance, music and multimedia performances held annually in mid- to late-February.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to Dominical
Dominical is about a 2.5 hour drive south of San Jose. It is therefore fairly easy to reach. These are your best options.
Buses usually make three stops in Dominical — outside Patron’s coming into the village; in the centre south of the football field, and further along the beach, where the bus turns around.
From San José, you’ll need to go to Quepos or San Isidro and change, or get one of the two daily Tracopa buses to Uvita (6am and 3pm) and ask to be dropped off at Dominical.
Heading back to San José, you can flag the Tracopa buses down on the main road (Hwy-34) at around 6am and 1.30pm.).
By shuttle bus
Most of the nation’s shuttle bus operators run direct routes between Dominical hotels and San José (4hr) and other major tourist hubs. These include Jacó (2hr), La Fortuna (6hr), Montezuma (5hr) and Puerto Jiménez (4hr).
Monkey Ride offers one-way shared rides from San José airport to hotels in Dominical.
While you can get to Dominical via San Isidro de El General or Quepos in any car, it makes sense to have a 4WD if you want to explore the surrounding area.
Taxis in San Isidro de El General will make the drive to Dominical. They usually gather around the central bus terminal.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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Top image: Play Uvita, Costa Rica, © Judith Lienert/Shutterstock