The popular surfing town of DOMINICAL, 44km southeast of Quepos and 25km southwest of San Isidro, may represent the face of things to come along this stretch of the Pacific coast. Previously a secluded fishing village, it has, since the paving of the coastal road and the laying down of electricity and phone lines, begun to expand dramatically. A glut of new hotels, shops and restaurants have opened in town, while the coastal areas to the south, still largely made up of unspoilt stretches of beach and rainforest, are rapidly being bought up by hungry property developers and hotel chains. It is, however, a good place to chill out by the beach and visit the nearby Hacienda Barú rainforest reserve, while the newly paved road to Quepos, which was finally completed in 2009, makes for easy access to the laidback village of Matapalo, 15km north.
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The stretch of coast that runs south from Dominical to the lovely shallow bay at Playa Tortuga is one of the most pristine in Costa Rica. As a consequence, it’s continually under siege from real-estate agents, who buy and sell plots of land as fast as they can persuade local fishermen and farmers to part with them. For the moment, though, this area encompasses a string of gloriously empty beaches as well as Parque Nacional Marino Ballena – fifty-six square kilometres of water around Uvita and Bahía created to safeguard the ecological integrity of the local marine life.
For its size, Matapalo has a wide range of accommodation, owned mostly by foreigners who have been waiting for years for the regional government to finally pave the road south from Quepos.
Given the lack of distractions, eating is a seriously popular pastime in Matapalo.
The Reserva Biológica Dúrika
Completely off the beaten track, the isolated RESERVA BIOLÓGICA DÚRIKA is a compelling mix of a agricultural-based community and private reserve where you can go on hikes and explore a working farm. Nestled within 21,000 acres of largely untouched and unexplored wilderness, it consists of only thirty or so permanent members (though it also is home to over twice as many semi-permanent residents and visitors). The community’s farm has enabled them to be entirely self-sufficient, and they offer tours where you can learn firsthand about their organic approach to farming. Members also lead guided hikes to nearby Bribrí and Cabécar villages and into the wildlife-rich reserve, where a variety of habitats are home to several endangered species, including Baird’s tapir. Guides also lead multi-day treks up one of Costa Rica’s highest peaks, Cerro Dúrika (3280m), part of the Cordillera Talamanca that cuts through the reserve.
The nearest town of any size to the reserve is Buenos Aires, about 50km south of Chirripó, and signposted a few kilometres north off the Interamericana on a paved road. In town the foundation’s office, just south of the Banco Nacional, can make reservations and provide information on the various tours and extended stay possibilities (call well in advance if you’re considering the latter).