More off-the-beaten path than most Costa Rican towns, Dominical is a beachy surfer town that’s shedding its hippie reputation. It’s just paved its main (and only) road, and that development has set it up for quick growth, according to Karl Van Horn, an American that uprooted to Costa Rica more than 10 years ago and now leads ATV and canyoning tours with Diamante Verde Tours in Dominical. “Manuel Antonio (30 mins north of Dominical) used to be the stopping point for a lot of travelers, but things spread south,” says Van Horn. “Dominical is the next Pacific coast town that’s going to take off in Costa Rica.” As it shakes off its barefoot personality, these are the draws that will carry Dominical toward becoming a juggernaut destination.
Costa Rica is a world-class surfing destination that attracts elite athletes to each coast. Experts are apt to head for the Caribbean coast since waves there are more powerful. The Pacific side — and this is where you’ll find Dominical — is well-suited for surfers of all levels. The beach breaks off Playa Dominical are some of the country’s most consistent all-year-round. Its rough waters and 10-foot-high waves are its calling card for surf die-hards. And the fact that each day on the calendar presents a suitable wave sets it apart from many other surf towns around the world. What was formerly a fishing village has transformed into a surf destination, and those that live there can’t get enough. Says veteran surf instructor and adventure guide, Henry Aguilera: “I’m a surfer, so I love that the water is super clean; that’s why I’m here.” And Aguilera has been surfing Dominical waves for more than 35 years. While in town, ask your Luxury Retreats concierge to seek out Dominical Surf Adventures for private or group lessons catering to all skill levels.
The Other Water Sports
Yes, we just covered surfing. But in Costa Rica, there’s surfing and then there’s everything else. Aside from its chief hobby, Costa Rica’s waters provide the opportunity to practice many more activities. For a laid back activity, join up with Dominical Surf Adventures for a guided tube ride on the Rio Baru, an easy-going river that runs up next to Dominical and leaks into the Pacific Ocean. The tour company also leads more high-octane rafting excursions nearby to Dominical at the Savegre River (appropriate for young children), Coto Brus River (beautiful scenery and wildlife), and Guabo River (with hiking and cliff jumping included). Some of the more laid back water activities are great for taking in all of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. “I love being in Dominical because it’s so pretty,” says Aguilera. “We have the mountains, and just across the road, there is a river for kayaking and whitewater rafting. Here, it’s like time has stopped.”
Hike a Waterfall
Just 12 minutes by car north of Dominical up the San Isidro highway, you’ll find the two-tiered Nauyaca Waterfalls hugging the Puntarenas-San José state border. For an easy day trip from a Dominical vacation rental, the Nauyaca trail is easy to access, yet off-the-beaten-path. You can hike the two and a half-mile trail on foot, though many prefer to reach the falls on horseback. Once you reach the trail’s end, there are two sets of falls combining to measure more than 200 feet in height. The upper falls provide the more exhilarating cliff jump (if you dare!) and some large, smooth rocks where you can lay out a blanket for a picnic. After that, you’ll want to make your way down to the lower falls. That’s where you’ll find a large pond at the base, a great reward at the completion of a hike to sunbathe and swim surrounded by lush greenery and cascading water.
Wildlife is all around you in Costa Rica, and the same is true in Dominical. Less than five miles south of Dominical, the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary is a rescue-rehabilitate-release center that cares for injured and orphaned wildlife until they can return to their natural habitat. The sanctuary offers guided tours in English and Spanish for all ages, and this includes learning the animals’ history, biology, and conservation needs. But what’s really special about touring the sanctuary is learning the individual rescue stories of each inhabitant, from spider monkeys and anteaters to raptors and kinkajous (a rainforest mammal related to raccoons). On the other side of Dominical, just two miles to the north, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge is another must-visit with 330 hectares of land, more than four miles of walking trails, and a whole slew of toucans, sloths, and more. While just 45 minutes by car from Manuel Antonio National Park, Hacienda Baru is a much less busy option. Meander up to the top of Lookout Trail for views of Playa Dominical, or establish position at the bird-watching tower and see how many of the refuge’s 365 species you can see for yourself.
Costa Ballena is a rugged stretch of shoreline and beaches in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region, extending from Ojochal to Dominical. The term Costa Ballena translates to “Whale Coast” — and that name is due to the influx of humpback whales that culminate there each summer. Between August and November, whale watching is a big draw in Dominical. Despite their size, these mammals are quite agile. They can grow up to 50 feet long, yet you’re likely to spot them making impressive jumps out of the water to reveal their entire massive frame. The female whales are the largest, and it’s a treat to watch their offspring sidle up beside them for some cuddle and play time. Costa Rica is a much sought after destination for these humpbacks — in fact, the migration the whales make from Antarctica spans more than 5,000 miles, making their trek the longest recorded of any mammal in the world. While Dominical is a great bet for whale watching, Uvita is only 11 miles to the south, and it’s the starting point for many of the local tours as well as host town for the Annual Whale and Dolphin Festival each year in September.
Where to Stay in Dominical, Costa Rica
Along with stellar surfing, gorgeous waterfalls, and loads of wildlife, Dominical also sports a bevy of accommodations for all types of traveler. On the high end, there’s the Balinese-style Casa Bellavia, a three-bedroom jungle villa situated on 28 acres of wildlife habitat. The exclusive Terraces at San Martin community has modern homes with private pools overlooking the jungle and rainforest. These two villas, along with any of Dominical’s other luxury vacation rentals, position guests perfectly to enjoy all that the up-and-coming Dominical has to offer.