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Dominical, Costa Rica: The Dominion of Surf and Pura Vida Living

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Dominical, Costa Rica is a small but growing town on the South Pacific coast that is best known for its waves among surfers. Similar in style to Santa Teresa in the Central Pacific, Dominical’s quirky beach town continues to draw surfers from around the world for having the biggest, most consistent waves in possibly all of Costa Rica. But there is a burgeoning population of expats congregating in this area, bound to it by their love of nature, relaxed vibes, and eco-friendly living. 

Driving into Dominical is an almost shocking introduction to the dynamic Costa Ballena coastline. About 45 km south of Quepos, once you begin approaching Dominical, you will be struck by the wonder of the cascading, jungle-covered mountains reaching towards the azure ocean. This scenic landscape is an ideal playground for both wildlife and nature enthusiasts, who come to enjoy the nearly deserted beaches and sublime waterfalls. It is a place to relax and unwind, leaving behind your stressful life and immersing into a positive culture that is welcoming to all who appreciate its wonders.

History of Dominical

The beach-front town of Dominical began as a small fishing village around the 60s and 70s, when a road was opened from San Isidro, high up in the mountains. A number of families from that region migrated towards the coast for a different lifestyle and more opportunity. Then, in the late 80s and early 90s, expats from the US and other nations began migrating here for the great surf and relaxed lifestyle. The legend of Dominical’s year-round, consistent surf and good vibes spread south from Guanacaste, where tourists traditionally traveled to Costa Rica for surfing. In the decades since, Dominical has grown in attraction to locals, tourists, and expats. Many foreigners who have grown up here have grown families and businesses in that time, becoming an integral part of the local Dominical culture.

Located only a three-hour drive from the international airport and 30 minutes south of the Quepos domestic terminal, Dominical continues to captivate visitors from all over the world. It embodies the pura vida essence of an old Costa Rican beach town ⁠— but with new vigor. Although the main drags of Dominical still evade the big hotel chains and resorts, Dominical is more than your average lazy beach town. It is now home to a diverse population that has made this eclectic eco-community their home.

Playa Dominical

More than anything, Playa Dominical is a place to make your hammock a home and relax to the sound of the surf while you take in the spectacular coastal sunsets. Bars and restaurants line the beach-front, well-positioned to capture the stunning views. The much-adored small coastal town vibe brings in many tourists, backpackers, and surfers looking for more than just great surf. There is a strong sense of community here that can be felt when walking along the two main roads, passing by friendly faces with surfboards or yoga mats under their arms. This is a place to take your time and to peruse the various offerings in the back-to-back restaurants, bars, souvenir stores, hostels, and cabins.

The beach itself stretches 4 km (2.5 miles) and is surrounded by mangroves, marshes, estuaries, and plantations. It is situated next to the mouth of the Rio Baru, which creates well-positioned sandbars and strong barrels. And although it is immensely popular with surfers, there is plenty of room for all to enjoy the consistent waves. It is, however, important to note that the waters of Playa Dominical are most welcoming to intermediate and expert surfers who understand ocean safety and know how to read the tides and currents. It is not the ideal spot for a leisurely swim and you are unlikely to see many people trying. Lifeguards regularly patrol this beach and inform beach-goers of the safety guidelines in place at the time. But you can take comfort in the fact that there is plenty more to do in and around the area.

For one, there are numerous other more gentle current beaches to the north and south of Playa Dominical. 20 minutes to the north is Playa Linda in Matapalo, which has long stretches of wide, white sand beaches and calm waters. And Playa Dominicalito to the south is a great introductory beach to new and beginner surfers. Playa Hermosa a bit further down south is a great place for swimming, beachcombing, or intermediate surfing.

Local Attractions

Likely the most popular attraction in the Costa Ballena is a hike to Nauyaca Falls, which are a bit north of Dominical, on the road up to San Isidro. This is a favorite for its dramatic, two-tiered waterfall that has a combined 200 ft of falls plus natural, deep pools for refreshing swims. Visitors can arrive on horseback, by pickup truck, or with a moderate-to-difficult hike through the lush mountain rainforest.

On the north side of Playa Dominical, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places for a day hike. Decorated with a diversity of preserved natural habitats, this reserve features primary and secondary rainforest, mangroves, grasslands, and beaches. Visitors can find up to 330 species of identified birds, making this one of the best places in Costa Rica for birding. Enjoy 4.3 miles of well-maintained trails that you can traverse by a self-guided or guided hike.

One of the best ways to explore the magnificent mangrove ecosystems in Dominical is by kayak or stand up paddleboarding tour. Paddle across calm waters, learn ecology and see the local inhabitants like caymans, crocodiles, capuchin monkeys, and a number of aquatic birds. Or take your watercraft to the ocean and travel along secluded beaches that can only be reached by boat.

There is so much to do in and around Dominical that it would be difficult to get bored. Visit one of the local benevolent animal rescue centers, like Villas Alturas or Parque Reptilandia. Hike up the Diamante waterfalls and sleep overnight in a natural cave. Or get adventurous and try ziplining, rappelling, or paragliding. Plus there is an eclectic social scene that revolves around delicious dining, diverse nightlife options, and spiritual endeavors. We dare you to try to run out of things to do!

Living in Dominical

Although a lot of the action in Dominical happens near the hot and humid beachside, many of the year-round residents choose to make their homes in the hills above Dominical. There is a cooler freshness at higher elevations, which fosters a prolific environment, making these spaces more conducive to comfortable living. But all in all, Dominical real estate has a lot of different living environments to offer a wide range of buyers.

There may not be any five-star, all-inclusive resorts on the beach-front. But there is most definitely a variety of options for homestay accommodations that range from the affordable to super-luxury. On either side of the spectrum, rental property investment in Dominical is a hot commodity. Homes in this region can rent from around $200 to more than $2000 per night with great occupancy rates all year-round. This is the home of yoga retreat centers and boutique homestay experiences. People come in droves from all over the world to explore the wonders of their inner and outer landscapes in a peaceful and beautiful environment.  

Expats and foreigners from young to old age have made the mountains above Dominical their home. 4×4 vehicles open the door to driving up the windy, mountainside roads that lead to incredible precipices, which overhang jaw-dropping coastal views. Free-spirited and organic lifestyles are encouraged here, with an emphasis on mellow, stress-free vibes. The communities above Dominical, like Escaleras, Costas Verdes, and Dominicalito, harbor homes with tropical gardens and expansive ocean views. The coastal scenery from properties in Dominical is considered to be the most spectacular in all of the Costa Ballena and well-worth consideration by those with a budget for a Guanacaste home.

With all of the growing amenities and consistently warm and luscious ambiance in and around Dominical, you would be remiss to count out this breathtaking and humbling location, which features homes for sale from anywhere between $200,000 to over $7 million. Come see if one of them is the right fit for you!

Want to know more about life in Dominical or elsewhere in the Costa Ballena? Contact our expert real estate team to get all of your questions answered. Our office is located on the southern portion of the Costa Ballena but we are very familiar with all of the residential regions from north of Dominical all the way south to Ojochal and beyond. Email us today with your ideal property specs and we will put together a list of great options for sale that meet your criteria. Contact sales@osatropicalproperties.com

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