- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
Dominical, 45 kilometers southeast of Quepos, is a tiny laid-back “resort” favored by surfers, backpackers, and the college-age crowd. The four-kilometer-long beach is beautiful albeit pebbly, and the warm waters attract whales and dolphins close to shore. Río Barú supposedly empties polluted waters into the sea near the beach north of the village, which is graced with murals. Dominical Lifeguards (tel. 506/2787-0210) are on futy 8 A.M.–5 P.M. daily, but swimming is dangerous because of riptides.
The beach extends south five kilometers from Dominical to Dominicalito, a little fishing village in the lee of Punta Dominical.
If you overdose on the sun, sand, and surf, head into the lush mountains inland of Dominicalito, where a series of dirt roads lead steeply uphill to Escaleras (Staircases), a forest-clad region fantastic for horseback rides.
Alternatively, head east on a paved road that leads to San Isidro, winding up through the valley of the Río Barú into the Fila Costanera mountains, where the climate cools and you may find yourself amid swirling clouds.
Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge
This national wildlife refuge, one kilometer north of Dominical, was created from a 330-hectare private preserve at Hacienda Barú (tel. 506/2787-0003, www.haciendabaru.com). It protects three kilometers of beach plus mangrove swamp and at least 40 hectares of primary rainforest: a safe haven for anteaters, ocelots, kinkajous, tayras, capuchin monkeys, and jaguarundis.
More than 310 bird species have been recorded, from roseate spoonbills to curassows and owls. Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles come ashore to nest at Playa Barú. Seven kilometers of trails ($6 pp) lead through pasture, fruit orchards, cacao plantations, and forest. Petroglyphs carved onto large rocks are the most obvious remains of what may be an ancient ceremonial site. Other highlights include a bird-watching tower, orchid garden, butterfly garden, and turtle hatchery.
There’s a canopy observation platform suspended 30 meters up, and guided tree-climbing is offered. You can rent horses. A series of guided hikes include early-morning bird-watching ($35 including breakfast), and A Night in the Jungle, which ends at a fully equipped jungle tent camp ($60).
Well worth the drive, this reptile park (tel. 506/2787-0343, www.crreptiles.com, 9 A.M.–4:30 P.M. daily, $10 adults, $5 children), near Platanillo, about 10 kilometers east of Dominical, is one of the best-laid-out animal parks in the country. Large cages and tanks display turtles, crocodiles, snakes (including 16 species of vipers, not least the dreaded fer-de-lance, plus sea snakes), lizards, and poison-dart frogs from throughout Latin America. It even has a komodo dragon from Indonesia. Night tours are offered by appointment. Friday is feeding day.
Don Lulo’s Nauyaca Waterfalls
Near Platanillo, signs point the way east to these magnificent waterfalls, tumbling 70 meters in two cascades that plunge into deep pools good for swimming. They’re surrounded by tropical moist forest full of wildlife accessed by trails. The falls, which are six kilometers east of the road, also go by other names: Don Lulo’s and Santo Cristo.
You can reach them on horseback from Escaleras or from Don Lulo’s (tel. 506/2787-0541, www.cataratasnauyaca.com), at Platanillo, where a trail leads via the hamlet of Libano. Guided horseback tours leave at 8 A.M. and 2 P.M. daily ($50, reservations essential). Don Lulo also has a mini zoo with macaws, toucans, and tepezcuintles. Tour companies in Dominical offer trips to the falls.
San Clemente Bar & Grill (tel. 506/2787-0055) has a pool table, table football, darts, ping-pong, and a large TV showing videos and sports events. Thursday is disco night. Maracatú (tel. 506/2787-0091, 11 A.M.–midnight daily) has an open jam on Sundays.
The happening scene is at Roca Verde (7 A.M.–2 A.M. daily), one kilometer south of Dominical. The bar has a large-screen TV and its Saturday night disco is legendary ($5).
At Confusione (tel. 506/2787-0244, 7 A.M.–11:30 P.M. daily), in the Hotel Domilocos, accomplished classical guitarists perform during dinner—reason enough to eat there.
Cuna del Ángel (tel. 506/2222-0704, www.cunadelangel.com), nine kilometers south of Dominical, has live classical music at 8 P.M. the third Saturday of the month ($25, or $45 with dinner).
Escaleras offers two great options. Local U.S. transplant Harley “Toby” Toberman presents classic movies at 5 P.M. every Friday at his Cinema Escaleras (aka Movie in the Jungle, Marina Vista #3, tel. 506/2787-8065, Dec.–Apr.). Movies are shown alfresco in a private villa, and Toby’s wife Kim prepares popcorn. The scene gets started when everyone meets to enjoy the sunset and a dinner buffet. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get here.
After the movie, head downhill to Bar Jolly Roger (tel. 506/8706-8438, 4–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat., $6), which serves hot wings and cold beer (choose from 22 labels) plus burgers. From opposite Hotel Cuna del Ángel, it’s 1.7 kilometers up the dirt road to Escaleras.
For something completely different, head toward San Isidro (one km east of town). You’ll be amazed to find an entire Boeing aircraft that doubles as the riverside Restaurante Allegro, named for the Allegro charter plane. (The plane is being rebuilt piece by piece.)
Massage? Yoga? Belly-dancing classes? Bamboo Yoga Play (tel. 506/2787-0229) has it all.
Surfing is the name of the game. Outfits offering board rentals and gear include: South Wave (tel. 506/2787-0260); Pineapple Surf Shop (tel. 506/2787-0302); Blowfish (tel. 506/2787-0420); Dominical Surf & Adventures (tel. 506/2787-0431, www.dominicalsurfadventures.com), which has rafting and surfing tours; and Sunset Surf School (tel. 506/8917-3143) at Hotel Domilocos.
Southern Expeditions (tel. 506/2787-0100, www.southernexpeditionscr.com) offers all manner of active excursions, from a crocodile night safari to scuba diving and whale-watching.
Tree of Life Tours (tel. 506/9810-7620, www.treeoflifetours.com) offers guided hikes, rappelling, and horseback trips. Rancho Savegre (tel. 506/8834-8687, www.ranchosavegre.com) has beach and mountain horseback rides at 7:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. daily ($58).
Dominical Surf Adventures (tel. 506/2787-0431, www.dominicalsurfadventures.com) offers kayaking and rafting tours, plus a surf school.
Transportes Delio Morales (tel. 506/2777-0318) buses depart San José for Dominical from Avenida 3, Calle 16 daily at 6 A.M. and 3 P.M., returning at 5 A.M. and 1 P.M. daily (7 hours, $8).
Transportes Blanco buses (tel. 506/2771-4744) depart San Isidro de El General for Dominical at 7 A.M., 9 A.M., 1:30 P.M., and 4 P.M., returning at 6:45 A.M., 7:15 A.M., 2:30 P.M., and 3:30 P.M. daily.
Southbound buses from Quepos depart for Dominical at 5 A.M., 9:30 A.M., 1:30 P.M., 4 P.M., and 7 P.M., returning at 8:30 A.M. and 3 P.M. Buses also serve Dominical from Ciudad Neilly at 4:45 A.M., 10:30 A.M., and 3 P.M., returning at 6 A.M., 11 A.M., and 2:30 P.M.
The gas station is about one kilometer north of Dominical.
You can rent cars with Solid Car Rental (tel. 506/2787-0422, www.solidcarrental.com).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition