Dominical Costa Rica: 20 Things You Should Know

Dominical is an excellent place to visit if you are on vacation in Costa Rica. Surfing is very popular here, but the fun stuff goes beyond surfing. 

You’re sure to have a nice time. However, you want to know what to bring, what not to miss, what to avoid, and all other relevant heads-up.

After spending a few days in Dominical with my husband, staying at Hotel Villas Rio Mar, and exploring most of Dominical, I have compiled this comprehensive article to provide an overview of the operational procedures.

The rest of this post will provide information about things to do, places to stay and eat, things to watch out for, and other relevant information to make your stay awesome. 

Key Takeaways

  • Only visit between December and April for the best surfing experience. Playa Dominicalito is the best surf spot for beginners. 
  • Theft is a serious issue but there is nothing to be worried about as long as you exercise some safety measures.
  • I won’t recommend staying in areas like San Jose, Alajuela, or Heredia for safety concerns.
  • Punta Gabriela’s lavish villas, MAVI Surf Hote, and Farm of Life are among the few best accommodation options in Dominical, with budgets ranging. 
  • Exotica, Citrus, El Sabor, Scala, House of Ginger, and Los Laureles are some of the few great restaurants in Dominical. 
  • Major things to do include seeing the Whale’s Tail, Volcan Poas National Park, Irazu, El Limon waterfall, Cartago, and the beaches. 

Keep reading to get more details. 

1. The best whale-watching spot is at Whale’s Tail.

You can see the whale’s tail at Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita, Costa Rica. 

It’s a sandy area that looks like a whale’s tail. This park is famous for watching whales. You will be able to visit the park on foot or by boat. 

You can relax on the beach or go out on the water to see humpback whales, especially between December and March and between July and October when they migrate—the whales like the warm waters near the coast for breeding. 

Wear sunscreen and bring binoculars for a better view. Whale-watching tours cost between $50 and $100. 

You can take a local bus or taxi to get to Uvita from Dominical since shuttle buses don’t usually go that far.

Pro Tip:

  • It’s a 15-minute drive from Uvita to Dominical. 
  • If going by bus, from Uvita, there’s a Tracopa bus to Dominical. 

2. The best time to visit for surfing is from December to April.

Surfing is a big deal in Dominical, and if you’re coming here to experience the best of it, only visit between December and April. During the dry season, you’ll find the ideal conditions. 

But during the rainy season, from May to November, the waves get bigger, which might be more challenging for beginners.

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there are waves for everyone here. A two-hour lesson costs about $60, and if you already know your way around a surfboard, you can rent one from the surf shops nearby. 

Sometimes, Dominical hosts surf competitions and events, which can be fun to watch. 

To begin, proceed to the surf schools situated directly behind the beach, near Sesame Street and Main Street.

3. The beach itself isn’t the best for swimming.

The beaches in Dominical are stunning, especially when the tide is low. But if you’re considering swimming, it might not be the best idea. 

The waves here are usually pretty big, so leaving the swimming to the surfers is safer. 

However, if you’re looking for great swimming spots, you can head further south to places like Dominicalito, Playa Hermosa, or Ballena Marine National Park. 

Those places offer safer and calmer waters for swimming.

4. Be careful of theft. 

Sadly, theft has become a common problem in Dominical and the surrounding areas.

Most thefts happen when people see an opportunity, and while I haven’t ever felt that my safety is in danger, know that your belongings might be at risk.

You’ve got to be cautious about what you leave unattended, especially on the beach. 

Avoid leaving anything visible inside your car. Even if you’re camping on the beach, don’t leave anything, not even your shoes, unattended if you’re stepping away.

5. Playa Dominicalito is the Best Surf Spot for Beginners 

If you’re new to surfing or still getting the hang of it, Playa Dominicalito is an excellent spot.

The smaller bay, shielded by reefs and rocks, is just a short drive away, offering gentler waves.

I’ll call this place one of the best places in Costa Rica for beginners to learn or improve their surfing skills. If you’re taking lessons in Dominical, they’ll likely bring you here.

If you don’t need lessons, you can rent surfboards from various places in town or along the beach (I got mine for $13 for a day). Some accommodations offer rentals. 

While a few places rent boards at Playa Dominicalito, it’s better to arrange your rental in Dominical since the rental shacks’ opening hours can be unreliable.

6. Where you stay will likely determine how enjoyable your experience will be.

Costa Rica can be excellent, but it depends on where you will stay. 

If you’re heading to places like Tamarindo, the Nicoya Peninsula, or Guanacaste, you can have a great time but still need caution.

However, if you’re staying in places like San Jose, Alajuela, or Heredia, you must be extra careful. There’s quite a bit of crime in Costa Rica, and Americans often become targets.

When you need a taxi, it’s safer to call a taxi company and get the cab number over the phone. 

Wherever you are, you can ask any business to call a cab for you, and they’ll be happy to help.

Don’t hail a cab off the street! 

This leads us to the following section:. 

7. Be Careful; There are Things Called ‘Paseo Millonario’

A “paseo millonario” is when criminals kidnap you and take you to different ATMs to empty your credit cards and ATM cards. After that, they have control over what happens to you.

This happens in Costa Rica, especially in the Dominican Republic. 

If you’re in a big group, you’re safer. But if you’re the leader of your family, stay alert and watch your surroundings. Don’t make everyone panic, but be cautious. 

If something seems suspicious, don’t wait for trouble. Take action to avoid it. 

I’m not saying Costa Rica is all bad, but some people from countries like Colombia, Honduras, and El Salvador come there to target tourists.

8. There are many things to do.

Dominical is a beautiful place to be, with many places to go. If it’s your first time here, there are only a few places I can recommend you go to first: Volcan Poas National Park, Irazu, El Limon waterfall, Cartago, and the beaches.

Poas Volcano National Park makes for a great day trip from San Jose, especially if you are visiting Costa Rica for the first time. In this park, you can check out two volcano craters located 2000 meters up in the cloud forest.

The park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last entry at 2 p.m. Remember to buy your park tickets beforehand; they don’t sell tickets at the entrance gate.

9. If you’re into horses, visit Rancho la Merced.

If you like horses, you’ll love the tours at Rancho la Merced near Uvita. They take you to the beach, for sunset views, and even to a private waterfall. The horses are well-trained, and the ride is delightful. 

If you’re unsure where to go, you can also ask the lifeguards for recommendations.

10. Choose a restaurant wisely.

When picking a restaurant, make sure you choose wisely. You can find some great options on TripAdvisor. 

  • If you’re in the mood for a fancy meal, consider places like Exotica or Citrus, both located in Ojochal. 
  • A Spanish chef creates fantastic paella at El Sabor in Bahia, offering a fun atmosphere.
  • Scala, located between Uvita and Dominical, is also excellent, but it can get noisy, so keep that in mind.
  • House of Ginger is a good choice if you’re craving Chinese food.
  • For a more casual dining experience, you might enjoy Los Laureles in the center of town or Indomitos, which offers vegetarian or vegan options. 
  • Los Barilles, south of Uvita Center, is known for its incredible bar food. 

You can’t go wrong with any small restaurant (Soda) in Uvita. And when it comes to dressing up, there’s no need for semi-dressy attire here; flip-flops and shorts are excellent everywhere.

I’ve personally tried all of these restaurants several times. Exotica is a favorite of mine; everything about it is fantastic. 

11. Navigating the Roads in Dominical

The roads from San Jose to Dominical are generally okay, but if your rental is up in the hills, you’ll likely need a car with four-wheel drive (4WD). 

Finding a 4WD vehicle for seven people and their luggage might be tricky. I’ve rented from Wild Rider before, and they’re delicious. You can pick up and drop off your car at the San Jose airport without taking a shuttle to a rental office. Vamos car rental is also top-notch. 

As for areas to avoid, stay away from rural roads at night. There could be many hazards, like animals, potholes, pedestrians, and unlit carts. If you must drive at night, be careful and don’t speed!

12. Going shopping

Dominical has a neat little souvenir market on the beach each weekend, and plenty of small shops are around. 

Groceries aren’t too pricey. There’s a big grocery store in Uvita and a smaller one up on the hill across from Dominical. You can find your way around the markets here. 

San Isidro General has a big farmer’s market on certain days each week. It’s a fun trip up into the hills, and you’ll see lots of fresh produce and baked goods. 

Groceries on the coast can be expensive. 

I’d suggest going to the BM in San Isidro (about 45 minutes to an hour from Dominical). There’s also a Walmart in San Isidro where you can stock up on groceries.

13. Enjoy the sunset at Dominicalito Beach.

Watching the sunset at Dominicalito Beach is a must-do, especially on a clear evening. 

It’s a lovely way to finish your day: sitting on a rock, taking in the beautiful colors of the sky as the sun goes down, and listening to the calming sound of the waves. 

This is the most romantic spot in Dominical.

14. Welcome to a quiet, hippy spiritual town.

There are some great yoga studios in both Dominical Town and nearby Dominicalito. The Shala, located in Dominicalito, is a popular choice. 

You can grab a bite to eat after your yoga session at Kunjani Café, situated on the same grounds. The studio has a beautiful, jungle-like atmosphere and offers drop-in classes every day of the week. 

Expect to spend around $15 for a single class, and they also offer cheaper passes for 5 or 10 classes. You can check their schedule online.

15. Hacienda Baru Is Best for Jungle Trails

Hacienda Baru is a special place where you can enjoy both a lodge experience and the wonders of wildlife in Dominical’s jungle.

This large area has many different habitats, such as forests, wetlands, and swamps. Because of this, you can see many animals in their natural homes, such as monkeys, sloths, coatis, various birds, snakes, and caimans.

The cheapest way to explore is by taking the self-guided trails (they cost me $15 per person). These trails allow you to wander along over 7 kilometers (about 4.3 miles) of the property. 

16. You’re Better Off With Lightweight Clothing

When packing for your trip to Dominical, keep it simple and think about what you really need to stay comfy in the hot weather. 

In Costa Rica, especially on the South Pacific coast, light and comfy clothes are key. 

Remember your beach gear, such as swimsuits, towels, and rain jackets, in case it rains.

Bring good shoes for walking and hiking, sunscreen, bug spray, and clothes that keep you dry if you sweat a lot. These are all essential things to have with you.

17. Caño Island Biological Reserve is the best bet for snorkeling or diving. 

The Caño Island Biological Reserve is one of the top spots in Costa Rica for snorkeling and diving. This protected area has really clear water, beautiful coral reefs, and tons of marine life, like turtles, rays, sharks, and lots of colorful fish!

If you’re staying in Dominical and want to go snorkeling, it’s the perfect option.

If you’re going to take a tour, it usually includes two stops for snorkeling and a visit to Caño Island, where you can enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach. Remember that tours don’t leave Dominical, so you’ll need to get yourself to Uvita.

18. The best time to visit is during the dry season.

The best time to visit Dominical, Costa Rica, is between November and April, the dry season. More people tend to travel to Costa Rica from the end of December to the end of April. This is because it’s the dry season, meaning you can expect mostly sunny days, perfect for enjoying the beach.

19. Sirena is Considered the Best Station to See Wildlife

Sirena is known as the best spot in the park to see wildlife, and we highly recommend it. 

There are many tours to experience this, but I recommend this Punterenas Tour because it’s well-rated. You’ll start early in the morning from Uvita and take a 90+ minute boat ride to the San Pedrillo Ranger Station in Corcovado National Park. 

Once you arrive, your guide will lead you on a hike along the trails for about 3 hours, using a telescope to spot wildlife. 

They’ll provide snacks before you take a boat back to Uvita, where lunch awaits you.

20. Best Place to Stay in Dominical

If you’re considering visiting the quiet surfing town of Dominical in Costa Rica, you might wonder where to stay. This is especially important if you’re traveling with kids and want to find a place that matches your family’s vibe.

Punta Gabriela’s lavish villas are one option for a luxurious stay with lots of privacy and beautiful views. You can see what others are saying about them here

If you’re on a budget but still want a nice place to stay, consider the MAVI Surf Hotel. It’s right by the beach and offers eight clean and spacious rooms with everything you need, like air conditioning, internet, and a kitchen area. 

Each room has a private bathroom and balcony, giving you a cozy spot to relax without spending too much money.

Farm of Life is a great choice for those interested in health and wellness. It’s an affordable place offering modern accommodations with stunning ocean, pool, or mountain views.

How to get to Dominical, Costa Rica

The great news about Dominica is that you can get there through three different methods. Let’s find out which one suits your needs the best.

Driving

You have two “driving” options to get to Dominical. However, we recommend you take Route 27 and Route 34 with your rental car. It’s the fastest and safest route to get there.

You can utilize Waze or Google Maps to regain your route if you find yourself lost. This isn’t likely to happen, as driving along the coast is easy.

Bus

San Jose offers plenty of public buses you can ride to Dominical. They start their trip from Calle 5, AV 18-20, with Tracopa at 6:00 AM and 3:00 PM every day.

If you want to take a bus from Quepos, you have the following schedule:

  • 6:00 AM
  • 9:00 AM
  • 2:30 PM
  • 5:30 PM

Finally, you have the bus from San Isidro de General, which leaves at 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

Shuttle

You can take a shared shuttle and pay approximately $59 per person from San Jose to Dominical.

Some people take private shuttles, although they’re much more expensive. Usually, they cost about $250 and fit up to eight people.

Getting Around Dominical

You won’t need a rental car to navigate the main part of town in Dominical, but you can get one if you want to see more areas comfortably.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to visit certain hotels and restaurants up in the mountains, we suggest you rent a 4×4 traction car.

It’s a wrap.

Overall, Dominical is an excellent place to be in Costa Rica. Just plan ahead of your trip the superb place to stay, what you’ll be doing, places you’ll go, and the restaurant on your bucket list to eat at. 

Also, you need to remember the safety tips because theft is real here. 

I hope you find this guide helpful. 

Rate this post

About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

Leave a Comment