Dominical is a small, laid-back beach town on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast. Here, you will find thick jungle, uncluttered beaches, and just enough amenities to feel comfortable. Attracting a mix of hippies, surfers, digital nomads, local Ticos, and long-time expats, Dominical has a truly unique vibe. In this post, we’ll share some of our favorite activities, restaurants, and hotels from our many years living in and visiting this area.
When we first put down roots in Costa Rica, Dominical is where we landed. What attracted us here? Mostly it was the remoteness, raw nature (especially the wildlife), and of course the warm tropical weather.
We spent nearly five years living near Dominical. While we have since moved a bit up the coast, we still have close ties to the community.
Location & Town Setup
Dominical is located on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast. It is about one hour south of Manuel Antonio and 3.5 hours from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) near San Jose.
Dominical town center is right off the highway, tucked next to the Baru River. Here, you will find one fairly short road leading through town. Restaurants, shops, and other businesses are clustered in a few spots along the paved street.
Another road splits off and brings you to the main beach area. The local school, soccer field, and church are centrally located.
While most of the shops and restaurants are in the main area of town, many accommodations and activities are a short drive away in the surrounding hills.
Tip: Unless you are staying right in town, you will want a rental car to get around the Dominical area. Check out our rental car discount page to save 10% and get free extras with one of Costa Rica’s most reliable rental car companies.
There are a few businesses in Dominical that make it a unique place.
Right at the entrance to town is a plaza with Mama Toucan’s Natural Market. This is a thriving organic and natural food grocery store that has weaved its way into the community over the years.
On the opposite side of the highway is a plaza with the Dominical Market (Super Dominical). This may look like a small grocery store, but it has almost everything you could need on your vacation.
Towards the middle of town is Fuego, a brewery and restaurant with a treehouse feel. They have some of the best craft beer around as well as a full-service restaurant and coffee shop (see restaurant section, below).
Also along the main street is a new plaza with a doctor’s office, medical lab, and pharmacy.
Finally, we would be missing something if we didn’t mention the many souvenir vendors and shops. Street vendors set up under the palm trees near the beach, displaying their colorful sarongs, handmade jewelry, wood carvings, and other handicrafts. There are also souvenir shops throughout town. Ruth’s shop, on the first corner, even makes handmade clothing.
Activities in Dominical
Beaches & Surfing
The main beach in town is Playa Dominical.
From the river mouth sandbar going south, Dominical Beach is a rocky beach with powerful waves. Though not great for swimming, the beach is backed by lofty palm trees, perfect for lounging. While sipping coconut water, you can watch skilled surfers take on the waves.
Playa Dominicalito (Little Dominical) is just a few minutes’ drive to the south.
This beach sits in a sheltered cove so the waves aren’t as intense. Beginner and intermediate surfers prefer the waves here. At low tide, the beach also has some nice rocks and tidepools to explore. For more information, read our post, Playa Dominicalito: Surf, Splash, or Fish.
About 15 minutes south of Dominical is another, slightly larger town called Uvita. Uvita has several more beaches to explore within Marino Ballena National Park, the highlight being the famous Whale Tail.
Another notable spot is Playa Ventanas farther south. This beach has caves you can walk in at low tide.
With steep mountains quickly rising behind Dominical, waterfalls are abundant.
The largest and most impressive set are the Nauyaca Waterfalls. This two-tiered cascade has towering upper falls and a beautiful lower falls. A large rocky pool below creates a refreshing swimming spot.
Also nearby are the Eco-Chontales Waterfall and Diamante Waterfall. These two larger waterfalls require hikes to get to them. Eco-Chontales is shorter and easier. The Diamante hike is challenging and rugged.
Closer to town (in Dominicalito) is a smaller waterfall called Pozo Azul. This is more of a swimming hole with a small cascade but a fun, locals’ spot.
Finally, to the south is the Uvita Waterfall. This medium-sized waterfall is popular for jumping, sliding, and swimming. The river below the falls is also very scenic.
If you are looking to hike, there are a couple of nice options.
Just across the Baru River is a special reserve called Hacienda Baru.
This 815-acre (330-hectare) wildlife refuge has hiking trails and a birdwatching platform. They also offer tours like zip lining, guided hikes, and birding.
The reserve has a variety of habitats that are home to monkeys, sloths, caiman, and hundreds of bird species. There are trails for all abilities. We have always enjoyed hikes here.
Also, a one-hour drive north is the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. This busier park is known for its abundant wildlife. On a stroll through the main trails, it’s common to spot three of Costa Rica’s four types of monkeys, deer, lizards, mangrove crabs, and many birds. Guided tours of Manuel Antonio National Park may also allow you to see sloths, frogs, snakes, and other more elusive creatures.
Manuel Antonio National Park has beautiful beaches, so don’t forget your swimsuit.
Weekly Farmer’s Market
A weekly tradition for some time now is the Eco Feria Organic Farmer’s Market.
The small but busy feria sets up at the Dominical Plaza (next to the soccer field) from around 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Friday.
Farmers and vendors sell fruits, veggies, baked goods, sauces, homemade food and drink, crafts, and clothing. The market attracts a lot of free-spirited locals and visitors, giving it a laid back, bohemian vibe.
Tip: Be careful parking in town along the paved road. Transit police commonly ticket or worse, confiscate license plates if you are not parked in an official parking spot. This is only really enforced along the paved road. Parking at the beach or on the side of dirt roads isn’t a problem.
Dominical is part of a larger area known as the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast). For about seven months out of the year, it is possible to see humpback whales migrating just offshore. Whale and dolphin watching tours typically leave from the beach in Uvita and are a fun way to see the beautiful green coastline.
Another popular tour is Cano Island. This offshore island is about 1.5 hours away by boat. It’s a good diving spot with lots of rocky structure and has some of the best snorkeling in Costa Rica when conditions are right. We even saw a reef shark once.
One last option for boating fun it to drive north to Marina Pez Vela in Quepos (45 minutes). From here, you can organize catamaran or sailing tours, booze cruises, and sportfishing charters.
For those travelers not going to volcanic areas like La Fortuna/Arenal, there are some local hot springs.
Eco Termales Quepos are very rustic and more warm than hot, but the setting makes up for it. These pools are about a half-hour into the countryside, surrounded by lush jungle and next to a rushing river. You’ll feel far from it all.
Want even more activities? Read our post 8 Things to Do in Dominical.
Restaurants in Dominical
The restaurant scene in Dominical may be small compared to some of Costa Rica’s larger tourist destinations, but there are still plenty of tasty eats. Below we’ll share some of our favorites. We’ve separated the list by in-town and outside town options.
Phat Noodle has been a favorite for years. The nice outdoor space is fun and quirky, complete with a kitchen inside an old school bus. As the name implies, Phat Noodle serves delicious Asian-inspired cuisine. Dishes like pad Thai, curry bowls, sesame tuna steak, and lettuce wraps are just a few of the offerings. Located on the left as you’re coming into town.
Fuego Brewing Company
Located right off the main strip on a large, private property is Fuego. This brewery, restaurant, and coffee shop has been the perfect addition to Dominical. Craft beers like mango pale ale, session IPA, and hibiscus lager pair nicely with their fish, chicken, or shrimp tacos. One of the best things about Fuego is the ambiance. The restaurant space is huge and feels like a giant treehouse, with beautiful local wood throughout.
Del Mar Taco Shop
For delicious burritos and tacos, head to Del Mar Taco Shop. This super casual outdoor restaurant is just off the main beach in Dominical. Our favorite is the surf and turf burrito, but you also can choose beer-battered shrimp or fish, carne asada or pollo asada, bean and cheese, or veggie or vegan options. Located on the southern end of town near the police station.
Cafe Mono Congo
With a peaceful river view and good Wi-Fi, Cafe Mono Congo is a chill breakfast or lunch choice. They whip up healthy dishes made from fresh ingredients. You’ll find vegetarian, gluten free, and vegan options. Or just stop by for a kombucha or cold brew. Located next to Mama Toucan’s Market.
For good, cheap local food, head to Cafe Ensueno. On a side road from the main beach, this simple restaurant is a favorite fueling-up spot for surfers, locals, and hostel goers. The giant, decadent smoothies are enough for a full meal.
A sandwich shop with a focus on fresh, local ingredients, La Junta offers dishes that are healthy and consciously thought out. They source natural meats, and everything down to the ketchup is homemade and good for you. Located on the main road across from the soccer field. Seating in the back is shady and quieter.
For a restaurant with a view, there is La Parcela. The main reason for this place’s appeal is its spectacular ocean view. La Parcela sits on a point with the ocean on both sides. You can take in the sea breeze over drinks, or they have a full menu with lots of seafood and traditional Costa Rican dishes.
Up in the mountains, in the Escalares neighborhood, is Dominical’s only fine dining restaurant. Scala has a large selection of upscale snacks and appetizers as well as refined mains. We enjoyed our tuna tartar and beef tenderloin. And the homemade chocolate mousse was the perfect end to a delicious meal.
Ricar 2 El Avion
Ricar 2 El Avion is a fun option just outside town. El Avion translates to “the plane,” and next to the restaurant, you will indeed find a full size passenger plane set in the jungle. Inside the aircraft is an Airbnb. Outside is the restaurant, which serves consistently good typical Costa Rican dishes, steak, and seafood.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals in Dominical
Accommodations in Dominical are fairly spread out. While there are a few hotels and vacation rentals a short walk to the main town and beach, many more options are found in the surrounding hills.
Tribe Boutique Hotel
This adults-only hotel is right off main street in Dominical but is truly a peaceful oasis. Tribe has modern, light, airy rooms that are clean and comfortable. An inviting pool area has lots of loungers, hammocks, and oversized chairs for relaxing among the gardens. Some rooms are on the small side so be sure to check when booking. $100-170/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Canto del Mar
Canto del Mar is a gated community in a great location right off the highway in Dominicalito. The large, well-equipped condos are set in the hillside and have majestic views of Playa Dominicalito, which is right across the highway. We stayed here recently and loved it. It’s easy to get to Dominical for restaurants, and Uvita is just a short drive away as well. You can find specific units for rent on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. There are also some options on booking.com, including the unit we stayed in. Around $150-350/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Villas Alturas is a boutique hotel with a handful of contemporary villas. The main draw is their outstanding ocean view. The two-bedroom villas are a great option for families or groups. The property has a nice pool overlooking the sea. Located right off the highway south of Dominical, up a steep road. $200-350/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Lapazul Boutique Hotel
Set high on the hill in the small town of Hatillo just outside Dominical is Lapazul Boutique Hotel and retreat center. This hotel has six spacious, tastefully decorated rooms. Each has a private balcony to take advantage of the ocean and sunset views. Since Lapazul is surrounded by thick jungle, there are a lot of birds and wildlife. Due to local road conditions, you need a 4×4 vehicle to access the property. $275-400/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Tropical Sands
Tropical Sands is a small, budget-friendly hotel right outside the center of town. If you won’t have a rental car, it’s a great option as restaurants and the beach are only a short walk away. Rooms are colorful with tropical flair. They are simple, but clean and comfortable. Some have A/C. A communal kitchen is available for self-catering. $60-90/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Cool Vibes Hostel
This popular hostel has a mix of dorm beds and private rooms with or without A/C. Cool Vibes Hostel is in a similar location to Tropical Sands so within walking distance to amenities. Travelers love the big kitchen and communal living space. $15-50/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
A lot has changed in Dominical since we first moved to Costa Rica. The dusty road through town is now paved, new restaurants and medical offices have opened, and the community has certainly grown. However, these things just add to what we love about the town and even improve it. The wild jungle, picturesque waterfalls, and sparkling Pacific remain the pillars of Dominical and shouldn’t be missed.
Have a question about visiting Dominical? Ask us in the comments below.
Looking for more resources to help plan your trip? Check out these posts:
The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal – This post covers the general area from Dominical south to Uvita and Ojochal.
Rental Car Discount: As things in and around Dominical are spread out, a rental car makes a lot of sense. Get 10% off and free extras with our discount. Free delivery to Dominical is available from the Uvita office.
Manuel Antonio Trip Planning – If you are hopping down the coast, check out our post all about the popular central Pacific destination of Manuel Antonio.