The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal

Pick up an old guidebook on Costa Rica, even from just a few years back, and you’ll read that the area known as the Costa Ballena is difficult to access and offers little to travelers. Fast forward a few years and you’ll discover that this is no longer the case. Located an hour south of the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio, the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast) is slowly becoming famous for its pristine beaches and rolling green mountains that teem with wildlife.

Below is our guide for one of the most up-and-coming destinations in Costa Rica, the Costa Ballena.

 

Costa Ballena: Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal

Orientation

The Costa Ballena is a 22 mile (35 km) stretch of coastline in Costa Rica’s south Pacific. It is made up of three major towns: Dominical to the north, Ojochal to the south, and Uvita in between. Each town has a different feel, making the area fun to explore with a rental car. What these towns do have in common is a magnificent coastline and plenty of all-but-abandoned beaches. Another shared trait are the verdant green mountains that rise quickly from the smoothly paved highway. Hidden in these hills are vacation rentals, eco-lodges, bed and breakfasts, and upscale hotels, all with spectacular sunset views.

For many of the accommodations in this region, you will need a rental car, often with 4×4. If you plan on renting a car, be sure to check out our discount to save.

The Towns of the Costa Ballena

Dominical

A surfer’s escape, Dominical is a laid-back beach town where you can roll out of bed, walk to the beach, and not return until well into the night. With a number of affordable accommodations and fun beach bars, Dominical attracts backpackers, surfers, and yogis alike. But no matter what you fancy, during the day everyone ends up at the beach. Along a sandy palm-tree-lined avenue, dozens of merchants sell souvenirs, and restaurants serve up quick bites alongside cold drinks. Stay for sunset and you too will fall in love with this small town’s charm.

Uvita

Marked by a small hub of banks, restaurants, grocery stores, and offices near the main highway, Uvita is a town that offers much more than convenient commerce. Take one of the many dirt roads into the mountains and you will discover hidden neighborhoods neatly tucked into the rainforest. From here, you will have breathtaking views of the famous whale tail, a giant sandbar shaped just like that of a whale fin.

On the coastal side, a charming Tico neighborhood named Bahía Ballena abuts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and one of the only marine national parks in Costa Rica, Marino Ballena. A stop here will give a glimpse into real Tico life and show you why Costa Ricans are some of the happiest people on earth.

Ojochal

A popular landing place for expats from the United States, Canada, and all over Europe, Ojochal has quickly become a culinary destination in Costa Rica. Maybe it’s the mixture of cultures or the plentiful tropical ingredients, but it is rare to find so many gourmet restaurants so close to one another—and in the land of rice and beans, of all places. In addition to great food, Ojochal also has its own magnificent ocean views, pristine swaths of jungle, and beautiful beaches.

Activities

National Whale Marine Park

One of the only marine parks in the country, Marino Ballena National Park offers plenty to do for beachgoers. There are several beautiful beaches where you can find your own piece of paradise, all backed by tall palm trees or shrubby beach almonds. Picnicking is commonplace here and you’ll see plenty of families set up with hammocks and grills. The real draw at Marino Ballena, though, is Punta Uvita, commonly called the whale tail. This naturally occurring sandbar is shaped just like a whale’s tail. At low tide, you can walk its length and explore the rocks and tide pools near the tip. The uneven rocks can be tricky, but the view of the majestic cloud-encased mountains makes it all worthwhile. Read our separate post all about the Whale Tail and Marino Ballena National Park

 

The Whale Tail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park

 

Whale Watching

The Costa Ballena is named for whales and it’s not just because of the tail-shaped sandbar. Several different whale species can be spotted off the coast during certain times of the year, including false killer, Bryde’s, pilot, and humpback whales. Humpbacks are especially common since they use the area’s temperate waters as a seasonal breeding ground and to rear young. There are two separate humpback migrations, each over several months, which ensures that it is whale season almost year-round. Boat tours will get you up close and personal with these gentle giants and usually leave from the beaches of Uvita. For more about the whales, including the best times of year to spot them, check out our post Whale Watching in Costa Rica.

Surfing

With the biggest waves in the area, Dominical naturally draws the most surfers. But there are some lesser known beaches along the Costa Ballena worth noting as well. Playa Hermosa, just north of Uvita, offers consistent waves for the beginner-to-intermediate surfer, especially when high swells at Dominical are a little too intimidating. Look for the best break right in front of the new lifeguard stand. For beginners, Uvita’s Playa Colonia is a perfect place to start. Since offshore rock formations tend to ease the swell, this beach inside Marino Ballena National Park offers more manageable waves for the novice. There are plenty of surf schools in the area if you’re looking to pick up a board.

Waterfalls

The lush hills of the Costa Ballena are home to many stunning waterfalls but probably the most famous lies a half hour into the mountains. The Nauyaca Waterfalls is one of Costa Rica’s most impressive cascades with two sets of falls measuring a combined 200 feet (61 meters) tall. The lower falls have a large pool where you can swim and jump into the cool water from the rocks. The upper falls have an impressive 140 foot (43 meter) cliff and are the perfect place to picnic. Most people access the Nauyaca by horseback on a tour, but you can also hike to the falls on your own.

 

The Nauyaca Waterfalls near Dominical | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Hiking

With the mountains so close to the coast, it’s easy to get in an early morning hike and still be swimming by lunch. A couple of our favorite places for wildlife viewing are the Tesoro Escondido Eco-Reserve in Playa Hermosa de Uvita and Hacienda Barú in Dominical.

The Tesoro Escondido Reserve sees fewer visitors than many other parks in Costa Rica so you have a good chance of seeing hard-to-spot rainforest animals like peccaries, howler monkeys, toucans, parrots, and even snakes. One of the reserve’s trails also leads to a beautiful view of Uvita’s whale tail. Guided tours can be arranged through the Playa HermOSA Ecological Association, a rural tourism organization located in the village of Playa Hermosa de Uvita. In addition to hikes, the Association offers cultural experiences that will teach you about the local culture and even homestays with neighborhood families.

Hacienda Barú near Dominical is another great place for hiking. This wildlife refuge has 4.3 miles (7 km) of well-maintained trails filled with amazing wildlife and birds like pacas, white-faced monkeys, and king vultures. One of the trails also has a lookout with views of Dominical Beach. Hacienda Barú has night tours and overnight jungle stays for those of you wanting to explore the creepy crawlies that come out after dark. It also offers zip-line tours for the adrenaline hungry.

For more activity ideas in the area, see our post 7 Things to Do in Dominical.

Where to Stay

The Costa Ballena has many great options for lodging. From higher end to budget, we have six recommendations.

High-End Hotels

Oxygen Jungle Villas

In the forested hills around the whale tail are a number of boutique-style hotels. Of the choices, our pick for a luxury escape is Oxygen Jungle Villas. Oxygen has 12 modern Balinese-style villas and a picturesque infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Each villa has huge glass windows, which make you feel like you’re immersed in the jungle. The hotel sits privately near the top of a mountain and has a lot of wildlife around like monkeys and toucans. The staff is friendly and will go out of their way to make sure your stay is relaxing and memorable. Ocean-view Villas, $250-300. Even more private Jungle Villas, $200-250. Check Rates and Availability Here

 

Where to Stay in the Costa Ballena - Oxygen Jungle Villas
View from the pool at Oxygen Jungle Villas

 

Villas Alturas

Another option located outside Dominical is Villas Alturas. This hotel is also set in the jungle, but is only a short drive to the beach and amenities. Villas Alturas offers both one- and two-bedroom units, making it a good option for families. Each of the seven villas comes equipped with a kitchen, but there is also a great restaurant on the premises. Guests will want to check out the wildlife sanctuary next door. Villas, $140-250. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Mid-Range Hotels

Tree of Life Cabins

One of our favorite properties in the area is Tree of Life. Tree of Life is a small B&B-type hotel in the mountains a few miles south of Dominical. They offer four spacious, modern bungalows overlooking the ocean. The setting is very private and romantic, with quiet rainforest surrounds. The owners are friendly and helpful, and you will feel like a part of the family by the time you leave. Be sure to take advantage of the meal offerings, as one of the owners is a chef. The cabins do not have A/C but were designed with air flow in mind. Cabinas, $100-175. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Cuna de Angel

Perfectly situated halfway between Dominical and Uvita is Cuna del Angel. Beautifully crafted with Spanish-style architecture, this hotel sits propped over the jungle and offers nice ocean breezes. The on-site restaurant serves up gourmet food and is completely gluten free. It is one of the larger hotels in the area with more than 20 rooms so is a good option for groups. $80-200. Check Rates and Availability Here.

 

Cuna del Angel Hotel | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Cuna del Angel Hotel

Villas Rio Mar

Villas Rio Mar is a locally owned hotel on the river right outside the main area of Dominical. It is a good option for those traveling without a car as the beach and restaurants are within walking distance. Villas Rio Mar has individual bungalows surrounded by gardens and a very nice pool area. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and many have been recently renovated. Some feature large outdoor patios or kitchenettes. $90-140. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Budget Hotels

Ranchos Remo

And finally, for those looking for a great view without paying too much, try the cabins at Ranchos Remo. Located in Playa Hermosa de Uvita, Ranchos Remo is a casual, family-run lodge, perfect for those really looking to connect with nature. The open-air bungalows are simple and rustic and offer a true taste of Tico hospitality. The restaurant has delicious Costa Rican cuisine and is a destination even for those not staying at the hotel. $60-120. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Local Events

The Costa Ballena hosts many events, including surf competitions, lifeguard fundraisers, food festivals, and even a craft beer fest. Some of the biggest happenings are:

Festival of Whales and Dolphins: A festival held in September during the height of the humpback whale migration, which features discounted whale-watching tours and a community fair with food and vendors.

Envision Festival: A music, art, and sacred movement gathering that brings thousands of like-minded individuals together in late February or early March.

*     *     *

The Costa Ballena is one of our favorite destinations in Costa Rica because of its unhurried pace and outstanding natural wonders. When we first visited many years ago, it was love at first sight. Tourism has slowly developed here but has done so in a way that is not overwhelming. The foggy mountains and arcing sands still take the show. Those seeking amenities at every corner will probably want to look elsewhere, but those wanting a connection with nature and especially the ocean will find exactly what they need.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

Post Updated: June 24, 2017

 

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138 Comments

  1. hey!
    So you are saying that before the hotels in the Costa Ballena, it was a virgin area? Wouldn’t that be consider as exploiting the area?
    What do you guys think?

  2. Hi Eric,
    Thanks for your comment. I guess we could look at the whole world that way if we wanted to. The Costa Ballena has developed partly because of the new highway that was built several years back. It is inevitable that more hotels and businesses come along with that access. On one side it also means more jobs and opportunities for the community, on the other side it does mean that some otherwise virgin areas are impacted. The good thing is that most Costa Ricans see the value in ecotourism and know that keeping a balance is important. What might otherwise get chopped down as farmland may stand a chance as a beautiful rainforest if enough money can be made through local tourism. That is our hope anyway.

    1. There are a ton of great festivals in the Costa Ballena, Becca. We’re psyched for the whales and dolphins fest this year. Last year we missed it but we’re not going to this time! Not us in the Nauyaca waterfall pic- just a random couple enjoying the day 😉

  3. I want to jump into those pictures! This looks like the perfect travel destination – still relatively undiscovered, but there’s animals, beauty, pristine beaches and how great there’s gourmet restaurants. That’s all a rare combo. I’m in!

    1. You’d love the restaurants, Kelly. People from all over the world who settled in Ojochal brought their amazing food so you can get authentic French, Italian, Mediterranean, etc. Great foodies destination for sure!

  4. Great post. I’ve been to Manuel Antonio before – 12 years ago – and loved it. About to return to Costa Rica next week and debating whether or not to check this place out. Last time I came, it was in April, a little rainy, but not too bad. it’s the rainforest after all. Do you know if the October rainfall there would be so much that you would discourage it? I remember last time, it would rain an hour every day, but clear up after that. Any advice for a late October visit?

    1. Hi Kevin, I wouldn’t let the rain stop you. Like you said, it doesn’t usually rain all day every day during the rainy season. It hasn’t been bad so far this year. We live in the area now and have had a few days with a lot of rain in Sept. and Oct. but there’s almost always some sunshine too. If you liked Manuel Antonio, you’ll probably love it. Manuel Antonio has grown a lot but it’s still relatively quiet down near Dominical/Uvita. Let us know how it goes if you end up coming. Pura vida!

  5. Getting ready for my first trip. Your information has been helpful. Thanks. I am really excited to experience the beauty in your photos.

  6. Great information! We will be staying for 6 days in Dominical just before Christmas, and I wondered if you had any restaurant recommendations? Closer is better, but we’d be willing to drive south if there are places in Ojochal that you’d say are worth the effort. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi DeAnn, We definitely have some recommendations. Dominical: Sushi place- Service can be slow but this is the best place for sushi in the area. Tortilla Flats- Casual spot for a sunset beer on the beach; A little farther south- La Parcela for lunch or sunset (restaurant serving local food on a point in Dominicalito with great ocean views); Ojochal- Best options for good food by far. Citrus and Exotica are our favorites. Be sure to make reservations. Sibu in Uvita right off the highway and Ballena Bistro just south of Uvita for lunch; Azul at Hotel El Castillo near Ojochal for a sunset cocktail or dinner (they have an amazing view).

      1. I would highly recommend the Bar Jolly Roger. A little hard to find, but we’ll worth it! It’s between Uvita and Dominical up in the mountains. If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive, you might not want to try it. Depending on the season, they have entertainment there certain days of the week. They’re more like a sports bar. The Bamboo Room in Ojochal has great food, also a Fusion, which is right in the highway. South of Ojochal is a tilapia farm where you can get a fresh tilapia meal. You can even catch your own fish if you want to. They’re only open for lunch…NOT for dinner.

  7. I’m so bummed I’m going to miss the beer festival- I arrive on the 11th. BUT so glad I found this because I’m only in CR for 7 days and really want to hike the Nauyuca falls therefore was planning on hanging out in the area of Dominical.
    Have you made it down to Drake Bay by any chance?

    1. Hi Alicia, The Nauyaca is awesome- enjoy! If you need some more ideas for things to do while you’re here, definitely check out our other blog post about cool things to do in the area: 7 Things to Do in Dominical.

      We have been to Drake Bay a few times. It’s a little work to get there but totally worth it and actually not that bad if you’re already in the Dominical area. Here’s a link to a destination guide similar to this one with info on how to get there, where to stay, what to do, etc., Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged.

  8. This is a wonderful blog!!! I’m reading it all!

    My wife and I are coming in March. Can you recommend a whale watching experience or tour operator for us?

    Thanks!

  9. Do you know if there are buses from Ojochal to Manuel Antonio? We are staying in a small hotel but careless.
    Thanks.
    Mary

    1. Hi Mary, There are buses from Ojochal to Manuel Antonio, but you would have to walk to the main road (the highway) and also change buses in Dominical so it isn’t that convenient. You can use this site to search for bus times: http://www.thebusschedule.com/cr/index.php. We usually recommend having a car for Ojochal since it is a more rural location and restaurants, activities, grocery stores, etc. are a drive away. If you don’t want to do that, you could arrange a shuttle for the trip to MA. Monkey Ride out of Dominical is a good option. It’s about $40 a person. You might want to check if getting a car is actually cheaper though with our rental car discount. Adobe, the company we work with, recently opened an office in Uvita, very close to Ojochal. Here’s a link to the page on our site where you can search for rates: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/

    1. Hi Jackie, There is a public bus from San Jose that goes to Uvita. It is a long trip, but definitely possible. You can check this website for the schedule. In general, it’s nice to have a car for this area because it is very spread out. If you’re staying in the hills you really need one. If you’re staying right in Bahia Uvita (near the beach), though, you can walk or bike to get around and get away without one (we’ve done this before but did a lot of walking). If you do end up renting a car, be sure to check out our rental car discount to save some money.

  10. I love your site! Am enjoying reading everything. It has helped in deciding what to do and see while in Costa Rica.
    There are a group of us (10-15) coming February 2017 to celebrate my 50th Birthday. We are all very excited. We think we have found a villa in Dominical that will accommodate us all. It sure has been a challenge. Do you know of any other locations that are central to the majority of the activities you list in your blog of what to do while in CR?
    We just checked the map and it says it is a 2 hr and 51 minute drive from the Airport to our potential villa. So, I guess what I am asking is….do you know of other larger villas (or two smaller ones) that could accommodate our group….and what area would you suggest that is closer than a three hour drive from the airport? We will be renting two cars for our stay. We will be staying 9 days. Thank you for whatever help you can give to me!

    1. Hi Mandy, You could look at the Jaco area (Jaco, Playa Herradura, Playa Hermosa) for a place closer to the airport. That’s only about 1 hr from San Jose and there are a lot of vacation rentals to choose from. A little farther is Manuel Antonio, about 45 min. closer to San Jose (Keep in mind that Dominical is actually more like 3.5 hours from San Jose). Both of these areas will be more developed than Dominical so just keep that in mind. If you need more help finding a rental, let us know. We offer itinerary services and can help out. One other thing- since you’ll be renting cars, make sure to check out our Rental Car Discount. We get discounts for our clients and also other benefits like free second driver, discounted GPS, etc. There’s more info here.

    1. Hi Diane, Most of the mid-range hotels in Uvita are farther from the Whale Tail in the surrounding mountains. The area you really want to be in, if you want to walk to the whale tail, is called Bahia. There are mostly budget options there but recently a few vacation rental cabins have been built. Other than that, there is a small set of simple cabins, called Bungalows Ballena, which you could check out that are around $100/night.

    2. Hi Jen and Matt!

      I am from Boston, and have recently purchased a small BnB just above downtown Uvita. Based on my previous experiences with your website, my welcome letter instructs our guests to visit your site, (in advance of their trip, if possible)…your observations are keen, and your approach to the challenges discovered and rewards to be found in this amazing country are unique and easily absorbed.

      Continued success!

  11. Great informative blog 🙂 We loved Manuel Antonio. Our only problem was we didnt meet many people who spoke English and our Spanish is bad. Any recommendation for English speaking expats?And are the mosquitoes bad? (love the howler monkeys!)

    1. Hi Ellie, We have found that people at the more touristy places like hotels, restaurants, and tour companies speak English, but it can depend with taxi and shuttle drivers, at banks and the grocery store, etc. Our best advice, especially if you’re living here which it sounds like you might be considering, is to learn at least some key Spanish phrases. We have a blog post with some of the basics to get you started: Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica. We also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Phrasebook. We used to carry that around with us when we traveled in CR as tourists and used it all the time. Language apps like Duolingo are a great way to learn too.

      It is the rainforest so there are definitely mosquitoes but there’s a lot you can do to combat them. Read our post Costa Rica and Mosquitoes for more info and which repellants we’ve found to work the best.

  12. Thank you Jenn and Matt. I’ll read your blog and the ones you recommend and appreciate you sending the info. We have booked our trip and will be there in the Ojochal area and surrounds for 10 days from 22nd August 🙂 Is it better price-wise to reserve accommodation when we are there? Or should we do it now?

    Prices for car rental were incredibly reasonable – $81 for 10 days! Do you know if there is any catch to that? Seems too good to be true.

    BTW we live in Hawaii so if you ever visit here I’ll be happy to give any tips 🙂

    Best wishes

    Ellie

    1. Hi Ellie, You should reserve your lodging in advance. Ojochal doesn’t have a ton of options so might book up. I don’t think it’ll make much difference price wise either.

      That price on a car rental is definitely too good to be true. Even a regular sedan is more than that no matter which company you go with. They are probably not including the mandatory basic liability insurance in the quote. This is something that you have to get by law but not all the companies tell you upfront. Be careful too with some of the budget companies as they often don’t have great customer service and have old unreliable cars. If you want to price compare, check out our Rental Car Discount page. The company we work with has pretty good prices and is one of the better ones to use. Also be sure you don’t need 4×4 for where you’re staying. A lot of the places in Ojochal are in the hills up steep dirt roads that will be rough in late August because of rainy season. Hope that helps you out. Have a great trip!

  13. Hi Matt/Jenn,
    We are planning a family reunion for the upcoming holidays (late Dec/early Jan) and am currently trying to decide between 2 house. One is in Savegre and the other one in Ojochal. We’ll want to do some beginner surfing, rain forest hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, etc. Would it be better to be closer to Manuel Antonio or can you also find these things in Ojochal? Any specific advice? THANKS!!!

    1. Hi Martin, You can find all those things near Ojochal. Take a look at our 7 Things to Do in Dominical post for more info. Snorkeling isn’t covered in there but you can do it around the whale tail in Uvita or offshore at Cano Island for really good conditions (there is a dive shop out of Dominical that can take you). Given that, we would recommend deciding based on the time of year and type of experience you want. The weeks around Christmas and New Years are extremely busy in Manuel Antonio. All the hotels are full and the beach is crowded. Ojochal will be busier too but not as bad. Some people don’t want crowds so if that is you, we’d say go with the Ojochal house.

      1. Thank you guys!!! TRULY appreciate your getting back to me. I do have a follow up: I found a nice house in Uvita but now my sister in law was also referred to a nice house in Playa Negra (close to Tamarindo). I’m trying to understand the main differences… It definitely seems the area around Tamarindo will be more crowded (especially in Christmas/New Year). Would you mind giving me a quick recommendation as to whether you’d go to Uvita or Playa Negra if you were in my shoes? (there will be a total of 11 of us, with 4 being kids in the 6-10 yrs old range). THANKS!!!!!!!!! PS; wherever we go, we’ll be driving from San Jose

        1. Someone asked a similar question on our forum a while back about Uvita vs Tamarindo. Here’s the link to the thread.

          Yes, Tamarindo will be really busy that time of year but Playa Negra is a really small community so you won’t feel it there as much. Both places have surfing but Uvita is better for rainforest hikes (Guanacaste is mostly flat with tropical dry forest so you have to drive for hiking). Also Playa Negra is farther from San Jose so if it were us, we would go with Uvita.

  14. Hey Guys…
    First…..Your site is the best resource I have found for my needs and I’ve been looking for a couple years now, so thanks for that.
    Second…..We are planning a trip soon, however, I unable to find anything comprehensive regarding ‘organic’ fruit and its availability in Costa Rica. I know Costa Rica is known for its abundant use of pestisides and that scares me a bit.
    Third…..Highly subjective question, but you seem very forthcoming with your thoughts, so I’ll throw it out there. If money were not part of the equation, what part of Costa Rica would you live and why ?

    Thanks for the site…..it its now my ‘go-to’ resource.

    1. Hi Blaine, That’s great to hear that our site has been so helpful. We do try to be thorough and honest!

      Costa Rica does like to spray but it is possible to find organic produce. Most communities have a farmers market and a lot of times they have a few organic vendors. They sometimes have a sign up with their certification from the government. If you’re visiting the Costa Ballena, there’s an organic vendor at the Uvita market on Saturdays or there’s an awesome completely organic farmers market in Tinamaste (on the road to San Isidro). That one is every Tuesday and has a ton of fruits, veggies, eggs, and homemade products like bread, cheese, etc. It’s a bit of a drive for us, but we go there to buy our stuff because it’s great and we trust that the stuff really is organic. There’s also the Feria Verde in San Jose, which is another all organic market.

      Love your last question. Honestly, if money weren’t an issue we would still live in the same place (Southern Pacific), just in a better house maybe with a sweeter ocean view, haha! We love the beach but wouldn’t want to be right on it because of the heat. We’re pretty happy right where we are, up in the hills a bit with a small ocean view and only a 20 min drive to the beach 🙂

  15. Hello! Your site has been a welcome and helpful resource while planning for our trip to Dominical for 8 days (starting this weekend). I chose Dominical as the “base” however, I am told that the beaches in Dominical and Uvita are not the most scenic. We are considering spending a day at Manuel Antonio, however, we are a bit wary due to the potential for crowds. Do they get crowded around this time of December (from 10th thru 17th)?

    Can you recommend any other beaches within 1 hr from Dominical that will be very scenic but un-crowded as well?

    1. Hi Charles, We think that the beaches between Dominical and Uvita are some of the most beautiful in the whole country. We actually live in this area and the beaches are a big part of the reason why. Dominical Beach itself isn’t the most scenic, it’s rocky and known more for surfing, but there are a ton of other gorgeous spots. The beaches of Marino Ballena National Park (Playa Uvita and the Whale Tail, Playa Arco, etc.) are all good choices. We like Playa Hermosa just north of Uvita too, and Playa Ventanas for swimming and the cool caves. I don’t think you’ll have a problem finding something that suits you. The beaches in Manuel Antonio are pretty too and worth checking out if you have time. Go early on in your trip and it won’t be too busy yet. Hope you enjoy Dominical!

      1. hey guys! ur site is so helpful! sinimar to the reader above, i am travelling with a group of 4 couples in November. we are seeking an area that doesnt require a car to get everywhere as we don’t want to have to seperate in 2 cars often. bc we have 8 ppl we have a few preference i am trying to accommodate. wed love to be able to walk to the beach and a town for low key beach bars or food. we love the sounds of dominical as it seems we can enjoy beautiful beaches and also have alot of other options, hiking, waterfalls, etc, as well which we would like to do 1 or 2 days. i am having trouble finding a home or small gathering of homes in the area that are walking distance to town and beach. with ur knowledge of the area, can you make some suggestions of areas to look? or, based on our preferences would u recommend another area altogether? thank u so so much!

        1. Hi Katie, Dominical is tough without a rental car. This area is more spread out, and the waterfalls, hikes, and other things to do are a good drive away. Most of the vacation rentals are located on the surrounding hills and not in town so that is probably why you are having trouble finding something. Read our post Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica Without a Car to get some ideas
          for other places that may be a better fit. Or Samara comes to mind as a good option for a town within walking distance to the beach and amenities. Good luck with your planning!

  16. Hi! I will be returning to Costa Rica for my third visit (and second time staying in the Dominical area) next week, but I have never heard of the Tesoro Escondido Eco-Reserve mentioned above. We are always looking for awesome new places to hike while visiting, but I the link in the article appears to be broken, and I am not able to find any information via google. Could you possibly provide some additional information so we could check it out while we are there?

    Btw, I absolutely love this site!!! I thought I knew just about all of the sights to see, but you guys have provided a wealth of new information for me. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Brit, Looks like they didn’t renew their website domain, sorry about that. That Reserve is in Playa Hermosa de Uvita. The community is at the turnoff for Ranchos Remo off the highway (34). You may have seen a sign for a chocolate tour they offer. Last we heard, the intern who was coordinating tours was gone but there were still people working in the office in town. If you wanted to hike the reserve, you could take a drive up to the office to coordinate when you get here or call. Here’s a link to their Facebook page. It does have a phone number.

      You are supposed to do the hike on a guided tour. It’s a rustic reserve, when we were there the trail wasn’t well defined, so having someone go up with you is a good idea. The reserve itself is beautiful but the whole experience is great if you’re interested in local culture. Have fun if you go!

  17. I’m retiring and planning to move to CR in the spring. I don’t really know where, but have had your area recommended. Do you know of any inexpensive rentals for a month or 2? I do not want to have a car, will walk as much as possible. I am not a surfer, do like to swim and hike. Any live music?

    1. Hi Keith, The best way to find an inexpensive rental is through word of mouth. You could stay somewhere for a few days when you first get here and look for something when you arrive. Or you could join some of the locals groups on Facebook in this area and post in there that you’re looking. Try searching Costa Ballena Bulletin Board. We are fortunate to have a lot of live music in this area.

  18. I just wanted to add a comment about how much our family loved our recent stay in Uvita and how helpful all the information on this site was/is. We rented a great house up in the hills that had everything and was very reasonably priced. The surrounding beaches, activities, people, restaurants, wildlife, etc all exceeded expectations. We are ow home and looking forward to coming back. If anyone is looking for a great place to rent then I suggest reaching out to these guys, http://www.projectnomadcr.com/ . also if you have any other questions please feel free to send me a note.
    Thanks again on such a great website.
    Regards,
    -Tucker

    1. Hi Tucker, That’s great to hear! We love the Uvita area too. There’s nothing like the beaches here, they are our favorite in the whole country. Thanks for taking the time to write. Hope you get back soon. Pura vida!

  19. I am coming to CR first visit 12th of May , 6 days in Ojochal and 6 in MA

    Hoping to get feel for the country am seriously c9nsidering relo from Florida
    Seeking different, simpler lifestyle, I heard of womens group of Expats in Ojochal that would be awesome. I am retired active senior working on my Spanish, poorly, your page is fabulous
    Thanks, will contact yoyr car rental resource
    Phyllis

  20. Hi! I love your website! Such a good resource! We are planning our 4th trip to Costa Rica. Third trip as parents. I’ve read so many great things about the uvita area but we’re concerned about the surf and finding some safe swimming beaches with our three kids who will be 2, 5 and 7 at the time of our trip. Would we be better off sticking to Manuel Antonio or possibly near nosara? We have stayed in samara and Manuel antonio on previous trips

    1. Hi Amy, Playa Dominicalito is a cove with nice calm water. Other than that, your options are Playa Ventanas near Ojochal (fairly calm most of the time but there can be rip currents) and Playa Arco, but that is harder to get to and has some safety concerns recently. Of course you could swim at all the local waterfalls too.

      Nosara doesn’t have much better options so we’d skip that, but as you said, Manuel Antonio is a good bet because of Playa Biesanz and the beach in the national park.

  21. Hi Jenn and Matt. Firstly, thanks so much for all your amazing info – your website has been so helpful. We are visiting CR this Christmas and planning to spend some time in the Dominical/Uvita/Ojochal area for a few days – possibly over Christmas. I’ve read your post on this area but would really appreciate your thoughts on which place to chose for our family. We have 3 kids between 22-15 who want to do some surfing/chilling/hiking. We’re looking for somewhere with a bit of life, but not masses of noisy nightlife! All 3 destinations look great, but any further tips would be much appreciated. THanks so much. Sofia

    1. Hi Sofia, Any of the three would probably work, but Dominical has the closest thing to a town center to walk around in with a few restaurants and bars. Uvita is more spread out with some businesses near the beach but mostly up by the highway where it’s less desirable to hang out. Ojochal has the least in terms of nightlife but has an excellent selection of restaurants. Dominical has the youngest vibe and is great for serious surfing. There are good surf spots in the other towns too, though, and hiking can be done out of all three.

  22. Hi there! I love reading your blog!! I am planning my 40th b-day trip for me and 6 of my best friends for this coming march…we are trying to decide between 2 houses, one is in Manuel Antonio and the other is just south of Dominical. We want a laid back trip but we also want to do a couple excursions, whale watching, waterfalls and snorkeling. We are torn…we have read MA is touristy but that is where the excursions go from and Dominical is laid back but we also don’t want to spend tons of time in the car. Help!! Thanks

    1. Hi Michelle, Those activities are all available out of Dominical too and some are actually better from Dominical. One thing to keep in mind is that while it is possible to see whales in March, the season won’t be in its peak (more info here), so we wouldn’t plan your trip around that. If you do decide to go out on a tour, most tours start in Uvita, near Dominical. Snorkeling conditions are hit or miss in both locations. In MA, you can do it as part of a tour like a catamaran tour, and in the Dominical area, you can do it around the whale tail as part of a kayak tour. Waterfalls are much better around the Dominical area as they are much more numerous. So we would say to go for Dominical if you’re looking for more of a laid back experience. Take a look at our things to do near Dominical post as well.

  23. Hi J and M,

    Thanks for all the helpful info 🙂

    I’m going to Uvita in late December for 3 days/4 nights. I mainly want to chill at the beach, check out the waterfall, maybe do a whale watch. Would you recommend renting a car/transiting to Dominical for the day as well?

    Cheers,

    M

    1. Hi Marica, With 3 days, we would probably just stay around Uvita since there is quite a bit there. Unless you’re a surfer, you won’t be missing out by skipping Dominical. The beach in Dominical is rocky so stick with Uvita for beach time. Dominical does have a cool chill feel, though, which is lot different than Uvita, if you have some free time. If you do visit, we would recommend grabbing a beer at Tortilla Flats or a coffee and some food at Cafe Mono Congo. There are also a lot of souvenir vendors along the beach.

  24. HI j 7 m!
    i
    We are going to CR in April and will visit Arenal for five nights, Monteverde for 5 nights then Jaco for 5 nights. (Club Del Mar there)

    Ho codes this plan sound for our trip? I liked Jaco, especially staying at
    Club Del Mar….last hotel on the beach. Out of the way and very quiet…stayed there in 2009.

    Thanks for any input!

    Nora

  25. wow! That cam out weird! I meant of say, ” how does that sound for our trip” at the beginning of the second paragraph above. It’s late1

    1. Hi Nora, That sounds like a great itinerary. You’re not trying to do too much but you shouldn’t be bored either because each of those destinations has a ton to do. They are also a lot different from one another so will be unique experiences.

      Hotel Club del Mar is a wonderful option for Jaco. It’s nice because it’s still close to town but far enough out so that you don’t get the noise. We have actually recommended it to our itinerary clients before. Hope you have a good return visit to CR!

  26. Hi Jen and Matt,
    My husband and I are considering Costa Rica for our 34th wedding anniversary. I’ve just started my research on Costa Rica so I’m thrilled I found your blog. Great info. From what I’ve read so far, the Dominical area seems to be right for us. We love going to St John, USVI but unfortunately due to the hurricane damage, we won’t be traveling there for some time.

    We typically travel end of May beginning of June over our anniversary but from what I’ve read on your blog, it may be the worst time due to the rain. My husband and I are definitely on two different pages when it comes to the weather. He likes it cooler where I like it warmer. Would love your suggestion if we should shift to a different time to travel. Also, we always rent a jeep when on St John and stay on the more rough side of the island. Are the roads in Dominical challenging when they have heavy rain? I’m interested in rent a house in the area. Thanks for the info for a first timer researching Costa Rica.

    1. Hi Susan, The Dominical area does sound like a good fit for you and your husband. The rainy season doesn’t get too intense until September so end of May/early June should be fine (see our Weather post for more detailed information). Typically, you will have sunny days and then rain for an hour or two in the afternoon or at night. Of course, it’s the weather so it varies, but that is generally how it is in the Dominical area. It will still be nice and warm then too. The temperature stays almost the same year-round, although the rainy season is a little bit cooler (but still very tropical). If you stay in the hills around Dominical, your husband will enjoy the cooler nights. Again, since the rain usually isn’t too bad in May/June, driving is not a problem. Just be sure to ask if the vacation rental you choose requires 4×4 as many are located on rough dirt roads.

  27. Hi Jen and Matt,
    Sorry forgot to ask a question in my prior post. We are thinking of renting a villa in the Dominical area and I noticed that almost everyone jumps around the island. Our stay in CR will be about 10 nights. Is it a bad idea to just stay in the Dominical area for our entire stay? After traveling to Europe this past Summer, we were hoping for a more relaxed trip next year but still would like to have the flexibility to do different excursions and not miss too much in CR. Would really appreciate your guidance. Thanks!

  28. Thank you so much for your response! Your site is a wonderful resource of detailed information. Best I have ever seen for a destination. Not sure why the Villa agent is trying to talk me out of Dominical but I’m going to stick with it. Villa agent told us that there are no restaurants close by and the nicest beaches are 20 min. away. I don’t mind a 20 min. drive to a beach but it would be nice to have a few restaurants close by, especially if we have heavy rain in the evening.

    1. There are a few good restaurants nearby. Check out Por Que No, Mono Congo, La Parcela (amazing view). In Uvita, which is about 20 min away, there are a lot more choices too. One of our favorites is Ballena Bistro. Ojochal is about 35-40 min but worth the drive. It has a ton of great restaurants.

  29. Hi, my boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica in late November/early December and I had two questions I was hoping you might be able to answer. I have not been able to find any specific information on damage caused by Hurricane Nate. I am wondering if this should factor into our decision to come to CR or where to go. Right now we are thinking about driving to the Costa Ballena and San Gerardo de Dota areas and then to Drake Bay. Do you know if it would be possible to drop a rental car somewhere on the Costa Ballena and then take a bus or shuttle to Sierpe so that we could then fly back to San Jose? Thank you for any info you can provide and for the wonderful,informative website!

    1. Hi Jill, The storm damage wasn’t so bad that you should change your plans but there is one part of your itinerary you may want to rethink. The portion of Highway 2 between San José and San Isidro de El General suffered a lot of damage and the portion of road around a section called Cerro de la Muerte isn’t expected to be reopened for a while. This is the way to San Gerardo de Dota, which also had a lot of damage, so we would say to skip that for now. You can still go to the Costa Ballena via the coastal route (27 to 34), and the Costa Ballena is fine for the most part. Sierpe had a ton of flooding and destruction to homes but this won’t affect the boat taxi to Drake Bay.

      And yes, you can rent a car from SJO airport and then drop it off in Uvita and shuttle the rest of the way, or drop it off in Sierpe. There are no rental car company offices in Sierpe, but the company we work with, Adobe, will come from their Uvita office to pick up the car for a small fee. There’s more information on our rental car page.

  30. Hi… Some brilliant info on this site (Thanks Matt & Jenn)
    We are permanently moving from Melbourne (Yes.. Australia!) to Ojochal in January and noticed your special deals on car rental.
    Is your car rental office in the group located located next to Hampton Inn across from SJO airport? (we are staying there before driving down to Ojochal)
    As we only need one way, do they have a drop off office that’s open on Sundays in Uvita?
    And is only one day hire permitted?
    Thanks again guys (maybe meet you one day at the Bamboo room!)

    1. Hi Charlie, Congrats on your upcoming move! Adobe‘s SJO office is located just east of the airport. Here’s a link with the exact location. They can deliver the car to the Hampton Inn for free, though, if you specify that as the pickup location when you make the reservation. And, yes, the Uvita office is open on Sundays. One-way rentals are permitted, but like most companies, they charge a drop off fee for having different pick up and drop off locations. Probably still a lot cheaper than taking a shuttle, though. Hope to meet you someday, safe travels!

  31. Hi J and M,
    I love your site! My wife and I are returning to CR after 22 yrs, this time with 2 kids in tow from AK and sister’s family of same size. We’ll be staying in Uvita for a week straddling xmas. Wondering if things will be closed up due to holidays (surf shops, riding tours, etc.). Also, wondering if you have any tips on hot spots for birding. Lastly, wondering what the drive time to and from San Jose is. Last time we were here we were sans kids and rolled with the bus schedules, but things have changed, a bit.

    1. Hi Julian, Most businesses/tour companies will be open for the holidays since it is the busiest time of year. The only tour that we know of that doesn’t operate on Christmas Day is the Nauyaca Waterfalls. So you shouldn’t have any problems.

      The birding is great in the Uvita area. You can see many different species just about anywhere but one hotspot is Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge (especially their Teak trail). About an hour away is a really special birding location, Los Cusingos, where the famous birder and scientist Alexander Skutch once lived. This place has some interesting species and different from what you would find in Uvita because it is at a higher elevation. We haven’t been but you could also check out Oro Verde Nature Reserve in the hills on the road across from Rancho La Merced in Uvita. Finally, the drive time from San Jose is about 3.5-4 hrs. Hope you and your wife have s good return visit to CR. I bet you will find that it has changed a lot.

  32. Hi there,

    We will be staying in Dominical from January 20-28, 2018. There are 10 of us (6 adults, 2 older teens, a 10 year old and a 5 year old) and we are looking for “MUST DO and SEE” suggestions for our trip. We are staying up in the mountains so will likely spend a few days just around the property but are hoping to find some pretty exciting things to do the rest of the time. We will have rental cars so we have no problem driving to find our adventures. Any recommendations? My sisters and I also want to find something that our parents could do on their own and gift it to them for Christmas as they spent their honeymoon in Costa Rica 37 years ago (never been south though). We haven’t been able to find anything just right by searching. Maybe something relaxin, but a nice day away from the rest of the family. We looked at hot springs but it there don’t seem to be any that are not a 5 hour drive.

    We are open to any suggestions you have and are so excited for our visit!

    1. Hi Tess, You should read our post Things to Do in Dominical for ideas. There is a lot of information in the comments too. If you’re more interested in adventure activities, you can do whitewater rafting, zip lining, and paragliding close to Dominical. Not sure what your parents are interested in, but the catamaran tour out of Quepos is nice, especially the afternoon tour which includes sunset. They could have dinner in Manuel Antonio after (there are a lot of great restaurants there). There are some very rustic hot springs near the town of Hatillo. They’re very simple compared to the resorts near Arenal Volcano but still nice and are an authentic experience.

  33. Hi there,

    Thanks for the amazing site, it’s been a great resource whilst planning our 3 month working holiday to CR starting in 10 days time. We’re going to stay in Uvita for a month or maybe 2 from January and were wondering if you knew of any childcare facilities, like a nursery (preferably bilingual), around there for our 2 daughters aged 2 and nearly 5. As well as giving us a break I’m sure they’d really like to hang out with some kids their own age and they’ll learn a lot too I’m sure.

    I’m also looking at a long term car rental of a 4×4 for the whole time we’re there do you know if Adobe do discounts for that kind of rental please? I’ve been thinking about buying a car (great articles thanks!) but I could really do without the hassle.

    1. Hi Jules, There is one nursery-school-type place called the Uvita Day Care. It is reputable and the parents we know who send their kids there are very happy with the care provided. Last we heard they were completely full but it is definitely worth looking into.

      Adobe does gives discounts for long term rentals but we’re not sure how much flexibility there will be during December – February since that is the busiest time of year. It will be the same for all the companies. Let us know if you would like the email or our rep at Adobe to get more information.

  34. Hi! Do you know anything about the schools in Uvita? I’m looking into one school there as a possibility for teaching, Centro Educativo Costa Ballena, and would love more perspective, if you know anything about it.

    1. Hi Lola, That’s Escuela Verde. It has a very good reputable in Uvita. We know a lot of expat parents who send their kids there. Another well known one is the Christian Academy. A brand new bilingual school is supposed to be opening up too. It will be called Kabe International Academy.

      1. Love your blog! I am planning to move to Uvitas within a year and want to find a job. I am a bilingual teacher and certified to teach and/or tutor ESL (English s a second lang.) I am also certified to teach Early Childhood ( Toddlers to 3-5yrs) as well as adults. We’ve driven through the country (both ways) and decided that Uvitas had that home feeling. Everybody is kind and always willing to help. My interests go beyond the position of the job itself. I want to help the people of Uvitas who aren’t able to pay tuitions or private tutorial services.
        I want to be a part of ” La Pura Vida! ” Best wishes and thank you for helping so many of us find the happiness in our lives.

  35. Hi!
    Wonderful blog with lots of information – thank you! My wife and I are starting to plan our first trip to Costa Rica this summer. We will probably spend somewhere between 7 and 9 nights. We would like to be very close to the beach. We have two boys, ages 11 and 14 and would like to find a town with surfing school(s), a really nice beach to relax and also a town that we could walk around to get something to eat, hang out, etc but not overly crowded either. We plan to rent a car to explore whatever we can given our time constraints though most of the time, we will likely spend on the beach. We have read about Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Uvita. Any suggestions or advice as to what the top towns in Costa Rica are, given our preferences? Thanks very much in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Anthony, If you want to be very close to the beach, the best options for what you’re looking for would be Nosara or Jaco. Jaco is likely to be busier but it will be low season when you’re here so a little slower. Nosara sounds more like the experience you’re looking for in general, though, anyway. It’s very laid back, offers great surfing with many schools to choose from, and has a small downtown area near the beach with restaurants and hotels (Playa Guiones). If you think Guiones will be too busy for you, it has smaller communities nearby that are quieter (e.g., Playa Pelada). Manuel Antonio is very nice as well but more limited in terms of lodging close to the beach (most is located along the steep hill).

  36. Good morning!
    I will be heading to CR for the 2nd time in June but this time with my kids (2 and 9) I am curious to know if any of the activities like horse back riding will allow a 2 year old (not solo but riding with me). Can you recommend any activities a 2 year old?

    Also do you have any recommendation or advice on buying land or a home in CR? Our dream is to retire in CR

    1. Hi Allison, We think that the Nauyaca horseback tour would allow your two year old to ride with you. We work with them so let us know if you’d like us to find out and book you on the tour. It’s a great one- the Nauyaca are our favorite waterfalls in the entire country. Other activities with a 2 year old are hiking at Hacienda Baru, visiting Reptilandia, touring Villas Alturas Wildlife Center, A boat tour at Isla Damas (near Manuel Antonio) or along the Terraba-Sierpe River in Coronado, and some of the smaller waterfalls in the area like the Uvita Waterfall and Pozo Azul in Dominicalito.

      Our best advice on buying property is to wait and rent here until you know for sure that you want to stay long term. A lot of people decide to move back home or somewhere else in a year or two and then they’re stuck trying to sell their property. Renting gives a lot more flexibility in case the first place you land isn’t the right fit as well.

  37. What is your opinion on all inclusive, adult only resorts? My husband really wants to go the all-inclusive route and since this is our 10 year anniversary trip we are planning for November, I want adults only and complete relaxation (no busy crowds)! Right now I’m just browsing for ideas of where to go, best place to fly in/out of, and within reasonable budget for 7-10 days. Would like the beach area, but the jungle looks fun too!

    1. Hi Samantha, Costa Rica doesn’t have a ton of options for all inclusive resorts. Personally, we don’t love these because they’re almost all located off on their own, away from everything, so it is very hard to experience the culture. We understand your wanting to relax though. One adults only resort with a good reputation is Secrets in Northern Guanacaste. If you’re okay with a non all-inclusive that is really nice and in a good location with other things to do around, you could look at the Gaia in Manuel Antonio. You shouldn’t see many crowds in November since that is low season.

  38. Hi Jenn/Matt,

    Hope you guys are both well! I’ve been loving reading your posts about the Costa Ballena and the little towns dotted along the coast. I’m looking to buy a holiday home in the area as a means of escape from the cruel English winters and would love to hear your thoughts on which towns/villages are your favourite and why. I’m currently looking between Ojochal and Diminical but there are so many properties to choose from it’s becoming a bit of a minefield!! Hoping to find somewhere up in the hills with distant views of the coast but within touching distance by car to restaurants/shops etc..

    All the best and keep up the fab work!

    Oli

    1. Hi Oli, You would probably like somewhere in the hills near Uvita or Ojochal. Uvita has the grocery stores and other conveniences, while Ojochal has a lot of excellent restaurants and is only a short drive from Uvita. There are a lot of small communities within these areas but it sounds like you want up be near the main road so that will narrow things a lot. Those would be good parameters to give to a real estate agent. Best of luck with your search!

      1. Hi Guys,

        Thanks so much for your reply! So, very short notice but we just booked flights to CR between the 7th and 18th April, so excited! We’re looking to rent a car from San Jose airport on the afternoon of the 7th until the 18th and I remember reading somewhere on your site that you have some contacts that might be able to help us get a 4×4 (we’re going to be viewing lots of difficult to access building plots in the Uvita/Ojochal/Dominical areas).

        Any help would be AMAZING, thanks!!

        Oli & Annie

  39. Hi Guys,
    First off, what a killer site! I used the site to plan for an incredible 10 day trip with my wife and 9 and 7 year old girls. The comments were invaluable, and so I’d like to add to the community with comments of my own. We rented a super villa in Ojochal (https://www.vrbo.com/380251) , and used it our home base.

    Ojochal is really well located- 10 mins to Uvita and 25 to dominical. We did day trips to Hacienda Baru, Nauyaca falls, Bodhi Surf Lessons, Marino Ballena National Park, and Diamante. (I have commented on each of those trips (except surfing) on their respective pages). Those day trips were typically done by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and then we spent afternoons at various beaches, or by the pool! Ojochal is more of a community than a town, is very chill, and has a fully stocked supermarket in town – everything you need. We ate many dinners at home, and of course ventured out for some dinners as well. There are lots of options for all kids of tastes and price ranges.

    These 3 towns offer a ton of variety and there was really more to do than time we had. It was a great first introduction to Costa Rica. We landed in San Jose, stayed overnight at an airport hotel, then got our rental car and drove the lovely and easy and safe 3.5 hour drive to Ojochal.

    We rented our 4×4 from Adobe, got our discount from this site (yay!) and it was so easy. They brought the car to the hotel we stayed at in San Jose, and they came to pick it up from us at the hotel when we were done – no fuss. It was such a relief to have them come to me and not have to worry about getting back and forth.

    We intentionally skipped Manuel Antonio – our sense was it was a heavy tourist town and we got to see much of the beauty we were after without the crowds. We had on our itinerary to go instead to Rainmaker, but didn’t make it there.

    All in all a super trip, and thanks to Mattt and Jenn for their efforts on this site!

    1. Hi Gordon, Great to hear from you again. That’s wonderful that you and your family had such a nice trip. We do love this area of the country as well and that is why we have chosen to live here 🙂 Thanks for contributing to our website with all of the comments and feedback. Hope you get back soon. Pura vida!

  40. Hi Jenn & Matt–Thanks so much for your site–I’ve been reading through as we plan our family trip to CR this summer, June/July 2018 (10 days). I was last in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio, over 20 years ago 🙂 I know that I am going to find the entire country very changed but I am looking forward to sharing its charms with my children and 9, 7 and 8 months. B/c we are traveling with a baby and two rowdy boys, I am thinking that finding a home base and traveling from there is our best option rather than moving from place to place. I am thinking Uvita might be the place? Would you recommend La Cusinga Lodge? I read your post on the south but didn’t see it listed. We’d are looking for hotel/lodge/home that will allow us to easily access lots of trips/activities but also has a nice space for downtime when we aren’t day tripping. Also, wondering if we should stay in Manuel Antonio for a few days at the end of our trip? I don’t think I’d miss it but wondering if might be fun for the boys–so many cool activities nearby ? Lots of questions 🙂 but would appreciate your thoughts!

    1. Hi Tamara, We can see how picking a home base and not jumping around would make sense for a family with younger children like yours. La Cusinga is a lovely spot and would be a great option for you. They have a good location with a nice view of the Whale’s Tail and are just off the highway so not too far from stores and restaurants. The Costa Ballena has a good amount of activities and you can do many of the things available in Manuel Antonio from Uvita as a day trip. So you don’t necessarily have to stay in MA if you don’t want to.

      It will be fun to see how the country has changed over the last 20 years. I’m sure you will think a lot is different but I bet you’ll still enjoy it. Hope your family has a great trip!

  41. Our expat group is wanting to do a roadtrip to Whale Tail this weekend but the weather shows thunderstorms everyday. Can you decribe the weather there now. We don’t want to make the long drive only to arrive to stormy weather.

    1. Hi Wendy, If you’re still thinking about doing this, the weather here has been great the last few days with little rain except at night. About 2 weeks ago, it was quite cloudy and rainy. We’re approaching “mini summer,” which usually starts in July so hopefully it stays nice.

  42. Hi there! Love your website 🙂 It has been such a helpful resource for planning my Costa Rica adventures! I am heading back to this beautiful country around the Christmas holiday. Originally my family and I were planning on staying in Dominical, but found a great condo in Uvita. I was wondering if you would recommend staying in Dominical over Uvita, or if both are great. We plan on driving around the Costa Ballena and heading up to Manuel Antonio for a day trip. What is the town of Uvita like, compared to Dominical? I’ve been to Dominical and enjoyed walking around the streets. I also wanted to see whether one town was safer than the other. Thank you so much!!!

    1. Hi Kelsey, Dominical and Uvita are very similar, but Uvita is set up a little differently. It has a few different areas, unlike Dominical, which has one main area of town near the beach. Uvita has some small commercial areas up by the highway, then another neighborhood down by the beach. Uvita has bigger grocery stores, banks, more restaurants, and the closest beaches are part of the national park so you have to pay to get in (other non-pay beaches are only 10 min away). Dominical isn’t far, though, so it really doesn’t matter which you pick if you like the place you found in Uvita. Uvita has a little more crime than Dominical but not a huge difference. You can read our Safety post for tips on staying safe.

  43. Hi Jenn & Matt, your website is great and has been so helpful for planning our upcoming trip – thank you for all your amazing tips!
    We’re travelling to CR in November for 12 days – we’re currently thinking of going from SJO to Puntarenas for 2 or 3 nights, then to Santa Teresa for 5 or so nights, and then driving to the Costa Ballena for the remainder of the trip. We love relaxing on the beach but are also big foodies and love the sound of Ojochal- we also hate anywhere too touristy/overcrowded. Are we giving ourselves too much travelling by visiting both places and do you think they offer enough variation? Would we be missing out by not visiting the volcanoes in the north?
    We will definitely be hiring a car through the link on your site so thanks for the driving advice!
    Thank you so much in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Polly, That isn’t too much to fit in with 12 days. One thing to note is that Puntarenas, the city, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer visitors. We don’t usually recommend it but maybe you meant some other city in Puntarenas Province? Definitely go to the Costa Ballena if you are foodies because Ojochal has a lot of excellent restaurants. Don’t miss Citrus. We wouldn’t worry about too many tourists in November. The only exception to that is right around US Thanksgiving, but even then, most destinations aren’t too crowded. It’s totally a matter of preference if you do the volcanoes or not. They are unique but if you’d rather spend your time at the beach, we can understand that. The beaches are outstanding here. Hope that helps. Thanks for renting your car through our site!

      1. Thanks so much for your advice! We’ve now decided to spend a couple of days in La Fortuna at the beginning to see the volcanoes, then we’re going to drive to Santa Teresa for just under a week, then get the ferry back to Puntarenas and drive down to Uvita for the final few days. Hopefully the 2 big drives should be ok..! We’re so excited and hoping the weather isn’t too rainy!

  44. Hey guys, planning a small getaway for a wk .we live in Nosara me for the surf and Roslyn for the beach etc.probably stay in Uvita.so the best places for me to surf and then whale stuff , hiking etc. I need super layed back no hurry place to stay , surf , eat .kinda of on a budget . thanks for any help!

    1. Hi Mario, Uvita sounds like it would be a good fit for you both. Dominical is great for surfing so definitely check that out. Uvita is super laid back and has a good choice of restaurants. Be sure to go to Ojochal at least one night for a treat – the restaurants there are amazing. They have already been seeing a lot of whales so it’s a great time for that too. Let us know if you need help arranging a tour, happy to do so.

  45. Hi there – we’re traveling to Costa Rica during the rainy season in September and are deciding between staying in the Costa Ballena region and the Quepos/Manuel Antonio region. In the chance it is pouring every day, which area would you say is better during the rainy season? Maybe one which has more activities that wont be impacted by the rain?

  46. HI, Pura Vida! I have your book and read it before heading to CR my first time. Now, after 2 visits, we are seriously considering relocating there. We are most seriously considering the Costa Ballena area. I really love the town of Samara but the heat and lack of good hiking and waterfalls make it a no go. We’ve been to Dominical and liked the little town but we are not surfers. We like to swim in calm waters and have long beach walks. We are considering being up in the hills where it’s cooler but are a bit confused as to whether being above Dominical (close by Platanillo), being above Uvita, or being above Ojochal is the better bet. We know we need to explore more, but are interested in your opinion. We are interested in natural beauty but also want a safe area, an area where we can meet other down to earth expats and locals, can buy organic food (and other whole foods), do some yoga, get some decent coffee and a good meal, get involved with some conservation projects, and feel like we are building some community ties. We are in our 50’s, have our finances worked out, are very earthy, altruistic, and are both healers. Any advice you may offer? Thanks, Nadia

    1. Hi Nadia, The best thing to do would be to come down again and explore those different neighborhoods. They have a lot of similarities but some important differences too. The area above Dominical, like Platanillo and Tinamaste, has a lot of people interested yoga/meditation/healing etc. and there’s an excellent organic farmer’s market in Tinamaste. Uvita and Ojochal have a bigger mix of expats. Lots of retirees and also young families because of the private schools in Uvita. It can be hard to find long-term rentals by the beach so something in Platanillo or Tinamaste would be easier to get. Uvita does have a farmers market in Bahia now, and there’s supposed to be some organic vendors there.

  47. Hello! Do you have any familiarity with any good dual-language preschool or kindergarten programs in the southern pacific region? Our family is hoping to find a fun program for our 2 kids (ages 3 and 5) for a semester somewhere in Costa Rica next year.. I have heard of Centro Educativo Costa Ballena near Uvita but it’s hard to get a feel for it from afar. Or, maybe any other schools in the rest of the country? We’re aware of 2 schools in Monteverde, which look awesome, but we were hoping for the coast… Thank you!

    1. Hi Stephanie, Yes, in the Uvita/Dominical area, there is Escuela Verde, which you mentioned, the Christian Academy, and the new Kabe School just opened up. Those are all bilingual schools. People like them, but we have heard complaints about teacher turnover (expat teachers move back home) and the kids can change a lot too. But if you’re only coming for a short visit, it will be different for you. There are lots of other options all around the country. The best choices are in the Central Valley. Here’s a link to a website we’ve been saving with some of the different schools. Best of luck with your plans!

  48. Hi! What a great site you have created! I have spent hours and hours researching for an upcoming CR trip, and this is the best site I’ve found. I am planning a surprise trip for my husband’s 50th birthday…just the 2 of us, probably 10 days, with travel dates in early Feb 2019. I am hoping to create a plan that includes a combination of adventure/wildlife/nature experiences along with relaxing beach time. Thus far I’ve tentatively planned to fly into SJO, with the first several days somewhere in Alajuela province (La Fortuna or Tabacon?), and the second half of the trip down the Pacific coast. I had been thinking Manuel Antonio, though now after reading through your site I am considering Uvita. We do enjoy good restaurants, so the proximity to Ojochal is appealing. I am having difficulty figuring out whether Uvita is a good “home base” for including trips to places like Monteverde or Montezuma. Would it be better to split the trip into 3 segments (Tabacon, Santa Teresa or similar, and Uvita)? Or, maybe that isn’t necessary? I really don’t want to “hotel hop” and would prefer to just divide the trip into 2 hotels, but I don’t want to shortchange our opportunity for the best experiences. What would be your advice? Thanks!

    1. Hi Stephanie, Monteverde and Montezuma are discrete destinations that are best visited with at least a couple of nights. Unfortnately, you can’t really do Monteverde as a day trip from La Fortuna, or Montezuma or Monteverde from Uvita. The drive times are too long and it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Since you don’t want to hotel hop, maybe for this trip, focus on 3 destinations, so Uvita/Ojochal + La Fortuna + either Monteverde or Montezuma/Santa Teresa. Hope that helps! We also offer a custom itinerary service and could help guide you more on where to go based on exactly what you want to do. Here’s a link to our site with more info.

  49. Hi guys,

    Just wondering if you happen to know if the Marino Ballena park is still closed on Mondays. I’m ready different things. Also, if it’s closed, can you still enter the beach at Uvita, or is that impossible?
    Thanks for answering!

  50. Without going to Cano Island, where are the best places to snorkel on your own? We are staying a week in Ojochal end of October to early November.

  51. Like everyone else, I’m so grateful for your website! Question: we are two parents coming with our 9 yr old son AND 75 year old abuela in Feb (from Newton/Boston). Yaya is fine staying back when we do more athletic activities, like hiking/waterfalls. Can you please recommend low-key, not very expensive hotels on the beach anywhere from Dominical to Uvita, or elsewhere on the Costa Ballena? We’re thinking a hotel will be better than a home rental so that she can chit chat with others during the day. Muchas gracias!

    ps. last year we stayed at Las Brisas Del Pacifico about 10 mins outside of Samara, which was great bc we could walk to town for dinner, but not be in the town surf scene all day.

    1. Hi Kate, Availability might be getting slim for February by now, but here are some ideas. Keep in mind that there aren’t a ton of options on the beach in Dominical/Uvita area. You could try Villas Rio Mar. That’s right on the river in Dominical so about a 10 minute walk to the beach, and there would be a little bit going on around town for her, but it wouldn’t be too crazy. Otherwise, there are vacation rentals and a hostel on the beach in Uvita, but you probably aren’t interested in that. Across the highway in Dominical is Plaza Suites. Like we said, it’s on the highway side but just a short walk to town and the beach. Hope that helps!

  52. Hi there!

    I’ll be travelling around Costa Rica next month and so excited, there’s so much I want to see!

    I was especially drawn to the Costa Ballena and I was thinking of spending a good chunk of time there (maybe five nights or so?), mainly for the possibility to see the whales, and also for the yoga and maybe a surf lesson 🙂 However I’ve read in several places that Dominical especially is quite a party town – with drugs and crime to match … Are you aware of this; and do you know the extent of the problem? That you know of, does it extend to Uvita (which is where I think I’ll base myself)?

    I’ll be travelling alone (and for the first time), so very keen to avoid feeling at all unsafe! If you have any more info, or tips or advice, that would be very welcome.

    Thanks so much for your site – you don’t know how much it’s helping me in planning this trip!

    All the best,

    Aimee

    1. Hi Aimee, We live not far from Dominical and it’s actually a pretty quiet surf town. There are some drugs but it’s not a scene or anything like that. It’s safe too as long as you follow the usual precautions. Uvita has some crime, mostly petty theft, but there have been some more aggressive crimes in the past few years so just be careful walking around by yourself. Make sure to not carry valuables around with you. We feel safe going to Uvita and go there all the time, but tourists tend to be more of a target. We have a lot more tips in our Safety post.

  53. Thank you for your amazing information. We will be staying in Domincal with a car and wondering if we should stop somewhere for a day or 2 on the return trip to the airport. I imagine driving from Domincal to SJO in the early morning for a flight is not a good idea. So, option A: I was thinking on last night to stay somewhere around Herradura for a night and leaving at 7am for a 12:40pm flight. Or, option B: staying there one night and then heading up to a place to stay closer to airport for another night. Is there a better stopping point that would keep me in beautiful scenery and close enough to do airport and return car? Thanks for you input.

    1. Hi Julie, Yeah, option A is a good plan. The Herradura area is nice so it will still feel like you’re on vacation. You should get to the airport about 2 hours in advance of your flight and Herradura is about 1 hour from San Jose so we’d aim to leave by 8:30 or so, so that you’re not rushed and have plenty of time to return the rental car.

  54. Hi and thanks for this great site! We are currently in Grecia for a few weeks and would like to check out the San Isidro area to find a small house for a month for next Feb. (hope to look into it now while we are here)
    Is San Isidro cooler or need to be in the surrounding hills for that? Is there a location just outside of SI that would be in the direction of the beaches that you would recommend? We won’t go to the beach too often but do want to be in or near a town to easily get groceries and go out to eat a few times a week. Or maybe there are some quieter places for rent further from the town center?
    We would need good internet access as we do some work remotely. We have liked Grecia but want something with more nature opportunities.
    Is it about 3.5 hours from the SJ airport?

    1. Hi Linda, The main area of San Isidro sits in a valley so can get hot, but there are some smaller towns in the surrounding hills and mountains. It may be hard to find something to rent there a year out since, at least in our experience, rentals are somewhat hard to come by in San Isidro during high season. But you could at least go and narrow down the areas you’re interested in. There are a lot of smaller towns on the beach road that connects Dominical and San Isidro, and Cable Tica internet can be found in some of these places as long as you’re not too far off the main road. Yes, it’s about 3.5-4 hours to the airport depending on traffic. Sometimes there can be a lot of traffic getting from Cartago over to Alajuela.

      1. Thanks for your advice. We did not make it down from Grecia to San Isidro to check it out for next February.
        Still thinking of that area for a month in February next year. Are there towns you recommend checking out with a little higher elevation so it would be cooler, that are in the direction of the beach, but not too far from San Isidro? And as you said, not too remote as we will be working and need good internet access. Thanks for your thoughts!
        Linda

          1. Thanks! We will check housing rentals as it gets closer and that may narrow it down also.
            Take care,
            Linda

    1. Hi Nyle, We don’t recommend driving long distances after dark in Costa Rica. It’s a long 4 hour drive to Dominical. Better to stay overnight near the airport and get an early start the next day. Here’s a link to our post on recommended airport hotels.

  55. Thanks for all your tips! We were thinking the Quepos area but now that Iv’e read your article I can’t decide! Sounds like there are so many good places. Planning a trip in October for 4 adults and flying into San Jose. Plan to rent a car and all drive down to the MA area. Looking for the option of enjoying the jungle as well as snorkeling/paddleboarding. Any recommendations?

    1. Hi Shandria, The Manuel Antonio/Quepos area is a good option for October. This can be a rainy time of year but Manuel Antonio is often less rainy than other places because it’s on a point so doesn’t get as much rain from the mountains (we live in the area). The Costa Ballena tends to be more rainy because it’s farther south. If you decide to stay in Manuel Antonio, let us know if you’d like some tour recommendations. Also be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount to save 10% on a car.

  56. Thanks for the informative website. We will be in Uvita for New Years. Last year we had a most amazing dinner and then fireworks and celebration all on the beach in Samara. I don’t think there’s is anything quite like it in this area, but do you have a recommendation? We have two children who will be with us (11 and 13).

    1. Hi Dutchie, We don’t know of any fireworks displays in the Uvita area but you should be able to find some restaurants having festivities. Try some of the places in Ojochal first like Citrus or the Bamboo Room. Those both have excellent food and usually have something going on for holidays. They will probably make announcements on their Facebook pages.

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