The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal

Last Updated: April 22, 2024

When we first started visiting the Costa Ballena region along the southern Pacific coast, it was relatively undeveloped, harder to access, and overall not a popular destination. Fast-forward 15 or so years, and the word has gotten out. Located an hour south of the busy beach town of Manuel Antonio, the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast) consists of the towns of Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal. This region is quickly 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.

Costa Ballena: Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal


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 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.

Sunset Playa Dominicalito
Sunset view from the hills around Dominical

Tip: Because this region is more spread out, we highly recommend a rental car. If you’re staying up one of the many rough mountain roads, you may need a 4×4 vehicle. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount to save 10% and get free extras.

Towns of the Costa Ballena


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 affordable accommodations and fun beach bars, the small main area of Dominical attracts mostly budget travelers coming for the surf or yoga. Up in the hills outside town are options for higher end lodging set in the thick rainforest.

The rocky beach is no doubt the focal point of the community. You’ll find people set up under the palms during the day and groups gathering for sunset at night.

Along the sandy palm-tree-lined avenue next to the beach are dozens of merchants selling souvenirs, and a handful of casual restaurants serving up quick bites alongside cold drinks. The main area of town closer to the highway also has some good options for restaurants near the river.

For lots more information about Dominical, read our post, A Locals’ Guide to Dominical.

Main Street Dominical
Main street in Dominical


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.

In recent years, Uvita has undergone quite a bit of development due to the increase in expats living in the area. Most businesses are concentrated along the highway, but the rest of Uvita is growing as well. On the coastal side, the neighborhood of Bahía Ballena near the beach has more lodging, restaurants, and amenities. Some other side roads off the main highway are growing too, with more businesses and homes.

Take one of the many dirt roads into the mountains, though, and you can still discover hidden neighborhoods neatly tucked into the rainforest. 

Dirt road mountains Uvita
Dirt road in the mountains outside Uvita


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 mix of cultures or the plentiful tropical ingredients, but it is rare to find so many gourmet restaurants so close to one another.

In addition to great food, Ojochal also has its own magnificent ocean views, pristine swaths of jungle, and beautiful beaches.

Activities in the Costa Ballena

National Whale Marine Park

Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita 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 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
The Whale Tail from above

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 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 beach in Uvita.

For more about the whales, including the best times of year to spot them, check out our post, Whale Watching in Costa Rica


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 lifeguard stand.

For beginners, Uvita’s Playa Chaman (also called 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.

Our family has done a surf lesson at Playa Chaman. You can hear about our experience in our post, Surf Lessons in Uvita: Consistent Waves for Learning.

Surf Lessons Chaman Uvita
Taking surf lessons on Playa Chaman


Nauyaca 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). 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.

Many 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
The beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls

Uvita Waterfall

Another waterfall worth a visit is the Uvita Waterfall.

This small, but impressive, cascade is much easier to access than the Nauyaca so great with kids or if you’re short on time. A 5-10 minute hike brings you down to the waterfall pool, where you can go for a swim or climb up to slide down.

There are a couple of different ways to access the Uvita Waterfall. For all the information, check out our separate post


Hacienda Baru

With the mountains so close to the coast, it’s easy to get in an early morning hike and still be swimming by lunch. One of our favorite places for wildlife viewing is Hacienda Barú right off the highway in Dominical.

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 even caimen. One of the more challenging trails also has a lookout with views of Dominical Beach.

Hacienda Barú has night tours and overnight jungle stays for those wanting to explore the creepy crawlies that come out after dark. It also offers zip-line tours for the adrenaline hungry.

Hiking Options Nearby

Manuel Antonio, 45 minutes-1 hour north, offers more hiking options.

The national park in town is one of the best places in Costa Rica for wildlife viewing. Along the easy-to-navigate paths, you can see three types of monkeys, sloths, toucans, and Scarlet Macaw parrots. It’s easy to make a day out of visiting Manuel Antonio, with its many restaurants and things to do.

Rainmaker Nature Reserve is a more off-the-beaten path hiking spot a little north of Manuel Antonio. It offers hiking and hanging bridges through thick primary rainforest. There are also some small waterfalls you can take a dip in.

Rainmaker day trip from Uvita and Dominical
Rainmaker’s hanging bridges are a nice day trip from the Costa Ballena

Read our posts (linked above) for more details about these two reserves.

More Activity Options

We have several more recommendations for things to do in the Costa Ballena in our post, 8 Things to Do in Dominical.

Kayaking in the Mangroves - 7 Things to Do in Dominical, Costa Rica
Exploring the mangroves by kayak or SUP – another activity to do in the area

Where to Stay in the Costa Ballena

The Costa Ballena has many great options for lodging. From higher end to budget, here are our top 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. Adults only. $200-600/night. 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, but in a convenient location right off the highway, 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 or groups traveling together. 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. $175-400/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Mid-Range and Budget Hotels

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 some have large outdoor patios or kitchenettes. $75-150. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Ranchos Remo

For those looking for a great view at an affordable price, try the cabins at Ranchos Remo. Located in Playa Hermosa de Uvita, Ranchos Remo is a casual lodge, perfect for those looking to connect with nature.

The open-air bungalows are simple but comfortable. Opt for an ocean-view cabin for an amazing view.

The property is now run by people from Italy so you will find authentic and delicious Italian cuisine at the on-site restaurant. $100-130/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Ranchos Remo Uvita
Ocean view room at Ranchos Remo

Local Events

The Costa Ballena hosts a few events throughout the year, including surf competitions, lifeguard fundraisers, and artisan markets. Some of the biggest happenings are:

Envision Festival

Envision is a music, art, and sacred movement gathering that brings thousands of like-minded individuals together in late February or early March. Envision takes place in Playa Hermosa near the beach, but this is a huge event in the area due to the number of people that come. We recommend keeping that in mind if you are planning to travel then and won’t be attending the festival.

Festival of Whales and Dolphins

The Whales and Dolphins Festival is held every year in September during the height of the humpback whale migration. Whale-watching tours are discounted at this time. There’s also a community fair with food and vendors. You can find more information on the festival’s Facebook page.


The Costa Ballena is growing a lot, but is one of our favorite destinations in Costa Rica. When we first visited many years ago, it was love at first sight. Tourism has developed here but the lush, green 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.

Last Updated: April 22, 2024

Have a question about visiting the Domincal-Uvita area? Ask us below.

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Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Renting a Car in Costa Rica: Clearing Up the Confusion – Learn what pitfalls to avoid when renting a car in Costa Rica. Covers insurance, airport surcharges, and more.

La Fortuna: What to Expect – With a volcano, hot springs, and many adventure activities, it’s no wonder that La Fortuna is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. Learn more about planning a visit here.

Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged – For even more wildlife viewing, consider Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, just a little south of the Costa Ballena. This remote village is set deep in the jungle but still offers plenty of amenities to travelers


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