Last Updated: October 30, 2019
Dominical is probably best known for its waves, which draw surfers from all around the world. But there’s a lot more to this quirky beach town and the surrounding stretch of coastline called the Costa Ballena than just surf. What we love most about this region of Costa Rica is the combination of jungle-filled mountains and ocean. The nearby hills are a playground for wildlife and hiking enthusiasts, and the nearly deserted beaches are the perfect escape for those looking to relax and unwind. In this post, we share eight of our favorite things to do in Dominical.
Things to Do in Dominical
One of our favorite things to do in Dominical (and in Costa Rica) is hiking to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. Whenever we have friends or family in town, we always take them there and it ends up being one of their favorite activities too.
This two-tiered waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most dramatic, with a 61 meter (200 foot) combined drop and a deep natural pool for swimming. You can arrive to the falls on horseback or pickup truck, or if you’re up for a moderately difficult hike, we recommend going on foot so that you can take in the gorgeous surrounding rainforest. For more information about the hike, check out our post Visiting the Beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls.
The horseback tour or pickup truck option is nice because you can still take in the scenery without having to do the hike. This is $85 per person and includes a light breakfast and full lunch. We’d be happy to help set up a tour for you with the local operator in town. See the Booking a Tour section, below, for more information.
Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge
One of the best places in the area for a day hike is Hacienda Baru. Hacienda Baru is a hotel and wildlife refuge off the highway just north of Dominical. What makes this property so special is the diversity of habitats, which include primary and secondary forest, mangrove, grassland, and even beach. Monkeys, sloths, peccaries (similar to a wild boar), white-nosed coati, and caimen are often seen along the trails. And if you’re into birding, Hacienda Baru is one of the best places around, with over 330 species identified!
The 4.3 miles (7 km) of trails at Hacienda Baru are well maintained so self-guided hikes are an option. You may see more wildlife, however, with the help of one of the Reserve’s expert guides. Guided tours (3-4 hours) are $44 per person and include admission. If you’d like to book this, see the Booking a Tour section, below.
For more information about visiting Hacienda Baru, including detailed info on the different trails, see our separate post.
Mangrove or Ocean Kayak/SUP Tour
If you’re looking to take in the beautiful scenery out on the water, consider a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) tour. These tours take you either through the nature-filled mangroves or to the ocean. Mangrove river tours are great for all levels. We’ve done this ourselves and really enjoyed the experience. As you creep along the calm water, you’ll learn about the ecology of this important ecosystem and get to see some of its inhabitants. Monkeys, herons, kingfisher, crabs, raccoons, and sometimes even crocodiles and sloths are seen on the natural canals.
For a little more excitement, ocean trips are another option. These take you around the famous Whale Tail in Marino Ballena National Park for snorkeling or to see the caves at some of the area’s most secluded beaches. Tours are $75-85 per person. See the Booking a Tour section, below, for help setting up a kayak or SUP tour.
Reptile enthusiasts or anyone with an appreciation for nature will love Parque Reptilandia. This outdoor park has tons of different enclosures where you’ll see reptiles from Costa Rica and all around the world. Snakes make up the majority of exhibits, but they also have other interesting creatures like tortoises, crocodiles, and lizards. One enclosure also has poison dart frogs, so if you’ve been wanting to see these adorable amphibians, Reptilandia is the place to go.
This is a fun spot to visit for a couple of hours and a great activity for kids. Our son always loves coming here. $12 for adults, $6 for children 14 and under.
Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
If you want to get up close to some of Costa Rica’s most exotic wildlife, check out the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary. This center does some extremely important work for area wildlife. They rescue and rehabilitate animals and birds that have been injured or abandoned in the wild or confiscated in the illegal pet trade, then nurse them back to health in the hopes of release. The wildlife you’ll see is constantly changing, but the center often has white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, white-nosed coati, sloths, armadillos, kinkajoos, and anteaters.
Minimum donation $25 for adults, $15 for children 12 and under. Tours can be arranged directly through the Sanctuary.
The Costa Ballena (Whale Coast) gets its name from the hundreds of humpback whales that migrate to the region’s warm waters every year to breed and rear young. This is one of the most special areas in the world for whale watching so if you’re visiting Costa Rica during whale season, it is something you won’t want to miss. The best time of year to see humpbacks and their babies is from August to November, with peak times in the Costa Ballena during September and October.
Whale watching tours can be arranged in Uvita. They are $78-90 per person depending on the season and last 3.5-4 hours. Offered at 8:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. For information on booking a whale watching tour, see the Booking a Tour section, below.
For detailed information about whale watching in Costa Rica, read our separate post.
Diamante Waterfall and Cave
In the mountains behind Dominical is another amazing waterfall and this one also has a cave. You have to be up for a moderate to difficult hike to get there and it’s only possible to visit with a guide. Once you arrive, you will be well rewarded with a twin waterfall and cave as its backdrop. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we recommend doing the overnight at the cave. The tour company will cook your meals there and provide bedding and bug nets to make for a comfortable sleep.
Day hikes are $89 per person adults, $45 for children under 7. Overnights are $159 per person adults, $80 for children under 7. For more information on the Diamante, read our separate post. To book a tour, see the Booking a Tour section, below.
If you have some time after one of your excursions, be sure to peruse the souvenir shops in town and right along the beach in Dominical. Every day, locals sets up in between the palm trees, selling everything from T-shirts, sarongs, and towels to jewelry, handmade wooden items, and even hammocks. One of our favorite spots is Ruth’s Clothing right as you come into town from the highway. Ruth is a charasmatic local who makes just about all the clothes in her shop herself.
Booking a Tour
If you would like to book a kayak or SUP tour, Nauyaca Waterfalls horseback or truck tour, a guided hike at Hacienda Baru, visit to the Diamante Waterfall, or another excurson in the Dominical area, we can help. Contact us through our Tour Booking Service page or send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot) and we’ll help you make all the arrangements. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!
Need More Ideas?
Those are our top eight things to do in Dominical. If you’re looking for more ideas, there’s also the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio about 45 minutes north. Manuel Antonio offers even more activities like whitewater rafting, a catamaran tour, parasailing, a spice farm tour, and lots more.
Have you visited Dominical? What was your favorite activity?
Last Updated: October 30, 2019
Looking for more info to help plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged – If you’re heading south after Dominical to the Osa Peninsula, make sure to read our destination guide all about Drake Bay.
San Gerardo de Dota: A Hideaway in the Cloud Forest – Want to cool off after the beach? This tiny mountain town is a great place to experience the cloud forest and is only a couple of hours from Dominical.
How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica – Dedicating a day or two to exploring the city is a great idea. Check out our recommendations for museums, restaurants, and hotels.