Exploring the Beaches South of Dominical & Ballena Marine National Park

The open ocean waters just in front of town and toward the river mouth are often too rough for swimming. However, you can swim in the calm waters of the Río Barú, just in from the river mouth, or head down the beach a few kilometers to the little sheltered cove at Roca Verde.

If you have a car, continue driving south, exploring beaches as you go. You will first come to Dominicalito, a small beach and cove that shelters the local fishing fleet and that can be a decent place to swim, but continue on a bit. You’ll soon hit Playa Hermosa, a long stretch of desolate beach with fine sand. As in Dominical, this beach is unprotected and can be rough, but it’s a nicer place to sunbathe and swim than Dominical.

At the village of Uvita, 16km (10 miles) south of Dominical, you’ll reach the northern end of the Ballena Marine National Park ★★, which protects a coral reef that stretches from Uvita south to Playa Piñuela and includes the little Isla Ballena, just offshore. To get to Playa Uvita, which is inside the park, turn in at the village of Bahía and continue until you hit the ocean. The beach here is actually well protected and good for swimming. At low tide, an exposed sandbar allows you to walk about and explore another tiny island. This park is named for the whales that are sometimes sighted close to shore in the winter months. If you ever fly over this area, you’ll notice that this little island and the spit of land that’s formed at low tide compose the perfect outline of a whale’s tail. An office at the entrance here regulates the park’s use and even runs a small turtle-hatching shelter and program. Entrance to the national park is $10 per person. Camping is allowed here for $2 per person per day, including access to a public restroom and shower.

Outdoor & Wellness Activities in the Area

Adventures offered in Dominical include kayak tours of the mangroves, river floats in inner tubes, and day tours to Caño Island and Corcovado National Park. To arrange any of these activities, contact Dominical Adventures ((tel) 2787-0431; www.dominicalsurfadventures.com) or the staff at the Hotel Roca Verde ((tel) 2787-0036; www.rocaverde.net).

Diving: For diving the rocky sites off Ballena National Park or all the way out to Isla del Caño, call Mystic Dive Center ((tel) 2786-5217; www.mysticdive.com; Dec 1–Apr 15 only), which has its main office in a small strip mall down toward Playa Tortuga and Ojochal. Prices for Ballena National Park are $80 for snorkeling and $100 for a two-tank dive; rates for Isla del Caño are $130 for snorkeling and $170 for a two-tank dive.

Flying: Fly Adventure CR ((tel) 8318-9685; www.flyinparadise.net) offers a variety of airborne tours of the area. Near the beach in Uvita, these folks offer everything from 30-minute introductory flights for $140 to a roughly hour-long circuit exploring the Ballena Marine National Park and neighboring mangrove forests for $250.

Hiking & Horseback Riding: Several local farms offer horseback tours through forests and orchards, and some of these farms provide overnight accommodations. Hacienda Barú ★ ((tel) 2787-0003; www.haciendabaru.com) offers several hikes and tours, including a walk through mangroves and along the riverbank (for some good bird-watching), a rainforest hike through 80 hectares (198 acres) of virgin jungle, an all-day trek from beach to mangrove to jungle that includes a visit to some Indian petroglyphs, an overnight camping trip, and a combination horseback-and-hiking tour. The operation, which is dedicated to conservation and reforestation, even has tree-climbing tours and a canopy platform 30m (98 ft.) above the ground, as well as a zipline canopy tour. Tour prices range from $30 for the mangrove hike to $135 for an overnight stay in the jungle. If you’re traveling with a group, you’ll be charged a lower per-person rate, depending on the number of people. In addition to its eco- and adventure tourism activities, Hacienda Barú also has 12 comfortable rooms at prices ranging from $85 to $95 double, including breakfast. Hacienda Barú is 3km (2 miles) north of Dominical on the road to Manuel Antonio.

Surfing: Dominical is a major surf destination. Its long and varied beach break is justifiably popular. In general, the beach’s powerful waves are best suited to experienced surfers, but beginners can check in with the instructors at the Green Iguana Surf Camp ★ ((tel) 8855-5866; www.greeniguanasurfcamp.com), who offer lessons and surf camps. Rates run around $835 to $1,375 per person, based on double occupancy, for a 1-week program including accommodations at a choice of local hotels, plus lessons, unlimited surfboard use, transportation to various surf breaks, and a T-shirt.

Waterfalls: The jungles just outside of Dominical are home to two spectacular waterfalls. The most popular and impressive is the Santo Cristo or Nauyaca Waterfalls ★, a two-tiered beauty with an excellent swimming hole and some good cliff-jumping. Most of the hotels in town can arrange for the horseback ride up here, or you can contact operator Don Lulo ((tel) 2787-0541; www.cataratasnauyaca.com). A full-day tour, with both breakfast and lunch, should cost around $75 to $95 per person, including transportation to and from Dominical. The tour is a mix of hiking, horseback riding, and hanging out at the falls. It is also possible to reach these falls by horseback from an entrance near the small village of Tinamaste. (You will see signs on the road.) Similar tours are offered to the Diamante Waterfalls, a three-tiered set of falls with a 360m (1,180-ft.) drop, but a pool that’s not quite as inviting as the one at Nauyaca.

Yoga: Danyasa Eco-Retreat ★★ ((tel) 2787-0229; www.danyasa.com) offers a wide range of regular yoga and surf classes, as well as private instruction and longer retreats. A drop-in class costs $15, and weeklong or multi-class deals are offered.

Slithery Fun

Parque Reptilandia ★★ ((tel) 2787-0343; www.crreptiles.com; daily 9am–4:30pm; $12 adult, $6 children 14 and under) is among the best snake and reptile attractions in Costa Rica. With more than 70 well-designed and spacious terrariums and other enclosures, the collection includes a wide range of snakes, frogs, turtles, and lizards, as well as a crocodile. Both native and imported species are on display, including the only Komodo dragon in Central America and a huge anaconda. For those looking to spice up their visit, Fridays are feeding days. The park is a few miles outside Dominical on the road to San Isidro.

Spanish Classes

Adventure Education Center ()tel) 800/237-2730 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2787-0023 in Costa Rica; www.adventurespanishschool.com), right in the heart of town, offers a variety of immersion-style language programs. A standard, 1-week program—including 16 hours of class—costs $280. These folks also offer home stays, specialized family and medical language courses, and can throw some surf lessons into the package, if you’re interested.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.