25. Playa Dominical
One of the best-known surfing destinations in the world, there is much more to Playa Dominical than waves and nomad surfers. The beach has also become a top family destination and the perfect place for a day trip on a sunny weekend. The natural surroundings speckled with chilled bohemian vibes AND a full plethora of services, activities, and amenities paradoxically coexist under the same canopy of beach almonds and coconut trees.
LOCATION AND LAYOUT
Playa Dominical sits right in the town of Dominical, just 500 metres from the costanera highway. The sand extends from the mouth of the Baru River down to the rocky outcrops over 2 kms to the south. So much space allows the beach to hold many different characteristics: the Baru River end is busier with nearby beach markets, vendors, shops, restaurants, accommodation and playgrounds, creating a buzzing atmosphere. Moving south the energy calms down as the crowds thin and the commercial areas are replaced by greenery and agricultural paddies. So for a BUSY and vibrant experience, stay near the town. For a QUIET atmosphere, go a bit to the south.
Parking is conveniently available all along the beach, right under the trees that line the shores. There is no charge for parking as of the time this blog was written.
But…now for the other half the story. There is a second ‘piece’ of the beach which lies to the north, across the Baru River. This is a very wild beach with no parking or amenities, bordered by bush – the ISOLATED part of Playa Dominical. Tough to get to, and the Baru River has crocodiles – I myself have seen a huge American Crocodile basking on the rocks. So think twice about swimming there! Technically this part of the beach extends for 3km but that is only a geographical designation. The ‘beach’ actually continues for over 30 kms until it terminates at the rocky outcrops around Manuel Antonio in Quepos. But in this blog I will concentrate on the accessible southern part of the beach and leave the north end, across the river, for the adventurous explorers (hint – google maps shows there is a rough jungle path that leads to the northern part of the beach from the costanera area).
ANIMALS AND WILDLIFE
The plentiful beach almond trees attract toucans and scarlet macaws, which can often be seen and heard around the area.
During certain times of the year, humpback whales migrate just offshore. Dolphins and sea turtles are frequent the waters as well, and vibrant deep sea fishing areas exist just offshore.
Several species of monkeys make their homes in the sprawling canopies, and as mentioned earlier – American Crocodiles can be seen in the marshy areas as well as along the upper reaches of the Baru River.
One of the coolest things about Playa Dominical is the vibrant and colourful beach market that extends down from the Baru River end of the beach. Dozens of colourful booths and tabl line the road offering all kinds of artisan crafts – necklaces, bracelets, incense, paintings, carvings, canned goods and other food, jewellery and much more. Typical tourist offerings are also available: beach blankets, clothing, hats, children’s toys…a great place to pick up a memento of Costa Rica!
The Baru River end of the beach is lined with a myriad of businesses. Restaurants, cafes, hostels and hotels, convenience shops, grocers, surf schools, pubs, many surfboard and other equipment rentals and a church! Here you will also find the surfing schools for both adults and children, as well as various other tourist businesses. Beachside, canopies, chairs, and umbrellas are available for rental. Dominical is a small town but the amount of tourists and day trippers who visit ensure that it is very well equipped.
Even though it a huge amount of services and amenities are available, the ‘natural’ vibe of the area is not lost. Therea are no tall buildings or massive hotels here – everything is small and integrated into nature.
Dominical Beach is very diverse in terms of the sand area. While the parts of the beach covered by water are generally sandy, the beach area varies between sand and large pebbles. Some areas are purely sand, some are mostly pebbly, and some are a mix. Other parts of the beach hold a lot of beautifully twisted driftwood. Due to the size of the beach and the ample parking lining the shores it is very easy to find the perfect spot depending on what you are looking for – just get back in the car and drive a bit until you like what you see!
Due to the layout of the beach, large and consistent surfing waves present themselves 95% of the time. This kind of wave reliability coupled with the beauty of Costa Rica, tropical weather, safety, local amenities and the great global airline connectivity of the country draws surfers from around the globe, making Playa Dominical one of the premier surfing destinations in the world.
HAVE FUN BUT TAKE CARE!
Playa Dominical is a surfing destination because the beach is open to the large ocean swells. This also means that utmost care must be taken as rip tides and dangerous currents are ever-present. Be cautious in the water and always make sure you swim in the designated swimming areas, paying attention to the flags and directions of the lifeguards.