This post may contain affiliate links.
If you’re looking for a small-town, off-the-beaten-path beach vibe, then Dominical, Costa Rica is the place for you. Located approximately 4 hours from San Jose on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Dominical is one of the leading tourist destinations in Costa Rica.
While it’s popular for its consistent surf, the low-key beach-front town also boasts numerous national parks, picturesque waterfalls, and adventurous eco-tours, making it a top pick for thrill seekers and nature lovers looking to have a good time. Below are some of the top things to do in Dominical Costa Rica. It’s also close enough for day trips to Manuel Antonio and Uvita.
Things To Do In Dominical Costa Rica
Learn to Surf
Dominical Beach ranks among the most popular surf spots in Costa Rica and for a good reason; it produces good waves almost every day for surfers of all experience levels. There is also a host of excellent surf schools here, and with a pleasantly warm temperature, riding the waves is a fantastic way to cool off and soak up the serenity of the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
While surf lessons are available (I love Costa Rica Surf Camp right on the beach), sometimes at low tide, the waves can get a little too deep and intimidating for beginner surfers. If you’re just starting out, therefore, I would advise trying your hand at Playa Dominicalito. Only 3 minutes away, it’s the perfect place for newbies to take a surf lesson, as the waves are consistently smaller and much gentler.
Visit Nauyaca Falls
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica, Nauyaca Waterfall, is just minutes from Dominical. You can hike, horseback ride or take a truck to the waterfall. There are two- an upper and a lower, and both are good for bathing.
I recommend going early in the morning- especially during the rainy season, to enjoy the falls for several hours. Pack a picnic lunch or choose a tour that provides a traditional Costa Rican lunch, like a casado plate. For the more adventurous, you can cliff jump off the falls. I prefer to watch!
Go On A Whale Watching Tour
A whale-watching tour is one of the best things you can do in Dominical. The majestic Pacific humpback whales visit Costa Rica two times a year, and you can see them inside Marino Ballena National Park, just a few minutes south of Dominical. Eight months out of the year (from December to April and August to October) tours leave twice daily from Uvita.
You’ll see whales, usually stop by Playa Ventanas, and then have the rest of your day enjoying the national park. Don’t miss the sunset- low tide reveals the whale tail of the national park.
Manuel Antonio National Park Tour
While I do love Manuel Antonio, it’s got a totally different vibe than Dominical. If you want to do some animal sightings and enjoy the beaches of Manuel Antonio, I suggest you do a day trip and enjoy a Manuel Antonio National Park guided tour.
The best time to go is early in the morning or just before the park closes- that’s when the animals are most active. The beaches inside the park are gorgeous, and the hiking is easy, making it a great national park experience for parents with young kids. Remember there’s no food allowed inside the park, though, so plan accordingly if you are taking littles.
Snorkel at Caño Island
About 37 miles off the Dominical coast lies the magnificent Caño Island, a place that attracts avid snorkelers and scuba divers who come here to explore the flourishing coral reefs and diverse marine life that dwell here. From the moment you dive into the water, you will be surrounded by abundant schools of fish and colorful sea turtles, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot a whitetip reef shark!
The water may look dark and cloudy above, but don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm to jump in. Underneath, the water has excellent clarity and you will be able to see all the oceanic wildlife that calls this place home. You’ll get here by boat, but that’s also part of the fun because on your way over, you’ll spot tons of dolphins, and depending on the time of the year, you may see humpback whales, too.
Explore Diamante Verde
Take a tour of Diamante Verde and see a cave, a canyon, and Costa Rica’s tallest waterfall, aptly named the Diamante Waterfall. The majestic waterfall pours over a beautiful cliff covered with lush vegetation. Spend the day canyoning, rappelling, and swimming in the sparkly natural pools beneath the waterfall.
Hike to the top of the fall and see just how spectacular the surrounding hills look from 600 feet up. If you gaze directly onto the horizon, you could also see the dazzling ocean through the light mist. If you can, spend the night in the cave and fall asleep to the soothing sound of the waterfall. There is a place to sleep, a small kitchen, and a bathroom inside.
Corcovado National Park
If the idea of backpacking beneath tall trees filled with monkeys, sloths, and scarlet macaws excites you, Corcovado is certainly a place you want to visit. With a wealth of mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects, this untouched tropical rainforest park is one of the best places for wildlife spotting in the country. Not only will you see all four species of monkeys; but there’s a good chance you will also spot jaguars and other endangered animal species.
For the optimal Corcovado adventure, spend the night at Sirena Ranger Station. It’s a great place to spot sloths, monkeys, and dozens of exotic bird species up close and personal, as it’s surrounded by a verdant natural habitat.
Corcovado is magical- but it’s not a great place for young kids as there is some advanced hiking.
Visit Alturas Wildlife Refuge
Another place with all the animal kingdom’s favorites is the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary. Stop here on your way to Casa Roja and spot the spectacular furry, feathered, and scaly residents of this incredible rehabilitation center. If you are traveling with kids who can’t hike through the trails of Corcovado, this would be a good place to come.
While the experience may not compare to watching animals in their natural habitat, paying this small sanctuary a visit gives you an opportunity to easily see elusive species in their closures- like the poison dart frogs and the white-tailed coatis endemic to the region of Costa Rica. You and your family will not only get entertained but also have a chance to learn about the history of the residents and the importance of preserving their natural habitat.
Try Horseback Riding
Saddle up and explore the remarkable natural beauty of Dominical on a horseback! Ride through lush vegetation, cross pristine rivers, and ride to scenic waterfalls in the area. It’s an experience like no other.
Don’t know where to start? Try the incredible Nauyaca Waterfalls horseback riding tour. It’s one of the most popular tourist activities in Dominical, letting you connect with Mother Nature in a fun and unique expedition filled with the wonders of the remarkable rainforest. While there’s a lot to see along the way, the highlight will certainly be the waterfalls. Swim in the giant natural pools and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Stay at Hacienda Baru
Hacienda Baru doubles as both a hotel and an animal refuge and features a wide variety of wildlife. If you’re headed north of Dominical, this is a fantastic place for a day hike. Sloths, monkeys, peccaries, and white-nose coatis are often spotted along the well-maintained trails of the hacienda.
If you’re into bird-watching, there are over 300 species of birds here!
You can opt for self-guided hikes, but you may have more luck with guided tours. There’s so much to see in the surrounding forest, grassland, mangrove, and even the beach, and with the help of one of the Reserve’s guides, you will know exactly where to look.
RELATED POST: 10 Dominical Costa Rica Hotels For Your Bucket List
Eat at Phat Noodle
Slurp your way into a happy ending to your day with some of Phat Noodle’s deliciousness! With huge servings of tasty piping-hot noodles and other scrumptious Asian delights, this is the best place to satiate your cravings after a day of exploring Dominical.
The restaurant has a cozy and laid-back back atmosphere with the kitchen set inside a fun little school bus, surrounded by a gorgeous flower garden. Don’t skip the happy hour if you want to sample some of their best drink specials and jam to some good music.
Drink Beer At Fuego Brewery
Avoid the heat of the day by lunching at Fuego Brewery. The brewery is surrounded by lush gardens and has an ample parking lot. The gorgeous teak wood of the building gives the whole place a beach vibe.
Sample their local brews and nosh on some fun appetizers while you enjoy the sound of the birds singing, and the occasional iguana meandering by. This is one of my favorite Costa Rican breweries. They have a great kids’ menu too, and ample green space for the kids to play while mom and dad enjoy a cold one.
They also roast and serve some good Costa Rican coffee here, so if you aren’t into drinking a beer, you can always opt for some caffeine.
Visit Dominicalito Beach
This hidden gem is one of my absolute favorites in Costa Rica. Just three minutes south of Dominical Beach you’ll find one of the calmest and most gorgeous beaches on the whole of Costa Ballena.
Plan to park under palm trees, and bring everything you need. There are no services here- just a few women selling semi-cold drinks. This is a great spot to relax and watch surfers, suntan, or picnic. This is one of my favorite beaches in the area for families, as there is tons of shade near the beach, and the waves aren’t too strong. I love, love, LOVE Dominicalito!
RELATED POSTS YOU’LL LOVE:
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by