I just returned from my 6th Costa Rica trip, and I have been going every few years since the 1980s.
I’m 50 years old, I have been a dedicated surfer since I was 7, and I live on Oahu’s North Shore.
Now here’s where you think I’m going to say (insert crotchety and arrogant voice) “it used to be different – uncrowded, cheap, and unspoiled”.
Well, while all of that is sort of true, Costa Rica is still an awesome place to visit and I would totally recommend it as a must visit for all levels or surfers and for all types of travelers.
Whether you are a young hardcore wave hunter or a middle aged surfer dude who plans to bring the spouse, if you have not been to Costa Rica, you should go.
Playa Dominical Costa Rica – The Town
Playa Dominical is definitely one of the coolest beach towns to visit in all of Central America.
Can you picture a tropical small-town Central American paradise where you can surf barreling beach break in the morning, kick back in a hammock for much of the day, surf the evening glass-off, and follow it all up with a cold cerveza and some fish tacos?
Playa Dominical is totally that.
While other famous surf towns face problems like over-development and sketchy characters, Dominical does not.
It’s also a nice place to take your significant other. There is a reasonable police presence and even a lifeguard on duty. The beach is not all that nice as far as beaches go, but there is no litter or garbage of any kind, and there are vendors on the main drag – which is a modest stretch of a well-kept dirt road.
Playa Dominical Costa Rica – The Waves
While I give the town a “10 out of 10” as far as “cool beach towns to visit”, I would only consider the waves to be “fair to good” (and not “excellent” for the most part).
Pros of Playa Dominical surfing:
1) The beach is a consistent wave magnet.
In and around the summer months (April through October), Playa Dominical is almost always at least chest high, even when there is only background swell in the water. Small pulses are often overhead and powerful. If it gets big, there is a fair-to good-left point or Dominicalito as alternative options.
2) Local surfers are friendly toward respectful visitors.
Stereo-typical Tico surfers are tough, sure, but smile and throw a shaka at them and they will treat you like gold.
Costa Ricans are a proud and generous people.
Not only do they have extremely special land, culture, and waves, but they have better-rated schools, higher literacy rates, and superior health care than US Citizens enjoy in the United States.
Because of this, they don’t want to be you and they are not jealous of you.
But even more impressive about this country is that it is VERY strongly ingrained in their culture to enjoy the present moment, not to get upset, and to share the riches of life with others. This is known to them as “pura vida” (pronounced “poo-ra beeda”) which of course in English means “pure life”.
3) Plenty of waves for all.
The beach break at Playa Dominical is big enough and has enough peaks to hold a crowd – but most often there isn’t much of a crowd. In fact, if you are willing to get up early, it’s often empty first thing in the morning.
This is especially rewarding to….. well….. pretty much everyone.
I was going to write about how frustrating it can be to surf a tight take-off zone everyday on a typical crowded reef in Hawaii – but I realize of course that nearly all surfers face crowded line-ups.
At the beach break in Playa Dominical, there are no such issues.
4) Power, yet surfable for mere mortals.
When I first paddled out there was a “small” swell coming in with overhead waves and even some occasional bombs with faces up to 4 feet overhead.
The waves were hollow and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch them.
As heavy and hollow as they were, however, I found that there was time to get to my feet and make most drops. Of course, this did not include late drops or “trap-door” double-ups, but most drops were reasonably make-able despite their size and power.
The Cons of Surfing in Playa Dominical:
1) Costa Rica is not cheap.
Costa Rica is so superior to many other destinations to visit (and to live) that there is a cost to be paid.
Prices for hotels and restaurants anywhere even somewhat close to the beach or other tourist-attracting areas are super expensive.
Even off the beaten path and establishments visited mostly by locals have relatively high prices.
The weekends are even worse, as locals come pouring out of the inland cities to blow off steam from the week’s work.
To put it simply, Costa Rica has a high cost of living and is expensive to visit.
2) Playa Dominical has inconstant shape.
Before I finally headed down to Playa Dominical for the first time, I read about how “for a beach break, it can hold a lot of size without closing out”.
Well, maybe I was unlucky, but when I was there things were a bit closed out, even on the smaller, head-high days.
Higher tides didn’t help very much either.
Some locals were telling me that the shape of the waves there have a lot to do with the swell direction.
That could be true.
Also, it seems that some friends who were there a few weeks before me were complaining about the same thing, so it could just be the sand shifting around and the break goes through periods of higher and lower qualities.
Flame me in the comments if you want, but I already know that beach breaks are all somewhat closed out – though I’ll admit that I am a bit spoiled by the unreal waves on Oahu.
All I know is that I had more fun at Playa Hermosa (the popular beach break just south of Playa Jaco) surfing the more shapely nuggets that were on offer just a few days later.
This alone would not stop me from visiting Playa Dominical again, however, but there is no way I would commit two or more weeks at this spot. Not until I saw some of these open faces that I keep hearing about actually showing up, that is.
The Food in Playa Dominical
Eat at Fuegos for sure, especially if you are there with your significant other.
The Del Mar Taco Shop is excellent.
My favorite restaurant in the area was in Uvita, just to the south, where you eat pretty much in the owners backyard. The name was Soda Ranchito Dona Maria.
If you are going up the other way to Quepos for some reason, try Soda Sanchez. (Soda means “diner” or “cafe” I guess).
Back in Dominical, Cafe Delicious had some great and fresh ice cream.
Here are the food pics:
Playa Dominical Accommodations
Since I brought the wife, and since we only had a few days to ourselves (I was meeting up with friends for much of this trip), I sprang for a really nice hotel while in Playa Dominical.
It was called the Mavi Surf De Dominical.
Sometimes when I pay a lot for a room I regret it, but the Mavi delivered.
It was nicer than it seemed in the pics when we were looking at it. Everything was new and in great working order, the breakfast (included) was incredible, and the hosts were super nice. The internet was a little slow I guess but it still worked OK.
The Mavi is a winner.
If you do not want to spend over $100 per night, there are lots of other options in Dominical, of course. In fact many of them are cheaper than in other Costa Rican surf destinations.
If you stayed somewhere else please share your experience in the comments.
Things to do around Dominical
Very close by and a must see is the Nauyaca Waterfalls.
The hike is OK for intermediates or even for beginners who are in great shape.
If you or your better half like horses, you can set up a horseback tour.
My wife is too prissy to hike. She hates mud and bugs and was not so crazy about the idea of riding horses through the mud, so we booked the “truck”.
The waterfall and it’s access is on private property, and the truck (and hiking access) is provided by the owners. For $26 each we sat in the back of a pick-up most of the way up and back and it was actually pretty cool. We had great views of the jungle-covered mountains on the way there and back and the waterfalls were very impressive. The pictures really do not do them justice – you gotta go see them for yourself.
As a final note, Dominical might be a good place to stay a few days to break up the drive to Pavones or the Pan Dulce area, especially if the swell is small.
It might make sense to wait out any flat spell there and then head south when the South Pacific starts pumping.
Playa Dominical might also makes sense if you prefer the hammock to the disco (head down there rather than stopping in Playa Jaco).