Surfing Playa Dominical Costa Rica
Playa Dominical is a hippie haven for surf junkies and yogis alike, for this little slice of paradise is one of the least developed beaches in the entire country. Apart from being the cheapest, safest, and arguably, most authentic, Playa Dominical offers one of the largest waves in the country.
The surf report for Dominical normally turns off the less experienced surfers, so most of the time you surf here, it’s going to be pretty empty. That’s not to say you’ll get a 1pm lineup to yourself, but if you’re an early riser, bet on getting pitted for 2+ hours.
Unlike the other beaches in Costa Rica, Dominical virtually has no resorts or hotels. If you look back at the beach from the break line, all you really are going to see is lively palm trees and a few pieces of driftwood. There aren’t any buildings above 2 stories, so the vibe here is very simple, happy, and surf oriented.
This desolate beach offers a few different points, so there’s always plenty of room for everyone to catch a few beauties. Depending onyour skill (and fear) level, you can find the best wave of the area right next to the river mouth, but I’ve seen barreling waves just about everywhere in Dominical. Thefirst time I surfed Dominical I instantly fell in love with everything about the waves.
Playa Dominical is a strong barreling wave, where the wave holds size without closing out, but with a strong wave comes consequences. Don’t be surprised to see broken surfboards and unexperienced surfers being pulled out to sea. As long as you can hold your own through a strong riptide and overhead wave, I wouldn’t worry to much.
For the surfers that are less experienced, but still want to be able to stay and surf near Dominical, should head to nearby (1km) Dominicalito. These waves are considerably smaller and rarely get over shoulder height, allowing beginners to enjoy a day on the water without worrying about breaking a rental.
The first day they rolled slow, the second day some power developed and we were cutting back like nobody’s business, and by the end of the week, we were dropping in on double overheaders. I haven’t had many better days of surf in my life, so if there’s a fresh swell coming in through Dominical, my advice is: call in sick. Especially if you’re getting high tide at around 5:00am/5:30pm, those are going to be the best days to be surfing Dominical. I always prefer to surf two 1.5 hour sessions, gives me time to enjoy my day and explore the towns in which I’m surfing.
Check out the barrels in Dominical!
Marbella (this place is epic)
This town is so tiny, but has so much to offer, something that really makes it unique. Most Costa Rican towns aren’t going to offer all the amenities you’ll find in Dominical. Though it doesn’t have resorts and skyscrapers, it has a ton of little storefronts and rum bars that usually get pretty crazy at night.
Another awesome thing about Dominical is that it’s surrounded by natural waterfalls! Literally you can go on a jog and find a waterfall. Normally there will be a bunch of local kids running with towels in the jungle, follow them and you should find yourself a nice 200 foot waterfall. These falls make for a great day hike between sessions. Ask a local where you can find a waterfall and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction, Ticos love waterfalls.
The vibe in Dominical isn’t geared towards partying as much as a surf city like San Diego, but it’s definitely there. Dominical basically only has two streets, both of which are filled with small surf hostels, Tico restaurants, and little souvenir shops.
One of the best features of the town is the local markets that get set up from 8am-5pm every day. Here, you’ll find everything from handmade bracelets to Romeo & Juliette Cuban cigars (super cheap here compared to other parts of C.R.). These market stands are all set up right along the strip of road that borders the beach, so feel free to forget the sandals and shirt at home and just stroll the beach, there’s a ton to look at. Most of the trinkets and knick-knacks are going to cost you between 2$-10$, while the larger carvings and knitted clothing is going to range into the 20-50$ range.
One thing that makes Dominical an ideal destination for backpacking surfers is its affordability. You can easily live off 300$ for a week, that being said, you won’t be living the lavish, eat out every night, drink until bar close lifestyle. Food and drink is cheap if you find the right market (or local) to buy your produce and liquor off of (there’s a few old ladies that sell rum infused with banana and strawberries). In short, the town of Dominical is tiny, but the waves are huge and the weather is perfect.
How to get Here:
Though Dominical is located pretty far south along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, it’s surprisingly easy to get there. Depending on your mode of travel, it can take anywhere between 5 and 8 hours to reach it.
Most likely, you’ll be flying into San Jose International Airport and from here, it’s about 4.5 hours if you drive in a rental car or private shuttle. If you’re like me, and don’t have the funds to pay a shuttle 200$, then you’ll be a bus warrior! I understand that the language barrier can be scary for some people, but trust me, Costa Ricans are incredibly helpful and very nice.
The easiest way to get to Dominical is either hopping on the direct bus from San Jose to Dominical (though this bus sometimes takes 8 hours!) or taking the bus from San Jose to Quepos, then transferring over to Dominical from Quepos. My best advice would be to make the journey from San Jose to Dominical a 2 or 3 day journey. There’s a few really good surf beaches on the way to Dominical, so if you have the time to visit Quepos and Manuel Antonio, I highly suggest you do.
If you have limited time, then from the San Jose airport, take a taxi to the Delio Morales bus company (every taxi driver will know what that means). This direct San Jose to Dominical bus leaves at 6 am and 3pm, but those times are subject to change. Unlike so much of Costa Rica, the route between San Jose and Dominical is 100% paved, which makes travel way quicker and easier.
Where to Stay:
Piramy’s Cool Vibes Hostel: This is where I stay when I go to Dominical, because it’s affordable, comfortable, and only about 200 feet from the beach. A cute French couples own it, they’re super young and cool with ju
st about everything. This isn’t a surf party hostel, but it’s probably the chillest accommodation option in the entire town. Dorm beds cost between 8-12/night, while the private rooms are 25$/night. The price is really absurd considering the view and care you get at Cool Vibes. I mean, it’s called “Cool Vibes”, everyone is going to be rad as hell!
Tortilla Flats: This is a local favorite. They have great food, amazing drink specials, and know how to throw a proper party. If you want to stay up late, rip shots of high proof rum, and meet some badass locals, then Tortilla Flats is the place to be. A lot of the Ticos that hang here can DK Boogie board better than you can probably surf, so make sure you don’t disrespect these guys; they’re all legends. Prices for rooms are a little more expensive, you’re going to spend anywhere between 20$ and 80$ per night here.
Hotel Cuna Del Angel: This is your standard luxurious hotel option. It’s located a little further from the beach than the hostels, so it’s much more quiet. Rooms start at 110$/night and go up from there.
Renting a house: This is the best option for people that want to bring all their surf buddies and have the time of their lives. Rental homes in Costa Rica are very cheap, it’ll cost you about 1,000$/week for a house/cabana close to the beach. I’ve rented a cabana from Pyram’s for a week and the total cost was 250$ for 5 nights, and we stuffed 8 of us in there. Cheap as all hell.
To Sum it Up:
Playa Dominical is a less developed version of Jacó (minus the drugs and prostitutes), for it’s nearly surrounded by lush rainforest. Dominical is a must see for any surfer who’s trying to get totally stoked without paying the hefty fees of a tourist town. If you’re looking for power and height, then this is probably a great option, but if you’re still a beginner, I’d stick to nearby Uvita or Quepos.