Dominical: Small Place, Big Impressions

What does a person want in a little beach town? If you’ve ever taken the time to make a list of answers to that question, you’re welcome to compare it to this abbreviated version of mine:

  1. Shady, breezy open-air restaurants
  2. Quaint grocery stores with practical items
  3. Transportation options for exploring the surrounding areas
  4. Specialty shops

The first time I spent a week in the beach town of Dominical, on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I not only found each of those four items, but I also experienced two different perceptions of its size within a short span of time.

On our way to our hotel, my husband Doug and I came into town via the secondary entrance, which is a little dirt road with a cattle pasture on one side and the outskirts of Dominical on the other. We had smoothies at a little shop, chatted with the locals, and wandered over to the nearby ocean. The place seemed small, compact.

The next day when I headed off on foot toward the other end of the town for my first day in a week of accelerated Spanish lessons, it soon seemed bigger. I encountered far more bustling activity, far more little businesses, and far more people than would be normal for a village that seemed to take up less space than an average mall parking lot. The place might actually be small, but it was clear that this was not your typical small town.

I had allowed myself extra time to explore, and I took advantage of this to keep walking on the road nearest the beach, enjoying the sights and sounds of a sunny tropical morning. By the time class started I had long since crossed from the sandy beach road to the dusty main drag, and had managed to wend my way to Delicias, a little coffee shop and bakery situated near Dominical’s primary entrance.

That was more than six years ago. Now the beach road has tidy cobblestones, and the main drag has had a major makeover—it’s now asphalt from the main entrance all the way to the local office of Costa Rica’s electricity agency.

Mainstay restaurants like Tortilla Flats and Dominical Sushi have been joined by Mono Congo, Del Mar Taco, Phat Noodle, and Fuego, which has its own brewery. An average entrée runs from approximately $7 at Mono Congo and Tortilla Flats to $15 at Fuego, with the others falling somewhere in between.

Patron’s bar hosts a popular Friday morning feria (market) where everything from fresh vegetables to homemade Kombucha can be found. Sometimes visitors are treated to live music or dance performances. Even if you happen to be there on a day without special programs scheduled, the opportunities for individual special interactions abound. With a little genuinely expressed curiosity and a flair for Spanglish, you can participate in as many engaging conversations as you have time for.

For example, if you have never had the experience of having the Kombucha creation process enthusiastically explained to you, the Friday feria in Dominical is a marvelous place to let this happen. You may even be motivated to give it a try yourself.

If you need more traditional supplies, head for the grocery store on Main Street, or to the more expansively-stocked Dominical Super Market on the inland side of the coastal highway. A loaf of whole grain bread currently costs $2.67, and a liter of whole milk is currently $1.50.

Oljer, the congenial owner of Dominical Super Market and one of its most regular fixtures at the checkout counter, continues to find creative ways to expand the variety of products made available to customers.

Recently I happened to see the looks of pleasant surprise on the faces of a Canadian couple when they happened across a stack of gnocci packages beside the spinach spaghetti noodles. I grinned at them. Sometimes a small surprise can make an unexpectedly big impression.

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