Where to go for the Best Beaches in Costa Rica

The Costa Rican beach towns of Quepos and Jacó can feel a bit like Daytona Beach. Themed restaurants, multi-story condos, U.S. chain hotels and resorts…overcrowding can even be a problem in natural areas like the Manuel Antonio National Park.

But there’s an easy escape from gringo culture. Just down the road you’ll find the small, sleepy town of Dominical. Right on the beach, it’s inhabited by a mix of bohemian expats, laid-back surfers (some on permanent vacation), and friendly locals.

A few years ago, the trip from Quepos to Dominical took over two hours on a bone-jarring, potholed dirt road. But thanks to a recently paved two-lane highway, it’s now just 45 minutes. On the way you’ll pass through small hamlets. There are plenty of places to stop for a bite or to pick up some fresh mangos and melons.

Yet despite the easy journey, most don’t make the trip south. And easy-going Dominical has remained a haven for those looking to lounge on crowd-free beaches, enjoy a $1.50 Imperial beer at a beachfront bar (Tortilla Flats is my favorite; I recommend the blackened mahi fish tacos), or check out the world-famous Costa Rican wildlife without a tour group on your heels.

Why are they the best beaches in Costa Rica?

It’s a simple, relaxed place, worlds away from the trendy tourist traps with overpriced restaurants, sprawling resorts, and obnoxious crowds. There are only a few hostels and small hotels, and day trippers are rare, so it’s never crowded. Friendships form fast among the select few who have stumbled upon this little oasis.

On the palm tree-lined, sandy track fronting the beach, you’ll find several cozy little open-air bars and restaurants. I recommend lazing away most of the afternoon—that’s what Dominical is all about, after all. Have a beer, cool off in the ocean, and come back for a second round.

You’ll also find local craftsmen selling handmade jewelry from stalls in the shade of the palms. My wife bought a necklace and earring set−intricately-carved spirals made from polished coconut shell with turquoise beads—for just $15. The same set in the States would be triple or even quadruple that.

Several hiking trails are available in the surrounding rain forest. Capuchin monkeys, two-toed and three-toed sloths, poison dart frogs, hummingbirds, kinkajous, and toucans can be seen just steps from your door. It’s a bird-watchers paradise. Hire one of the expert guides to tour the reserve with you. They will spot animals you’d never notice. There were three sloths within 30 feet of us on one hike—but I never would have seen them.

You’ll find plenty of restaurants in Dominical, with the traditional Costa Rican casado (a plate of rice, beans, and plantains, with chicken, pork, or seafood) plentiful and inexpensive.

I give more details of where to go and what to do in Dominical in the current issue of International Living magazine. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up here and get instant access to this issue.

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