Quick Review: Dominical & Ojochal

DSC00060About an hour and a half drive South from Costa Rica’s famed Jaco Beach on CR34 lies the sleepy beach town of Dominical (Playa Dominical).  I say sleepy and mean it in every sense of the word.  Other than the paved route 34 that takes you right up to the town, you won’t find any other paved roads or streets.  As soon as you exit the highway to Playa Dominical (hoping to actually see the sign on the first try) you are immediately greeted by a bumpy dirt road that intersects once with the only other road in town.  You might even find yourself driving on the beach if you are not careful to notice when the street ends and the beach begins.  You won’t find cheesy tourist trap trinket shops or high end European restaurants here either.  In fact, you will only find a coffee shop, mini-market, one sushi restaurant, a few small hotels and hostels catering to surfers and backpackers, and laid back beach-front dining establishments.  

A few tips: Make sure to have the chocolate cake at Cafe Delicias and be sure to have a drink with the surfers at Tortilla Flats. Also, bring plenty of bug spray and anti-itch cream wherever you go.

Although so close to the highway and access to anywhere in the country, you still feel like you are far away from anywhere that resembles 2013.  You even notice the transition to a less developed Costa Rica by the intermittent reflectors on the highway – don’t even think about having street lights.  On a stormy night (as we witnessed) you can’t rely on the power to stay on except for one place in town – the utility company sub station (go figure).  Don’t worry though, the restaurants are still open and eager to serve you a beer while it’s still cold. At Tortilla Flats, they had plenty of candles and propane to still cook us a nice romantic candle-lit dinner.

Dinner at Tortilla Flats when the lights went out
Dinner at Tortilla Flats when the lights went out
When the power came back on, we found ourselves surrounded by new friends
When the power came back on, we found ourselves surrounded by new friends

Dominical is the beach hub and confirmed surfer haven for the area that has a smattering of everything that you might need as long as you have a car.  You won’t find any major hotel chains, high rises, or the typical nuisances that come with beach towns.  That also means that you won’t find some luxuries either.  You come here to check out, slow down, and do what it is you do – whether surfing, photograph, or you just want to step back in time for a bit.

A few KMs south of Dominical and across the highway from the coast starts an abrupt ascent into mountains where you can easily find monkeys soaring through the trees of a cloud forrest/jungle.  Embedded in those mountains are impressive views of the ocean, wildlife, and all the wonders that come with a jungle without driving hours to experience it.  We had the luck of having the necessary 4X4 to get to our cabin, along with the perfect host in Natalie who gave us a wealth of information about the area, and a forgiving smile when we by accidentally locked ourselves out of our cabin.  With a winding and almost straight uphill 10 minute drive you found yourself in a whole different climate, with all new surprises, and at least a 10 degree drop in temperature.

Our Cabin up in the Jungle above Dominical
Our Cabin up in the Jungle above Dominical
View from our porch
Nature at our front door
View of the ocean from our cabin
View of the jungle and the ocean from our porch

Buried in the mountain you will also find the Jolly Roger – a cash only bar with some of the best wings that we have ever had. They offer 21 wings flavors (our fave was the Honey BBQ), 22 beers and 12 tequilas to go with their homemade margarita mix. You can’t beat the view or bartender Wayne for entertainment, but don’t think that you are going to get your World Wide Web fix since they don’t have WiFi here.

Wings & Margaritas at The Jolly Roger...Yummy!
Wings & Margaritas at The Jolly Roger…Yummy!

With less than 15 minutes drive time from Dominical on CR34 you will notice a quick turn-off to your left indicating the town of Ojochal.  Don’t let the small stature of the town fool you as almost every building in town houses a wide range of specialty international cuisines thanks to it’s large eclectic expat community from France, Canada, Germany, Britain and the U.S. You will find yourself with higher prices, but far less than you would pay for such great dishes in the States or in Europe, and a welcomed break from the typical food that’s available in Dominical.  We ate at Citrus and could not have been happier.  The  food was as good as any we have had and the atmosphere could easily have been out of Orange County.   We absolutely recommend the ceviche!  You can also find a wide selection of wine and liquors, which is a rare thing in this part of the world. Another place that came highly recommended in Ojochal is Exotica (yes it’s a restaurant!). This place had rave reviews and the menu looks enticing, but unfortunately, we did not get to check out their food because it was closed for a few days while the owners were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Caves at Playa Ventanas
Caves at Playa Ventanas

Also in the area are several waterfalls to be discovered.  Go early and plan accordingly though, as our nerves started to wear thin in the pouring rain and in questionable mountain roads so we had to turn back.  You’ll also find a backpackers paradise of terrain that can weave from coast to mountains and back.  I would also take the time to explore the beach caves at Playa Ventanas – a few KMs South of Dominicalito.  The parking is on private property so plan on having a few Colones to offer the very friendly (and highly entertaining) Eastern European owner/caretaker.  We weren’t able to go back for his Friday pizza party that we were offered, but we’re sure that it comes with some great stories if you choose to attend.

All in all we loved our time in the Dominical/Ojochal area.  Had the fact that we were turning in our car not been the case, we absolutely would have loved to spend more time here.  Unfortunately, the beach itself did not offer us everything that we needed to permanently relocate, and all other parts were only accessible by car (and often times 4X4).  If you are considering a vacation or an extended stay and will have a vehicle, it has everything you would need for a mix of fine dining, Costa Rican typical, surfing, relaxing, exploring, nature, and what felt like a hundred different micro-climates in a few KMs!

Check out more pictures in the Playa Ventanas & Ojochal Gallery!

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