The South Pacific
The area extending from Dominical to the Osa Peninsula all the way to
the Panamanian border on the Pacific coast is called the South Pacific.The
spectacular Corcovado National Park, Drake’s Bay and Isla del Caño are a
few of this area’s salient features.
For years, the region has remained one of the country’s best-kept secrets,
and for good reason. A difficult four-hour drive from San José to Dominical
through the country’s highest mountains and sometimes dangerous
highway and the horrendous road between Quepos and Dominical kept
this area relatively isolated and undeveloped for decades. Hippies who
moved there to live out their peaceful existence in the 1970s, their ranks
swelled by a groups of surfers, are now being joined by expatriates seeking
a less stressful life. The developers, of course, are right behind.
The area generating the most interest is the coastal zone from Dominical
south to Ojochal, but development is spreading in every direction and is set
to continue for the foreseeable future.
This part of Costa Rica possesses a striking beauty. In many places, the
rain forest sweeps down the coastal hills right to the shore line. The area
has some of the largest mangrove forests on the Pacific side of the Americas,
and represents an ecological fantasy land. Corcovado National Park on the
Osa Peninusula has been dubbed the most ecologically intense place on
earth, containing, as it does, 6% of the world’s biodiversity.
A new international airport intended to boost tourism in this region of
Costa Rica will be constructed in the community of Sierpe at the entrance
to the Osa Peninsula or in Palmar Sur, according to the Coordinador
General de Aeropuertos. The government expects the airport, whatever its
exact location, to invigorate the entire region. The government wants to
promote economic, commercial and mostly tourism development. Once
the airport is built, more people will come to this area, which is just like
what happened when the Daniel Oduber Airport was built in Liberia,
Another exciting development designed to improve the area’s infrastructure
is the construction of the new 28-mile stretch of the coastal highway
between Quepos and Dominical which will be finished in 2010. It will
have three and four lanes in some places and a bike path. Once this stretch
is completed, more people will come to the area and property values will
increase, so now is a good time to invest.
The new San Buenas Golf Resort in the San Buena Ventura Valley is
sure to add to this area’s appeal. The 18-hole championship golf course is
dedicated to preserving the surrounding ecology and community. When
completed it will provide amenities like, a sunset ocean-view restaurant, a
A country that lives up to its name.
by Julie Campbell
“In my capacity as Fashion and Travel Editor of Sports Illustrated
magazine, I’ve produced every one of the magazine’s swimsuit issues
from 1965 to 1996, thirty-two in all. My annual search for beautiful
and unspoiled locations has led me to every continent except Antarctica,
and I’ve walked literally hundreds of miles of beaches, mountain trails,
deserts, and even glaciers in order to take our readers to some of the
most exotic, and often overlooked, corners of our planet. Sometimes
my choice was a resort so new that it could only be envisioned from
an architect’s blueprint; in other years I’ve settled on an island or a
country or even an entire continent— Australia.
So what brought me to Dominical, Costa Rica? Looking at the
map I was struck for the first time by how near a neighbor Central
America was, and at the same time how little I knew about it. I had to
know more, and when I discovered Costa Rica, the jewel of the Central
American chain, and traveled its length and breadth, I knew I had
found something very special—a country that truly lives up to its name.
Costa Rica means Coast of Abundance or richness of nature. Its
rainforests comprise a virtual cornucopia of flowers, lush vegetation, birds
and wildlife—all still unspoiled. Rising from the coastline at Dominical
are the majestic green mountains with rushing clear streams leading to
crystal waterfalls and swimable fresh-water pools.
Coming down from mountains that were often tucked behind mist
and clouds I found myself in a beautiful and varied stretch of coast.
One side of the country faces the Pacific and the other the Caribbean.
For our shoot I chose the Pacific at a place called Dominical, where
one beach is more lovely and dramatic than the next. The diversity
was breathtaking. And on these immaculate beaches there is no one
to step over you while sunning, and only the sound of tropical birds
and rolling surf.
I came to Dominical to take gorgeous pictures of gorgeous models
in a gorgeous setting, and indeed I was able to do that. But the real
discovery was a small piece of God’s Country that I’ll want to revisit
again and again—and on my own time!
*Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
Dominical, located 40 kilometers (30 miles) south of Quepos, is a tiny
laid-back resort town surrounded by some of the most breathtaking coastal
scenery Costa Rica has to offer. The town lies just off the main road where
the Costanera highway coming south meets the road to San Isidro. The
beautiful Barú River winds its way down from the surrounding mountains
and empties into the sea at the north end of town.
Dominical is a charming town with friendly people who say hello
and greet you with smiles. The place has a spring break vibe that’s a little
rough around the edges, with young surfers and backpackers riding the
bus in to hang out and catch waves. It has an unpaved main street, which
runs right through the center of town and down to the ocean. On either
side of the street are a few restaurants and bars, such as the San Clemente
Bar and Grill. You’ll find limited entertainment, touristy souvenir shops,
backpacker and surfer shack hostels,. It’s a fun and lively place that’s
growing at a reasonable pace, and the many activities to choose from in
the area leave little to be desired.
Some of the expatriates who have stayed have built lovely vacation
homes in the forested hillsides behind this small village. More ambitious
foreigners have started businesses or are buying land in the area. Plenty of
people have rediscovered their inner hippie here, finding the place to be the
perfect antidote to their hectic lives. Others simply want a quieter life for
their families. Much like Montezuma, this town attracts those seeking an
alternative lifestyle. It is not unusual to see people practicing the Oriental
art of tai chi or yoga on the beach.
This area is reminiscent of California’s Big Sur because of its spectacular
coastline towering mountains that meet the sea, spectacular shoreline,
mountain backdrop and unbelievable panoramic views. One of the area’s
claims to fame is that it was used as a backdrop to shoot the 1996 Sports
Illustrated swimsuit issue.
There are unlimited options for adventure and sightseeing in this
pristine area of Costa Rica. Several spectacular jungle waterfalls are found
here. Pozo Azul is a 30-foot waterfall close to the village of Dominicalito.
The Barú River Falls, also known as Santo Cristo or Nauyaca Falls, is located
in the mountains above Dominical. This series of waterfalls is considered
one of the most picturesque in Costa Rica, if not all of Central America.
It cascades down into a huge natural pool that is 20 feet deep and perfect
for swimming. The surrounding area is verdant rainforest with abundant
wildlife. The mountains between Dominical and Ojochal are filled with
dozens of smaller waterfalls.
The hills behind Dominical and south into Escaleras have an endless
ocean view framed by thick rainforest that most people can only dream
about. Large homes with incredible views that cost in the hundreds of
thousands of dollars dot the steep hills above the beach. Some properties
in this area have their own private waterfall. A few small developments are
going up in the area.
In general land prices are lower than the Quepos-Manuel Antonio area
and at one time were rising fast. Because of the economic meltdown in
the States prices came down in 2009 as many people tried to unload their
Playa Dominicalito (or little Dominical Beach) lies two kilometers
south and has perfectly calm water for swimming. Spectacular views of the
coastline may be seen from nearby rocky Punta Dominical which juts out
into the ocean. The Parcela Restaurant is located on the outcropping of
rock. There are several developments in the hills above Dominicalito.
Ten 10 miles south of Dominical is Uvita. A smaller and slower-paced town
than Dominical with a good swimming beach. Uvita has a nice vibe and
you will be quick to notice how friendly everyone is. The town’s location
between Dominical and Ojochal makes it ideal for development. In the last
few years a number of businesses have sprouted up around Uvita because
of the area’s growing popularity. There are a couple of new supermarkets,
furniture stores, watering holes, pharmacies, real estate offices, eateries, small
hotels and banks. La Fogata is a rustic restaurant serving excellent pizza and
chicken at very reasonable prices.
The setting with mountains in the background is very similar to
Dominical. The countryside in the hills to the east affords some stunning
ocean-view properties. It comes as no surprise that many foreigners now
live in the hills above Punta Uvita, just as they do in Dominical. Prices are
still affordable and there are plenty of mountainside homes and lots with
spectacular views. A friend just purchased a beautiful mountaintop home
overlooking the beach.
Some of the activities available in the Uvita area are kayaking, snorkeling,
horseback riding, waterfall and jungle hikes, beachcombing and a lot more.
The Ballena National Marine Park is located here as is the so-called
Whale’s Tail sand spit, which protrudes in the shape of its namesake,
providing great snorkeling and a lovely spot for a walk when the tide is out.
To get a fantastic view of the Whale’s Tail and surrounding area, venture up
to the Hotel Ballenas and Delfines for a cocktail at sunset. It has to be one
of the best views in the world.
Just north of Playa Uvita is Playa Hermosa. It is a long beach that is
suited for swimming. My son and I go there all the time and really enjoy it.
In case the tropical sun is too strong, there are trees near the beach where
you can enjoy the shade. Playa Pinuela, to the south of Uvita is another
good spot to swim and to enjoy the sun.
Tortuga / Ojochal / Playa Ventanas
The Tortuga / Ojochal / Cinco Ventanas area is also well-suited for living.
Ojochal, about 20 miles south of Dominical, is a quaint country village with
a nice mixture of ticos, French Canadians and other foreigners. It has grown
into more of a community than Dominical and Uvita to the north, and an
increasing number of people are buying residences in the area.
The village is set off the main highway and is easy to miss and quite spread
out.. The town has a surprising number of excellent restaurants (reportedly
over 30) owned by locals from all over the world. On my retirement tours
we have dined at restaurants run by people from such faraway places as
Belgium, Estonia, Holland, Indonesia, Italy and Israel. My tour clients say
the food here is as good as you’ll find in any first-class restaurant back home
. Exotica Restaurant, virtually in the middle of the jungle, has some of the
best cuisine I have ever tasted in all of my travels. The owners are French
Canadian and really take pride in the gourmet food they prepare. Citrus is
another great place to eat.
This area has a few shops, including a grocery store, liquor store, a
few bars, hardware and a pulpería, but for the most part it is a residential
area with a handful of tourist ventures. There are some good ocean views,
though not as spectacular as those found in Uvita or around Dominical.
Although this area is somewhat off the beaten track, DirecTV and other
forms of entertainment are available. The members of this community are
tight-knit and share many activities. Annie Drake, a local tour expert and
resident says, “There is something happening almost every night here. There
is a potluck dinner, party or ‘get-together’ once or twice a week.”
Area activities include good fishing, snorkeling, boat and river tours,
bird-watching, horseback riding, kayaking and boat trips to Caño Island
and nearby Drake Bay. You can even watch whales and see turtles lay their
eggs on the beach.
Steep coastal mountains with tropical rainforest forests serve as a backdrop
for this beautiful part of the country. The area’s popularity is growing as word
spreads about all the natural wonders it has to offer. The beach at Playa
Ventanas got its name because of five spectacular 50-foot, tunnel-like blow
Village Life in Costa Rica
By Annie Drake Expert Tour Guide
About 10 years ago I moved to Costa Rica. Initially I found work as
a tour guide in the San José area. Eventually my work took me to
all corners of the country. On one of my tours I visited Dominical
and the areas to the south. I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty
of the area. Unlike Guanacaste in the north this area stays green and
tropical all year. It is set against a backdrop of towering mountains
covered with a lush tropical rain forest reaches down to the sea. The
surrounding area is teems with wildlife and has several spectacular
waterfalls and abundant fauna.
Eventually I discovered the hamlet of Ojochal. Since the village
is set off the highway you could drive by and never know it existed.
At the turnoff to the town there is a small general store, real estate
office and police station. As you drive along the bumpy dirt road
about two kilometers the town starts to emerge. There is a small river
on the left with homes and restaurants along both sides of the road.
There is even an Internet café and a couple of small hotels.
I spent some time there and absolutely fell in love with the area.
The town has a thriving community of Costa Ricans, French Canadians,
Europeans and Americans. There are actually people from 19 countries
living there. The town literally has an international flavor. Foreigners
have opened a score of excellent restaurants. A gourmet would be
in heaven. There is even a houseboat restaurant where you can dine
at the mouth of a nearby river. The cook is from Belgium and the
food is absolutely incredible. My friends and I go there to watch the
sunset and to eat dinner.
Exotica Restuarant in Ojochal is another real treat. The place only
seats about 25 people but it is so popular with the locals that without
a reservation, you’ll be turned away. I take all of my tour groups there
and they leave saying it was one of the best meals they had ever tasted.
It didn’t take me long to find a great house with a view and
pool which I decided to buy. It also has another large building lot
above it. As time goes by my love for Ojochal and the surrounding
area has grown even bigger. I’ve been working as a tour guide and
really know the area inside out. In fact, I now consider myself an
expert. People come to me when they want private tours or want
The best part of living in my village is the great people and
sense of a tight-knit community. We share and do so much together
from community projects to a myriad of group activities. One night
we may gather at the local pizza parlor. Another time we get together
at somebody’s home for a game of Trivial Pursuit. On other occasions
we may have a Latin Dance night. We even have a rodeo once a year.
Not only do we share activities with the people in Ojochal but we get
to get together with friends in the neighboring towns of Dominical
and Uvita a few kilometers to the north.
We never get bored here. Outdoor activities abound. There is
good swimming at nearby Pinuela and Ventanas beaches. The latter
is in a secluded cove with rock formations which have five giant blow
holes. At Tortuga Beach you can see turtles laying their eggs on the
shore. The area is also good for whale-watching at certain times of
the year. If the ocean isn’t your cup of tea you can swim in one of
the mountain streams and soak under a gushing waterfall. There is
a lot more to do here. Hiking, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, birdwatching,
hiking and excellent surfing are just a few of the many
activities from which to choose. You can even take a boat trip up
the Sierpe and Terraba Rivers or to to Caño Island 17 kilometers
off shore. The island has coral reefs and is good for snorkeling. The
waters teem with all sorts of creatures like moray eel, tropical fish,
dolphins, sperm, pilot and humpback whales.
The new highway from Dominical south links all of our
communities and makes travel easy. Everyday the local infrastructure
improves. New businesses like a hardware stores, small supermarkets,
restaurants, a gas station and a small hotel have sprung up in the area.
For essentials we either travel forty-five minutes north through
the beautiful mountains to the town of San Isidro or south to Palmar
Norte or Puerto Cortez. Panama is only a couple of hours to the
south and has excellent shopping.
Plans call for an international airport to be built somewhere to the
south of us in the not too distant future. Also the last stretch of the
coastal highway from Quepos to Dominical will be completed soon.
All of these improvements should make our area more accessible,
really spur development and boost property values.
The dark-sand beach and high rocky cliffs resemble something right out of
the book Robinson Crusoe. This beach is truly a work of Mother Nature and
has to be seen to be believed. Playa Tortuga and Playa Ballena are other
spectacular beaches in the area.
A big draw to the southern zone is the San Buenas Golf Resort
located south of the town of Ojochal. San Buenas is a private, gated ecodevelopment
encompassing a 332 acre tropical rainforest, rolling hills, and
lush green flatlands. It will feature an 18-hole championship par 72 golf
course, designed by golf course architect Dan Lavis, that challenges all skill
levels. The resort will also have a driving range, tennis center, stunning
condominiums with views and a whole lot more (Please see their full-page
ad at the end of this book).
San Isidro de El General
Named for the saint of farmers, San Isidro de El General, about 120 kilometers
(75 miles) south of San José and a half hour inland from Dominical along
the Pan-American Highway, offers inexpensive housing and a warm climate
due to the town’s elevation of 2,300 feet. The area is a major producer of
high-quality Costa Rican coffee, sugarcane and dairy products.
San Isidro is considered by many to be the fastest-growing city in Central
America. As a municipal center, it houses all of the government offices of
the province of Pérez Zeledón. Monte General is the city’s new shopping
mall. It has a Megasuper supermarket, Universal department store, three
movie screens, nine restaurants in a food court, a Scotiabank branch, 60
stores and 220 parking spaces. The mall is the anchor for the large Monte
General residential community adjacent to it.
The city is a full-service commercial center for the southern zone. It is the
ideal place to live because of the low crime, mild climate, plentiful goods and
services, hardware stores, supermarkets, banks, farmers markets, professional
services schools and a public hospital. Regarding the latter, a friend of mine
was in Playa Uvita and had to have an emergency appendectomy. He was
rushed to the hospital in San Isidro where he had the operation and lived
to tell about it.
The area does not have a good selection of restaurants. However, there
is one good eatery where many Gringos hang out called Bazookas on the
Pan-American Highway on the north side of town. The place is a “required
stop” on my monthly retirement and relocation tours. The restaurant is
owned by a Costa Rican couple who lived in the U.S. and who really know
how to cater to the likes of foreigners. A lot of gringos also hang out at the
Chirripó Restaurant across from the city’s newly-refurbished central park.
San Isidro is off the beaten path, but some foreigners make this small
city their permanent home. Of all the areas in the southern zone they
actually prefer to live near San Isidro. The views are fantastic, land prices
are lower, the municipality is well run, services and shopping are close by,
and there is a better chance of integrating with local culture, as most ticos
in the southern zone live in the San Isidro area.
Real estate is reasonably priced in comparison with some of the areas in the
Central Valley. There are many ocean-view properties in the mountains along
the highway between San Isidro and Dominical. Here you can have the best
of both worlds: a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding mountains
and ocean but without the heat and humidity of the lower beach areas.
San Isidro is the largest city in southern Costa Rica
The Osa Area
Despite being small and laid-back, Puerto Jiménez is the largest town on the
Osa Peninsula. It has a population of about 6,000. During the gold rush, 1980s
Puerto Jiménez resembled a town out of the Wild West. Nowadays things
have calmed down and the town has become popular with the backpacking
set, surfers, lovers of adventure tourism and devotees of ecotourism. Its
location on the Golfo Dulce makes Puerto Jiménz and its environs perfect
for snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking.
There are only a couple of ways to reach Puerto Jiménez: over a bad
dirt road, by small plane or by boat.
There are a few expats living in and around Puerto Jiménez. However,
it takes a special breed of foreigner who is willing to do without a lot of
conveniences and services and who wants to ”get away from it all.” I had
a couple on one of my retirement and relocation tours that ended up in
Carate, an area even more remote than Puerto Jiménez.
By far the most famous park is the Corcovado National Park on the
Osa Peninsula, the place that the National Geographic dubbed as one of
two places in the world with the most biological diversity Here you will find
everything from jaguars and peccaries, to many varieties of frogs, birds, and
reptiles, as well as several kinds of monkeys.
The new Golfito Marina is expected to revitalize this area and cause a
major land boom. The ICT (Costa Rican Tourism Institute) also considers
the Puerto Jiménez area suitable for a future marina project. I have heard of
a wealthy Costa Rican who bought a huge $30,000,000 million piece land
in anticipation of things to come.
The Gulf Area
Some expatriates live around the port of Golfito on Golfo Dulce Bay. The
town is sort of drab and somewhat abandoned. However, the surrounding
scenery is beautiful. There are several restaurants and gringo hangouts in
town where you can strike up a conversation with local expats. Sport fishing
and surfing attract many tourists to this area. As one local foreign resident
points out, “The town has basic services like banks, a hospital, courthouse,
a couple of supermarkets, butchers and doctor’s offices. Transportation is
decent with a small airfield and ferry transportation to Puerto Jiménez and
Zancudo and plenty of taxis and buses. Panama is not far away and is a great
place for good shopping.”
Golfito, is synonymous with the United Fruit Company. In the late
1800s, the company established banana and pineapple plantations in the
area to produce export products for its U.S. market. United Fruit was by
far the largest employer, and the local economy came to rely almost entirely
on this “father figure” to provide them with work, medical care, and public
Despite starting out as a banana port the town was virtually abandoned
when the United Fruit Company closed down its operation. Over the years,
the government has made attempts to help the local economy. In 1990 it
opened the Depóstio Libre or Free Trade Zone. Many ticos make the long
journey to Golfito since appliances and other items may be purchased for
much less than in San José. Foreign residents and tourists with a passport
can also purchase an ample variety of goods at the duty-free warehouses.
Plans call for a world-class marina and condo complex that will improve
infrastructure and change the face of this area. Local residents have a lot to be
excited about. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and the Commission
for Marinas approved the installation of two marinas in the southern Pacific
port of Golfito. The Banana Bay Marina will have 16 slips and the Bahía
Escondida or Golfito Marina will have 217 slips for boats up to 150 feet.
This marina will have a hotel, stores, two restaurants, a health club, a yacht
club, 84 condominiums with prices ranging from $300,000 to $800,000
and 280 residential units. The ICT approval was long-awaited and it will be
a big boost for the economy of the struggling port town of Golfito.
The new marina planned for the town is expected to play a principle
role in defining the fortunes of the area’s real estate market. Because of this
some people expect the Golfito area and the town of Puerto Jiménez to be
the sites of the next land boom in Costa Rica.
Such a large infrastructure investment is extremely important for a region
trying to leverage its tourist potential. Right now, tourists are more likely to
be of the more adventurous kind, those coming to buy duty-free appliances,
and surfers looking for waves in beaches like Pavones.
The marina will bring in higher-spending tourists, including sport
fishermen, their families, and the yachting crowd. This is all speculation,
however, as large infrastructure developments in Costa Rica tend to take a
very long time to materialize, if they ever do. For now, Golfito remains a
place of tico homes, colonial buildings, a few small hotels, and several large
parcels of land outside town. Prices are lower than in the Dominical-Ojochal
area, as getting here from San José takes at least five hours by bus or car.
Zancudo (“mosquito beach” in Spanish), a slow-paced beach community
just south of Golfito, is home to some foreigners. Despite being nearby,
you’ll need to go to the Pan-American Highway and take about a two-hour
drive over an unpaved road to get there. During the rainy season you will
absolutely need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Some foreigners come only for
the winter months while others live in the area year-round. Several bars
and open-air restaurants serve as gathering places for expats. Zancudo’s
uncrowded beach has gentle surf and is very good for swimming. Middlepriced
housing may be found here.
Jim, my friend from Baltimore, makes this town his winter home. He
has built a small house and even has DirecTV (called SkyTV here). When
he leaves to go back to work in the United States, he has a caretaker oversee
Pavones, 40 kilometers south of Golfito, is a surfer’s mecca, renowned for
having the longest left-breaking waves in the world. The surrounding scenery
is downright spectacular. Surfers from all over the world are attracted to this
area. Everything including the nightlife revolves around the surfing scene.
Numerous North Americans and foreigners own large fincas (ranches or
farms) in this area while others live in the more isolated areas. My dentist, a
sometimes surfer, has a vacation home in Pavones. Because of the excellent
surf some say Pavones has the potential to become another Jacó.
Beware of the many land disputes in this area . You should do a complete
title search on any property you are thinking of purchasing here.