Surf’n'Sun: Costa Rica Surf Camp in Dominical
Do you like trying out new things just as much as I do? Learning how to surf has always been a dream, so I naturally got super excited about our trip to the world famous surf paradise Dominical in Costa Rica – a Travelette has been there before, read more here. To get the most out of it we decided to take part in a surf camp. A surf camp? – what’s that? Here’s what I associated with it:
location: hanging out on the sunny beach of a relaxed surf-town
people: a group of like-minded adventurers and explorers
eat: delicious tropical snacks and meals
drink: dancing under the sky and refreshing coconut drinks
sleep: holding siesta in a hammock in the shade
activities: (learn how to) surf in the sun, a game of Frisbee on the beach and lots of other stuff
All this is exactly what you get at Sunset Surf Camp in Dominical, Costa Rica.
Surfing the waves of Hawaii was not enough for Dylan Park. He wanted more and so came to Costa Rica to open up a surf school at one of the country’s most famous surf spots. Playa Dominical is a laid back surf-town and despite its remote appearance (be prepared for bumpy dirt roads in town), it offers anything a Travelette needs during her trip (bank, supermarket, several hostels, surfshops, bars and restaurants etc.). The town and beach is a four-hour-drive along the paved highway from San Jose which makes it much easier to access than other surf spots in Costa Rica, like Santa Teresa or Pavones.
Dylan’s is by far not the only surf camp in town, but definitely our number one pick. All instructors at the camp are certified by the International Surf Association (ISA) and are trained lifeguards which increases the quality of teaching and your safety. Sunset offers private or group lessons, board rental, „ride alongs“ to neighboring beaches and complete Surf Camp packages, which last 7, 10 or 14 days, including transportation from San Jose, accommodation in Dominical, surf lessons and various other tours like horseback riding or ziplining. Added perk: there’s always a fresh pineapple nearby, for your culinary pleasures.
Sounds amazing? Well that’s exactly what it is!
Location & People
Dominical is a small surf town on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, only a couple of hours from San Jose. Nestled between the highway and the waves of the ocean it offers everything you can look for in a holiday destination.
Just like any other surf town Dominical is well-equipped with good-looking surfer dudes with salty hair and dreamy eyes. Your fellow campers come from all over the world and surf on different levels. Sunset Surf Camp specializes on lessons for women and even offers a Women-only Camp!
Eat & Drink
Whereas breakfast is included in your surf camp package, going out for lunch and dinner is the perfect reason to see more of Dominical than just the beach.
The place to be for a cool sundowner is Tortilla Flats bar & restaurant under the palmtrees, just steps from the beach. Here you will meet locals as well as surfers from the area. Suraza in the middle of town is a place that comes highly recommended by locals as it serves the traditional Costa Rican dish (rice, beans and a piece of meat covered in red salsa) just as well as beefy burgers. If you’re longing for a good pizza try the Italian restaurant ConFusione located at Hotel Domi Locos.
A good place for an on the way snack or lazy lunch is Chapy’s where you will find a variety of wraps and sandwiches – instant favorite: the veggie wrap with goat cheese and avocado. Yummy!
And if all that wasn’t enough already work yourself through the offer of a fruit stand. Enjoy juicy mangoes, experimental guava or refreshing coconuts (look out for signs saying „pipa fria“ = cold coconut) – the upgrade to a „coco loco“ is optional.
There are plenty of hotels and hostels in and around town. If you book your Surf Camp with Dylan you can choose from different types of accommodation. The most common choice is to stay at the Hotel Domi Locos. It is located only a few steps from the beach, its open air restaurant serves delicious Italian dinner and right next to it you’ll find the town’s best coffee shop to get a steamy cup of black gold in the afternoon. Also, you will find the Surf Camp’s office and the meeting point for surf lessons here. Rooms are equipped with air condition to cool you down after a hot day and during breakfast you can watch green iguanas climbing the big trees which surround you.
Depending on the length of your stay your Surf Camp package includes several surf lessons and 1-2 complimentary tours. Dominical has lots to offer!
Beginner lessons will start with a theoretical introduction to surfing: how to behave in the ocean, how to treat your surf board and what else to take care about. After a short warm-up and dry-land training you are ready to splish-splash. There’s a 3:1 student/instructor ratio so you can be certain that you’ll get your share of the cake! The learning/fun ratio i even better – when you’re as clumsy and unbalanced as I am, lying, hanging, standing and falling off the surfboard is great fun. And with the tips and tricks of your instructor you will eventually ride a wave or two. Or three!
Once you level up to intermediate Dylan and his troop will take you do neighboring beaches like Dominicalito or Playa Hermosa, here you’ll learn how to turn and eventually choose the waves by yourself.
Unfortunately wind and tides can’t provide a good surf 24/7 but there’s more to see and do. One possibility is to spend some hours in the close-by Hacienda Baru. Not only can you walk the trails between rainforest and beach or catch a flying beauty in the butterfly garden (on picture only), the Hacienda also offers guided hikes/wildlife tours and eco-ziplining. The tour’s 8 ziplines are up to 85 meters long and the focus lies on enjoying the landscape rather than thrilling speed. The platform with the best view is located in the canopy of a giant tree – chances are high to get photobombed by a sloth or a tucan!
For another optional tour you will have to rise with the sun – thank God, Dominical is facing West! A shuttle will take you to the office of Don Lulo’s Nauyaca Waterfalls in Barú, higher up in the hills. Now you’ll change your seat and mount a horse which will take you through stunning scenery to the beautiful Nauyacas Waterfalls. The horses are well-trained and prior knowledge of horseback riding is not necessary. However, even more experienced riders will find great joy in this tour. During the trip you’ll stop at Don Lulo’s back-country hacienda twice – for a traditional breakfast and a power lunch. There’s also enough time to explore the garden and wildlife surrounding the house. At the waterfall you can dip into the cool water and everything is calm until your guide comes on stage. Armed with a long rope and a tube he then guides the most daring participants of the tour into the waterfall and assists them in climbing as high as they want. The following jump into the pool is nerve-wracking and exciting – and absolutely the best thing about the tour! The Nauyacas waterfall tour takes about 6 hours and you’ll make it back to Dominical right in time for a cool Pipa Fria (fresh chilled coconut) and another stunning sunset on the beach.
During our three night stay we learned where and how to surf, tried our luck at different beaches of the area, went ziplining, horseback riding and waterfall climbing, tasted the traditional food of Costa Rica, slept in the soft linen of Hotel Domilocos and were drawn into the relaxed atmosphere of a surf town by Dylan and his team.
Thank you Dylan from Sunset Surf Camp for organizing and setting us up with all these amazing experiences! All pictures by Brian Shaw, except #7, 10, 23, 24, 25, 32 by myself.