The southern zone is known for the sweeping coastal mountains of lush tropical rainforests rising from its breathtaking Pacific Ocean coast. Nature provides a splendid backdrop for many fantastic activities here: surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving (at Caño Island), deep sea fishing and ocean kayaking, hiking, wild animal and bird viewing, or just relaxing in the hammock, if you prefer!
This southern zone has the highest percentage of land preserved in national parks, and other reserves, than any other region, and you haven't seen Costa Ballena without visiting the beaches, where you'll find great places to surf and snorkel. Stretching from Dominical, Uvita, to Bahia Ballena and Ojochal, Costa Ballena encompasses a vast stretch of a gorgeously rugged shoreline and a number of beautiful, and usually deserted, beaches including Dominical, Dominicalito, Playa Hermosa, Playa Uvita, Playa Arco, Playa Ballena, Playa Pinuelas, Playa Ventanas and Tortuga.
Beach highlights: Playa Dominical boasts world-class surf; Playa Ventanas is a palm lined gem with cave openings to neighboring coves (hence the name "windows") that boom with surf; Ballena National Marine Park (1) is also a must-see, and is a place where swimmers can enjoy calmer waters; there is a tombolo at Punta Uvita that stretches a kilometer out to sea and, from the air, looks like a whale's tail (hence the name: Ballena means "whale" in Spanish).
The Ballena National Marine Park is home to the famous humpback whales that visit from mid July and October, and again in December through March, as they migrate to and from feeding and mating grounds in the north and south hemispheres. Distance: 15 minutes.
Natural Waterfall Pools: To beat the heat of the noonday sun, there is no better way than to cool off the natural way! Costa Rica has many local waterfall "pools."
Poza Azul (2) is a nice waterfall and swimming hole in Dominicalito (about 5 minutes south of Dominical --watch for the "La Cascada" restaurant sign on the beach side, and immediately turn left onto the gravel road across the highway). You will need to drive THROUGH the stream to get here! Then follow straight through the town of Dominicalito, and make a right just after the soccer field. The waterfall is just behind the field, but there will be a small parking area on the left, and wooden stairs leading down to the falls on the right, across the road. If you're lost, ask locals for Poza Azul. There is a rope swing from the large overhanging tree for that little bit of Tarzan in you!
Falls at Uvita There is also a beautiful waterfall (3) 2 km from the center of Uvita. Start at Banco de Costa Rica and go straight ahead into the Mountains ( east). This refreshing waterfall is on the gravel road up the hill right after Uvita's cemetary, after a Soda (small deli for the displaced NY-ers) at your right.
The majestic Nauyaca Falls waterfalls are one of the main attractions of the southern region, not only for their natural scenic beauty, but also for their opportunities for recreation and fun, including swimming, climbing, jumping --and just wondering at the natural beauty of the tropical rainforest. The falls are accessible via hiking or horseback.
The horseback riding tour of Nauyaca (4), run by Don Lulo, is over a 12 kilometer route with three resting periods, it includes a typical Costa Rican breakfast. Distance: 10 minutes from Dominical to trailhead.
Sportfishing Captain Isidro (5) can take you out 3, 4 5 hours, or the whole day -- into the beautiful Pacific Ocean. (Although no facilities on board, so men may be able to "go the distance" a bit more comfortably) Go big for dorado, mackerel, and other sportfish, or just relax and watch the breathtaking coastline fade behind you. Distance: 5 minutes south of Dominical on Costanera Sur to boat "docking area".
Hacienda Baru (6) Bird watching, canopy exploration (the closest zip line tour in the area) and ecological tours are their specialty. Their bilingual naturalist guides will help you discover the wonders of the tropical rainforest, such as leaf cutter ants, the sleepy sloths and the nesting site of the Common Pootoo. On the tours you can experience everything from the rainforest ranopy to mangrove swamps or the jungle at night. Distance: 10 minutes north of Dominical on road to Quepos.
Full Day Excursions
Manuel Antonio Parque Nacional (8)You are guaranteed to see monkeys, sloths, lizards and other animals at this charming, popular park just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast. Enjoy swimming and sunbathing on expansive white sand beaches backed by an evergreen forest that grows right up to the high tide line. The principal habitats, here, are primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beach vegetation. Varied fauna with 109 species of mammals and 184 of birds. The original tourist destination of the Pacific coast, the greater Manuel Antonio/Quepos area is teeming with hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars and boutiques. Distance: 28km north of Dominical on the Costanera Sur.
Corcovado Parque Nacional Ecologically varied, Corcovado National Park (9) is among the most biologically intense places on earth. As much as 2/3 of the world's total plant and animal species can be found here: 370 species of birds, 140 mammals, 40 species of fresh water fish, 117 types of reptiles/amphibians and more than 6000 species of insects. Endangered species covet this area as there are large corridors of undisturbed forest which account for the largest section of primary forest along the Pacific coast. Located on the wild and untamed Osa Peninsula, this national park is breathtakingly beautiful and is one of the remotest parks in the country. Home to the largest and only tropical primary lowland rainforest in the world, the Corcovado National Park is also the habitat of a plethora of endangered plant and animal species. Guided park tours journey from Dominical to San Pedrillo or Sirena station. (We recommend Sirena!) Distance: 1+ hour boat ride from Dominical, or drive 1-1/2 hour to Sierpe and take boat from there.
Caño Island Sorkeling and Diving Caño Island (10) is biological reserve has been rated by Skin Diver magazine as among the best in the world and is one of the world's newest hot spots for snorkeling adventure diving. Located off the southern coast, this virgin area offers a variety of unique diving and snorkeling attractions, from 15 - 16' reefs to 80' "walls". The rock formations are volcanic origins; sea fans, cup coral, head corals are the most common.
The Original Canopy Tour at Drake Bay (11) This zip line tour is located in the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park one of the last large untouched rainforests left in the country. More remote than other areas, and only a recently developed zone for tourism in the country, it is less traveled by tourists. Less people --more animals is what they say. Distance, about 1-1/2 hours to Sierpe, then 45 minute boat ride on the Sierpe river to Drake Bay --beautiful!
Chirripó Parque Nacional Chirripó (12) is Costa Rica's highest peak, and its national park forms part of La Amistad International Park (Costa Rica-Panama). Chirripó means "Land of the Eternal Waters", and a Chirripó trek in the rainy season reveals numerous streams and brooks, and the view from Cerro Chirripó Grande offers a view of more than 30 lakes and lagoons --some of which disappear completely in the dry season. Many large rivers have their source in the valleys of the Talamanca range and an extraordinary number of habitats can be found here, as a result of the differences in altitude, soil type, climate and topography. The Talamanca mountain range is home to eight remote Indian reserves, where Costa Rica's original indigenous people now live. These villages rarely mingle with outsiders and its inhabitants continue to practice the customs, language and lifestyles of over 400 years ago. Distance: about an hour and 15 minutes from Dominical. Drive to San Isidro de El General. From there, take the road that leads to San Gerardo de Rivas.