Driving along the two-lane road that weaves along the jungle-covered coastline, it would be entirely too easy to miss the turnoff to Dominical. Rocky and unpaved, the road leads one to a string of surf shops, hostels, and open-air restaurants. After the coastal highway was finally paved a few years ago, there were grand predictions that Dominical would soon evolve into a boomtown. That has yet to happen.
While there have been a few condo developers who have found beauty in the lush tropical backdrop of the hillside, Dominical has not fallen victim to the mass development encroaching along many other areas along the coast. As a result, Dominical has managed to retain its quiet, relaxed feel. Many of the restaurants here do not even require patrons to wear shoes.
The primary attraction of Dominical is its waves. Surfers from around the world make their way here to test their skills against those waves. Ultimately, Dominical is still very much a surfing town.
Wave of Development Predicted Following Construction of Coastal Highway
Prior to the construction of the coastal highway, visitors making their way to Dominical were forced to take the long and often dangerous mountain road from San José. The only other alternative route was the 45-mile stretch of road from Quepos, to the north, a rocky road that required a four-wheel drive. During the rainy season, travelers would often need to ford several rivers in order to complete the journey. It was not unusual for the drive to take an hour and a half.
Between 2003 and 2007, home prices in Dominical increased sharply as anticipation of the road’s completion grew. There was even discussion of constructing an international airport nearby. Developers were quick to promote the beauty of Dominical’s rugged coastline and the tranquility of the area’s secluded beaches.
Economic Crisis Stymies Development
In 2008; however, the market stalled when economic troubles hit the United States. American buyers, who had comprised the majority of the international property buyers in Dominical were suddenly focused on maintaining their domestic lifestyle and had no extra funds for scooping up tropical getaways. Following years of delays, the new paved road from Quepos to Dominical finally opened in 2010. Due to bad timing, it brought little effect to the local market.
While numerous half-finished projects that were first begun during the boom years can still be spotted throughout Dominical, the market is finally beginning to recover. Buyers who have an eye for picking up deals will find that land prices are still below the levels they reached at the peak of the boom. Some of the buyers purchasing raw land in Dominical are looking ahead toward retirement.
New Development in Dominical
Development has also finally returned to Dominical, with several small projects underway. Among those projects is Playa Hermosa Villas, a development that will include 12 condos and 26 villas. The development is located a few miles south of Dominical. According to Robert Ruggieri, the developer for Playa Hermosa Villas, “I’m all in right now.” Mr. Ruggieri believes that Dominical could become a smaller version of Guanacaste, the rapidly growing region located in northwest Costa Rica. Both Marriott and Four Seasons have constructed luxury developments there in an effort to take advantage of the growing interest in Guanacaste.
In preparation for the Playa Hermosa Villas project, Mr. Ruggieri purchased nine acres located along the coastal highway back in 2009. At the time, he paid $700,000 for the property, a price that was about half the value it would have brought just a few years previously. Prices for units in the Playa Hermosa Villas project begin at $339,000 for a villa just under 1,400 square feet and range up to $419,000 for a three-bedroom unit.
While Dominical might once have been a haven for surfer, more upscale travelers are beginning to turn their attention to this quiet, coastal town. While the Mediterranean style may still be popular in other areas, Mr. Ruggieri has focused on a more modern design for his development. Here, units feature expansive windows, square edges, and chrome accents. He says, “I took a gamble. I think the new contingent is going modern.”
The locals remain somewhat skeptical that mass development will ever come to Dominical. There are numerous challenges that must be overcome, including a mountainous coastline that makes construction difficult. The fact that little land is available along the rather narrow beachfront and the fact that development here is restricted by the government further compounds the problem.
As Julie Stewart, a real estate agent based in Austin, Texas puts it, “There is only so much that can be built.” That may not necessarily be a bad thing, however. Last year, she and her husband purchased a house just outside Dominical because they loved the relaxed feel of the region. Ms. Stewart says, “We loved the fact that it didn’t have all of the resorts.” While she does admit that it would be nice to have a few more small hotels and restaurants in the area, she is not anxious to see mass development come to Dominical the way it has in other popular beach spots in Central America.
“If this stays nice and small and doesn’t have any huge resorts coming in, it would be great,” she says, summarizing the feeling by many that Dominical is perfect just the way it is.