Where and when to run in a tropical beach town…
- Difficulty: Easy –> Intermediate
- Terrain: Dirt and gravel with loose rocks
- Length: 6km out and back
- Flow: Interrupted by a small creek
- Scenery: Quiet little neighbourhood along the Baru River
- Safety Issues: The odd car, uneven road surface and loose rocks
- Bathrooms: Available at nearby restaurants at start of trail
- Drinking water: No
- Transit Access: n/a
- Parking: Free street parking available
- Night Access: Open but not lit
- Special Features: Cool breezes and tropical wildlife. Ice cold natural coconut water available nearby!
- Nearby Attractions: Cafe Mono Congo, Dominical Beach
Dominical, is a funky little beach town on the southwest Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We are blessed to spend our winters here for the last 10 years. We love the tropical heat but it does make running challenging. I have found a good little route along the dirt and gravel road, locally known as Dominical River Road, and a running routine that has made it possible for me to maintain and even work on my running fitness while I am here.
The route is along the Baru River. It starts from the hip little café Mono Congo (where you can get a great coffee or smoothie after you run) and runs along the river past a few houses, through a little creek, and on past a few more driveways, until come to its end where it splits and heads quickly to the river on the left and peters out into a mud trail on private property to the right. It’s about 3km each way, so an out and back is about 6km. When I need to do long runs I just do repeated out and backs of 6km.
The trail offers glimpses of the river as it meanders through a quiet neighborhood. There are beautiful flowers along the side, including huge hedges of hibiscus and many others whose name I do not know, but whose beauty and fragrance I appreciate.
I have seen all kinds of wildlife along the trail, from toucans to scarlet macaws, to large iguanas, and rarely a monkey!. I have seen so many Blue Morpho butterflies that I have often thought my native running name would be Runs with Blue Morphos! I have even had to jump over tiny poison dart frogs, you know, the ones they always picture on the cover of Costa Rican travel guides (only you don’t realize they tiny until you see one in real life!)
The trail is packed dirt and gravel with some loose rocks. The surface is not even, and I do have to be careful is some sections to avoid the larger loose rocks which has tripped me up from time to time. They do grade the road now and then, which helps. It is fairly flat but not completely; there are three short hills: one at the start, one in the middle, which crests at the creek, and one at the end.
The trail has good flow overall. There aren’t any roads to cross, and there isn’t a lot of traffic along the trail itself. You do have to cross the creek. In dry season, about half the year, this is easy; the creek is barely a puddle. In rainy season, the other half of the year, it can be flowing and I often just surrender and let my seat get soaked. There is a rickety footbridge on the inside, but it requires a little focus to use, so I generally just tromp through the water to keep my pace. On longer runs I use the creek as a place to slow down, walk, and take a drink or eat my gel.
The trail is lined with trees and there is a reasonable amount of shade in the early morning (in all but one section) as well as a nice breeze off the river. The key is early morning, and I mean early. My rule is to be finished my run by 8am, this is when the tropical sun peeks over the nearby hills and its changes from hot to super hot! So I stick to the 8am finish guideline and time my runs by working back from there. That means my 2 hours runs start a little before 6am! However, I am rewarded on these early mornings by the quiet of a sleepy town just stirring: its own kind of serene beauty.
No matter what, it is hot when you run near the beaches of Costa Rica. I sweat tons! I have taken to bringing a little towel to mop up sweat off my china nd neck now and then! I also must drink water. When I run elsewhere, I find I don’t need water for a run under 10km. In Costa Rica, I always need water! I run with a camelbak and use a Vega electrolyte mix to stay hydrated. I also highly recommend a cold coconut water after your run. Known locally as pipa fria, they are available all around Dominical for about $1 (500 colones). Pipa fria may be the best after run drink ever! Don’t miss out on this tropical runners treat!
Even with running early and drinking lots I still find it takes time to adjust to the tropical heat and humidity, so go easy on yourself! Let’s face it running when a cool morning is often above 75F/25C is hard work! But you do adjust and then when I get back to cool temperatures, I have a lot more energy! So there is a payoff!
Dominical River Road isn’t my favourite run in the world, but I have learned to love its charm, and depend on its cool breezes and Blue Morpho butterflies. I have come to see it’s the best running route in the area. Running on the highway around here is downright dangerous! And running on the beach, while it seems romantic, depends on tides, is never free of the blazing hot sun, and is usually along a steep incline. I wish I could run in my neighbourhood just because it would be more convenient in the early morning to not have to drive to town but we live on a mountain and the extremely steep red clay dirt road are treacherous even to walk on in many parts. I have tried and I ended up back on Dominical River Road, and I’m very happy there!
If you are visiting Dominical, I would recommend staying at Villas Rio Mar. These are beautiful upscale hotel rooms right on the Dominical River Road and just outside of town itself. The resort is beautiful and offers a huge swimming pool, restaurant and tennis courts. You are still walking distance to town and its many restaurants and of course, the beach. I already mentioned Café Mono Congo, a hip little café right at the start of Dominical River Road. It is vegetarian and offers a few vegan selections, but even meat eaters can’t help falling in love with the food. They have a great cup of coffee too!