Encompassing the towns of Dominical, Ojochal, and Uvita on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, Costa Ballena has undergone a remarkable transformation over the years. This hidden gem has evolved into a thriving paradise, attracting expats from around the world who seek exceptional opportunities for a high-quality lifestyle. The opportunities that this area has opened over the years have been different for different types of people and a number of key factors have shaped Costa Ballena’s growth. There are many reasons why it has become a magnet for those seeking a different way of life and an opportunity to thrive in a new way.

A Brief History of Costa Ballena

The allure of Dominical was first recognized in the 1970s and 80s when expats flocked to this small coastal town in Costa Rica’s Puntarenas Province. Its natural beauty, affordable land, and housing options were major draws for those seeking a piece of paradise. At that time, Dominical was a remote and undeveloped region that appealed to surfers and backpackers, enticed by its unspoiled beaches and excellent waves. The early expat settlers, mainly surfers and hippies, embraced the area’s laid-back lifestyle and pristine natural environment, living in simple bamboo and thatch structures.

The road from Quepos to Dominical crossed many rivers before the Costanera Highway 34 was constructed. Photo by Karen Davis.

The development of the Costanera Sur highway in the 1980s marked a turning point for Dominical. This improved accessibility opened the door to a more diverse group of expats, including retirees and business owners, who were captivated by the town’s potential. Increased investment from developers led to the construction of hotels, restaurants, and other amenities to cater to the growing tourism and expat population. Notable figures played pivotal roles during this period, like building the Punta Dominical Hotel, which contributed significantly to Dominical’s emergence as a tourist destination. These notable early expats played a key role in the construction of the Costanera Sur highway and engaged in real estate development. Others focused on environmental efforts, like founding the Hacienda Baru Nature Reserve—an influential project promoting sustainable tourism and wildlife conservation.

During the construction of the Costanera Highway around Uvita area, circa 2009. Photo by Karen Davis.

Dominical continued to flourish in the 1990s, attracting more expats and tourists with the establishment of new businesses and developments. Expats brought fresh ideas, businesses, and investments that transformed Dominical from a remote and undeveloped area into a thriving coastal town by focusing on promoting the region’s natural beauty, favorable climate, and laid-back lifestyle.

The main intersection of Uvita, circa 2006. Photo by Karen Davis.

Uvita also caught the attention of expats starting from the 1970s, with the construction of the Costanera Sur Highway significantly improving access to the region. Expatriates were drawn to Uvita by its scenic beaches, lush surroundings, and tourism potential. Over time, expats settled in Uvita, establishing businesses, contributing to the local community, and fostering sustainable development practices. The tourism and hospitality sector experienced significant growth, with expats opening hotels, restaurants, and tour operators to cater to the increasing demand.

La Union road above Uvita, circa late 1990s. Photo by Karen Davis.

Similarly, Ojochal experienced settlement and development in the 1980s and 1990s, captivating expatriate families from North America and Europe. The area’s natural beauty, including beaches and rainforests, along with opportunities for ecotourism and retirement, enticed these pioneers. Early expat families were among the first to establish themselves in Ojochal, contributing to its growth and evolution alongside the local agrarian farmers who had only just arrived a decade or two earlier. Today, Ojochal is a vibrant community with a thriving cultural scene, eco-tourism activities, luxury hotels, and resorts.

Photos of agrarian Ojochal prior to development, circa 1990. Photos by Christian Beaulieu.

Costa Ballena Today

The remarkable transformation of Costa Ballena can be attributed to the collective efforts of expats, developers, and locals who have embraced sustainable development practices while preserving the region’s natural beauty. Expats have integrated into Costa Rican society, taking advantage of the country’s commitment to environmental sustainability and preservation. The fusion of diverse international communities has contributed to a vibrant and multicultural atmosphere.

The entrance to Ojochal, circa 2015. Photo by Brianne Ribson Sturk.

Costa Rica’s rich history, from its indigenous cultures to its colonial era, has laid the foundation for the country’s stability and commitment to education, healthcare, and environmental preservation. This stability, coupled with Costa Ricans’ deep connection to their land and active participation in conservation efforts, has attracted expats seeking a wholesome environment for their families and a chance to make a positive impact.

Looking Ahead

Costa Ballena holds much promise for sustainable development, technological advancements, and cultural fusion. Expats will continue to shape the landscape, making significant contributions in areas such as eco-tourism, renewable energy, organic farming, and sustainable practices. The future of Costa Ballena is bright, offering a unique opportunity to be part of a thriving paradise where natural beauty and a high-quality lifestyle converge.

Developments in Costa Ballena today are typically surrounded by vast swaths of green space thanks to efforts by locals, expats, and the Costa Rican government.

The transformation of Costa Ballena from a hidden gem to a thriving paradise is a testament to the vision, investments, and dedication of expats, developers, and locals. With its natural beauty, favorable climate, sustainable practices, and growing tourism industry, Costa Ballena presents an exceptional opportunity for potential investors from around the world. By becoming part of this remarkable journey, future expats can pursue a lifestyle enriched by the tranquility, diversity, and vibrant community that Costa Ballena offers.

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