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Just over two hours from San José, Jacó sits in a hot coastal plain behind the broad Playa Jacó, the closest beach to the capital. An established seaside attraction, the resort draws a mix of surfers, holidaying Ticos and retired North American baby-boomers. Plan your trip to Jacó with our guide to Jacó — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
As a base from which to explore the surf beaches along this stretch of coast, its multitude of amenities takes some beating.
More advanced riders head for the beaches nearby, including Playa Herradura, 7km north. Here a calm spot in front of the Los Sueños Marriot Ocean and Golf Resort complex is frequented by Ticos.
Meanwhile, Playa Hermosa and Playas Esterillos offer wild, untamed stretches to the south of town.
Playa Hermosa in particular has long been a playground for hotshot surfers. Pummelled by powerful waves, the 10km-long strip rivals Dominical for having the most consistent beach breaks on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
If beaches are your bag, you might want to read up on the best beaches in Costa Rica.
Located at the northern end of Jacó, Chuck’s W.O.W. offers free tide tables and an excellent free “surf treasure map”. The board hire here is well priced.
Meanwhile, staff at Walter Surf Shop (opposite Adobe Rent-a-car in Jacó) can match you with the right board. They also offer rentals and two-hour lessons.
Located 16km north of town, Kayak Jacó Playa Agujas runs daily kayak excursions. These are held at 8am and 1.30pm and last for 3hr 30mins.
If you fancy, you can add snorkelling and fishing to the trip, plus a fresh fruit buffet on the beach.
Note that they're closed in rainy season, from mid-May to November.
Meanwhile, Joy Ride Sailing Tours on Playa Herradura beachfront runs three-hour morning (9.30am) and afternoon (1.30pm) cruises (both 3hr). The folks here can also arrange rewarding snorkelling trips.
Meanwhile, Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park near Playa Herradura offer a thrilling twelve-cable canopy tour, including the longest zipline in the area. This is accessed by tractor-pulled cart.
They also offers horseriding tours (2hr) and ATV tours (2hr).
To pick up the pace a little, you can combine the ride with a ten-cable canopy tour — the “Tranopy Tour”. Nature-lovers can also hit the trails with a guide before taking a closer look at the canopy dwellers from the comfort of the tram.
Prices also include free transport from Jacó and Playa Hermosa.
Alongside the more basic cabinas, Jacó also offers a number of smarter places. It's worth bearing in mind that staying on the main road can mean traffic noise, particularly on busy weekends.
Serious surfers hoping for big breaks could consider basing themselves in Playa Hermosa. Here the the best breakers can be found in front of Terraza del Pacífico and the Backyard Hotel.
Several cafes and bakeries serve excellent coffee and breads, pastries and cakes. For the best coffee in town, visit Café Bohío. They offer a range of espresso drinks from the on-site roaster, with local beans from Finca Higuerón Arriba in nearby Tarrazú.
It’ll come as no surprise that you’ll find a few top fish restaurants here, too. Take your pick from grilled or fried mahi-mahi, wahoo, snapper, or tuna before smothering it in coconut sauce.
Travelling on a budget? Head to Soda Jacó Rústico to load your plate with Tico standards at this inexpensive, buffet-style soda. Ask for takeaway to eat your feast on the beach just 50m away.
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
Many hotels and guest houses also have bikes to rent, and can advise about scooter rental. An hourly local bus service also runs between Jaco and Playa Herradura.
A note on security — locals advise against walking on the beach at night as hold-ups have been reported. Although bike-riding police officers patrol the streets, it is worth taking care around town at night. Part of the police’s mandate is to crack down on the use of recreational drugs, and stop-and-searches are not uncommon.
Non-surfers could consider at visiting Jacó for at least 3-4 days. As a sample itinerary, spend your first day strolling Pastor Diaz, maybe booking or taking a surf lesson.
Come day two, you could take to the water in a different way — how about booking an exhilarating kayaking or sailing trip? Or taking a diving lesson before spending the afternoon chilling on the beach after enjoying a local lunch?
On your third day, head to the rainforest for a canopy tour, or to zipline. If you’re into nature, don’t miss the chance to walk nature trails with a local guide.
With that in mind, novices and non-surfers should note that this is not a place to come for a swim during the rainy season months. In fact, with formidable rip currents, Hermosa is not a beach for casual dips at any time.
If you’re visiting to enjoy canopy tours, zip-lining and rainforest trekking, the best time to visit Jacó is during the December-March dry season. At this time, the hiking trails and visibility are at their best and the heat is fairly comfortable. The same applies if you hope to sail and kayak.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
If you’re travelling at a weekend in high season, buy your ticket at least 3 days in advance. A local bus runs between Jacó’s main drag and Playa Herradura, 7km north, hourly (5am–10pm; 20–30min).
Destinations: Puntarenas (8 daily; 1hr 30min); Quepos (8 daily; 1hr 30min); San José (7 daily; 2hr 30min).
It's a fast-paced trip that offers the possibility of spotting dolphins, turtles and other marine life. Note that the outward leg is a beach landing, so wear shorts and water shoes.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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