- Central America & the Caribbean
- Costa Rica
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.
The best travel tips for visiting Jaco
Jacó has seen some of the most excessive development along the Pacific, but the partying crowd don’t seem to mind too much.
As a base from which to explore the surf beaches along this stretch of coast, its multitude of amenities takes some beating.
Jacó’s appeal is its long, spacious beach. When covered in mist and backed by a spectacular Pacific sunset, the wide sands look pretty attractive. It’s popular with novice surfers. That said, the water isn’t the cleanest and you do have to watch out for riptides.
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.
Top attractions and things to do in Jacó
Although surfing is the be-all-and-end-all for many visitors to Jacó, there are plenty of other activities on offer. These include kayaking and zip-lining, as well as tours to nearby Parque Nacional Carara or Islas Tortuga.
#1 Enjoy top surfing experiences in Jaco
If you've come to Jacó to surf, a number of local outfits rent equipment, and offer expert lessons and advice.
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.
#2 Go kayaking
Another top experience around the Jacó region is to try your hand at kayaking.
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.
#3 Go on sailing and diving excursions
Located on Playa Herradura, Herradura Divers runs two-tank local dives, and more rewarding dive-trips to Islas Tortuga. PADI courses are also available.
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.
#4 Be exhilarated by ziplining and canyoning trips
Costa Rica Waterfall Tours come highly recommended for their canyoning and abseiling jaunts down local cascades. They also offer pulse-quickening ziplining experiences.
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).
#5 Take a rainforest canopy tour around Jaco
5km northeast of Jacó, Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica Pacific lets you view the rainforest canopy from the surrounds of a slow-moving gondola. The ride lasts an hour, and the entry price includes access to nature trails and a serpentarium.
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.
Best areas to stay in Jacó
Jacó’s cheapest cabinas generally cater to weekending josefinos or surfers. Note that much of the mid-range accommodation is self-catering — useful if you’re in town for more than a couple of days.
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.
Best restaurants and bars
Jacó isn’t short of places to eat and drink for all budgets, and tastes. International flavours are on offer, with Italian pizzerias and gelato joints rubbing shoulders with sushi tapas bars and laidback burger restaurants.
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.
- Ohana Sushi Tapas Bar: get your chopsticks round sushi, sashimi and salmon teriyaki in a rustic-chic room.
- PuddleFish Brewery: quality fish sarnies, vegan meatballs and meaty sliders, plus home-brewed craft beers.
- Taco Bar: a top lunch spot for fish tacos and huge burritos with an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get around
It’s easy enough to get around Jacó on foot. Most bars, restaurants and activities can be found along the main street, Pastor Diaz. This runs parallel to the beach.
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.
How many days do you need in Jacó?
Committed surfers will be rewarded by spending at least a week in Jacó. Being a lively place, with non-stop action along Pastor Diaz, you’ll have no problem filling your time with wild waves and bar-life around the clock.
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.
What is the best time to visit Jacó?
Hardcore surfers might want to visit Jacó in the rainy season, between May and August. At this time, steep sandbars cause waves to break hard, fast and close to the Playa Hermosa shoreline.
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.
How to get here
Buses to and from San José, Puntarenas and Quepos stop at Plaza Jacó at the north end of Av Pastor Díaz, the 3km road that constitutes the town’s main drag.
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).
A Zuma Tours taxi-boat from Montezuma runs to Playa Herradura at 7.30am each day. This takes one hour and the fee includes transfer to/from Jacó. Add a little for Santa Teresa/Mal País. It returns at 10am.
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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