Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

The surf's always up at Playa Jaco.

View of Jaco beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.
Marcaux /Photodisc/Getty Images

Jaco Beach, south of Puntarenas and north of Manuel Antonio on Costa Rica’s Central Coast, is a sanctuary for surfers and fun-lovers – but most of all, fun-loving surfers! Jaco is also one of Costa Rica’s Top Ten Beaches.

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Jaco was once an archetypal sleepy beach town. But it wasn’t long before Jaco Beach’s excellent waves began to draw foreign surfers in exponential numbers, especially because of the Costa Rica beach’s proximity to the San Jose (less than two hours).

Along with the surfers came the need for nightlife. Now, Jaco is Costa Rica’s wildest party beach, and a top destination for wave-worshippers and land-lubbers alike.

What to Do:

In a country famous for strikingly beautiful beaches, Jaco is rather lackluster. To make matters worse, Jaco’s waters are generally unsafe for swimmers—the waves are large, and dangerous riptides are frequent. But Jaco’s all about the breaks, not the beach. Besides Jaco Beach itself, most of Costa Rica’s best surfing beaches are adjacent:​

Playa Hermosa: Jaco’s most hardcore surfers head to Playa Hermosa, about six miles south of Jaco, to take advantage of its consistently large waves. Playa Hermosa also holds an international surf convention each year.
Playa Herradura: Less than four miles north of Jaco, mellow Playa Herradura is fast becoming a top surfing beach in its own right, especially for those eager to escape Jaco’s boisterousness.

And Jaco is indeed boisterous. Discos, nightclubs, casinos, and dive bars populate Jaco’s streets (try Disco La Central, La Hacienda, Beatle Bar, or The Jungle). Fortunately, there’s plenty to see and do in Jaco that doesn’t involve buckets of Imperials. For sport fisherman, the party is out at sea. The beaches north and south of town are much more scenic, and safer for swimmers.

Eco-tourists enjoy horseback treks, canopy tours, and hiking through the bordering jungles. The best destination is the Carara Biological Reserve nine miles north, a vital nesting ground for scarlet macaws. Because the macaws migrate daily, it’s best to hike the reserve’s hour-long trail at sunrise or sunset, when they’re most active.

When to Go:

September and October are Jaco Beach’s rainiest months, while January through April are the driest (and the most touristy). In between, rainfall is on and off.

Getting There and Around:

Because of Jaco’s nearness to San Jose, it’s common for travelers to rent a car at the airport and drive to the beach themselves (especially if they’ve got surfboards in tow). Budget travelers can catch a local bus in the capital on Calle 16, between Avenidas 1 and 3. There are also several first-class buses that make the trip for substantially more money.

Once there, you’ll navigate by foot, although renting a bike or scooter is a fun option.

Tips and Practicalities:

Jaco is extremely tourist-friendly. Internet cafes are plentiful, as are banks, tour operators, and restaurants serving international cuisine. If you’re new to the surf scene, book a few lessons at a surf school like Third World Surf Camp or Jaco Surf School, and you’ll be riding waves in no time.

Fun Facts

Are Macaws too tame for you? How about crocodiles? Despite being the most contaminated river in Costa Rica, the Tárcoles River (25 minutes from Jaco) is home to a large number of these carnivorous beasties, many of which can be seen from the bridge.

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