the best things to do in jaco costa rica

The Best Things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica

Imagine this, the sound of crashing waves, the salty scent of the soft-sand beach, tall palm trees offering you shade from the warm sun and providing you a picture-perfect scene of sunlight peeking through the spaces between its leaves, and just right ahead, the magnificent view of the mountains and lush green forest of the nature—all of this and more in one place, Jaco, Costa Rica. Jaco is considered one of the most developed beach towns of Costa Rica and has a vibrant day and nightlife. During the day, spend time immersing yourself in exciting activities that will satisfy even the most adventurous taste, and during the night, let loose with the party atmosphere. We’re getting excited just writing about it, so here we’ve pulled together some of the best things to do in Jaco!

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Located just two hours away from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, Jaco is a fun-filled place ready for you to relax, go on an adventure, and enjoy nature. Apart from water-based activities, there are also other activities such as hiking, bird-watching, and strolling through the beach.  But don’t let this small city’s beachy atmosphere fool you, apart from its picture-perfect nature scenery, Jaco is also a bustling city with high-rise condos blending in with the views of thick forests.

How long to stay in Jaco

There are plenty of things to do in Jaco so we recommend staying there for at least 2-3 days to get the best experience out of the small town. But if you’re here to fully immerse yourself into the surfing culture of Jaco, we suggest staying for at least a week to catch the waves!

Where to Stay in Jaco

If you’re looking at where to stay at Joca, you can choose to either stay at North Jaco or South Jaco. Both areas are right along Jaco Beach, both full of action and good spots for surfing. But if you’re a beginner surfer we suggest you stay at South Jaco, but if you’re surfing skills are advanced, then we recommend staying at North Jaco.

If you’re planning to focus on surfing while in Jaco, then we recommend staying at Playa Hermosa. Just 10 minutes away from Jaco, Playa Hermosa is a quiet area with fewer bars, restaurants, and hotels, but with big waves for those with advanced surfing skills. If you’re not planning to surf though, we suggest you stay in another area since Playa Hermosa is not an ideal place to swim because of its huge waves.

Wherever you prefer to stay is still definitely up to you but here’s our pick of the best places to stay in Jaco.

La Perlita: Just a 5-minute walk away from the central beach, supermarkets, bars, and restaurants. La Perlita offers free WiFi and access to a garden where you can relax. They have air-conditioned units with dining areas and cable TV; some of their units also have a kitchen area. La Perlita also has an outdoor pool you can enjoy if you’re not up for the beach yet. You can check rooms and rates here.

Monte Carlo Luxury Condominiums: Monte Carlo Luxury Condominiums offers free WiFi, air-conditioned condos with private bathrooms and a shower, a clothes washer-dryer machine, equipped kitchen, along with a TV, DVD player, and a terrace with a garden view. The Condominium also has an outdoor pool, a shuttle with a fee, and free parking. Just 300 km away from the Condominium are the grocery stores, bars, and restaurants area. You can check rooms and rates here.

Club del Mar Oceanfront: Club del Mar Oceanfront offers air-conditioned units and apartments with balconies overlooking the rainforest and ocean. The Oceanfront also has an ocean-overlooking outdoor pool, a spa, and a pool-side terrace where you can take drinks and meals. You can check rooms and rates here.

Hotel Mirasol: Hotel Mirasol offers guests free WiFi throughout the property. Each guest room provides guests with a private bathroom, TV, and a balcony with a view of the outdoor pool. You can check rooms and rates here.

The Best Things to Do in Jaco

While Jaco is best known as a surfing destination, Jaco also has plenty of activities that take advantage of the great outdoors that Costa Rica is famous for.  There are parks, hiking areas, restaurants you can try out, ATVs, and even zip-line tours! So be sure to prepare yourself for a fun-filled, thrilling adventure as you get to know more about the rich culture of Costa Rica.

Go to the Beach in Jaco

Jaco is easily known as one of the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica, so the beaches of Jaco are definitely hard to miss and deserve a visit! Here are some of the areas of Jaco Beach you should visit.

Playa Hermosa: Playa Hermosa is Jaco’s most famous beach. However, this beach is primarily for those who have advanced surfing skills because of its large waves and strong currents. So it’s not ideal for a relaxing swim. The off-white sands of Playa Hermosa are rarely crowded so it’s also a perfect place for some peace and apart from the sounds of the crashing waves. There are a host of activities that you can try at Hermosa Beach such as hiking and wildlife viewing, sailing, fishing, and, of course, surfing.

Playa Herradura: If you want to relax and dip in the water while soaking up the sun, Playa Herradura is the place for you. Unlike Playa Hermosa, you can swim at Playa Herradura as it has calm waters. You can also go for a sunset sailing tour and try stand-up paddle boarding. Try your hand also at fishing as Playa Herradura is one of the best places to go deep-sea fishing in Costa Rica!

Playa Blanca: Playa Blanca is one of Jaco’s hidden gems! It is the sole white-sandy beach in town and is perfect for swimming. Be sure to check the tides as it is better to arrive and leave at low tides as the beach cannot be accessed during high tides.

If you think these beaches sound great, you’re in for an even greater treat! You can escape to a secret secluded paradise at Playa Fantasia, by Catamaran. Playa Fantasia is a secluded paradise accessible only by boat. This perfect haven offers you hammocks where you can relax as well as water-based activities such as snorkeling, surfing, and boogie boarding. You can also enjoy local cuisine and an open bar. Sound good?  Here’s how to get to Playa Fantasia.  

Go Surfing in Jaco

When going to Jaco, surfing should definitely be on the top of your list! Don’t know how to surf? Don’t worry! Just head to the South area for beaches with calmer waves and get surfing lessons from locals who are pros. One of the best surfing spots in the South area is Madrigales, be sure to check it out! There are plenty of surf shops you can go to such as the School of the World, Surfer Factory, Selina, and Jaco Surf School. A typical surfing lesson lasts for about two hours and costs around USD50, this includes the surfboard rental.

If you’re planning to do it yourself, surfboard rentals cost about USD10 for 24 hours. And if you’re someone with advanced surfing skills you can head to the North area of Jaco where you’ll find larger waves and stronger current at Playa Hermosa.

If you plan to focus on just surfing in Jaco, be sure to schedule your visit around May to November.

Watch the Saturday Surf Competition at Jaco

While Jaco is a place where you definitely shouldn’t miss out on trying out surfing, if you’re not up for it, that’s totally okay! Instead, (or as well as!) you can watch others surf on Saturdays. You can watch the locals compete as they ride the waves that can go as high as 13 feet, while you sit back, relax, and enjoy the lively atmosphere. The Saturday competitions (even international competitions!) are held at Playa Hermosa, where you can also stay at the Backyard Hotel – you check room rates here.

Get some Adventure in Jaco

Costa Rica is filled with places ready for your adventurous heart. Just like Arenal, the adventure capital of Costa Rica (read about it here), Jaco offers so many activities for you to try out with waterfall tours, hikes up trails, rafting and kayaking, zip-lining, ATV tours, nature and bird watching, and more! Check out these things that you can do (apart from surfing, of course!) to further enjoy your visit to Jaco!

Take a WaterFall Tour in Jaco

Just outside Jaco, there are a variety of different stunning waterfalls you can visit for a refreshing swim. You’ll first hike through a lush rainforest following a river until you reach the top of the waterfalls with not only the view of the refreshing water below but also the view of the glorious mountains of Costa Rica. If you’re a thrill-seeker, some waterfalls will allow you to jump down the base of the waterfall! These waterfall hikes take about half a day to complete so be sure you’ve properly planned out your day. You can also join group tours so you can also better see the floras and faunas, and other wildlife residing in the rainforest during your hike.  Want to see what you’ll get up to on a waterfall tour in Jaco?  Here you go!

Go Rafting in Jaco

One of the best ways to get to see more around Jaco is to go rafting! If you’re up for an exciting and thrilling adventure, going rafting is the perfect activity for you. You can enjoy class II rapids, ideal for beginners and families, or you can go for class III and IV rapids for a more heart-pounding experience! You can join this Naranjo river rafting with class III and class IV rapids for a safer and guided rafting.

Go Canyoning while you’re in Jaco

This adrenaline-filled adventure is sure to satisfy your taste for excitement! Canyoning is swimming, climbing, jumping, and repelling through a canyon and down a waterfall. So if you’re fairly new to canyoning, be sure your body (especially your arms and knees!) is well-prepped. Make sure your eyes are also ready to witness the different animals and plants that you might spot within the rainforest. If you’re unsure of doing this by yourself, you can also join this tour with expert guides and high-quality equipment as you explore the rainforest through a zipline, and cool down under the tropical waterfalls.

Take an ATV to explore the rainforests around Jaco

Going on a fun-filled adventure while in Jaco sometimes gives you two for the price of one!! ATV tours offer you an easier way to explore the rainforests of Jaco while also experiencing the wildlife of the forest (you can spot monkeys chilling atop some of the trees!) AND bringing you to one of the tropical waterfalls hidden within the rainforest where you can go for a refreshing swim. You can check out this 3-hour ATV jungle, waterfall tour will take you on a thrilling ATV ride up the rocky mountain terrain and two waterfalls where you can also jump down the base!

Don’t miss Jaco’s Aerial Tram

Witness the beauty of Jaco’s wildlife from on top with an aerial tram tour. This hour and a half breathtaking tour will tour you on top of the rainforest, where you’ll see the canopies housing different flora and fauna. You’ll also be able to see different species of animals residing within the forest and admire the rainforest’s natural beauty. Take this tour for a more immersive experience; this tour includes a guided nature trail walk, a visit to the butterfly garden, and more!

Go Bird Watching in Jaco

Bird-enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Jaco just to see the varying exotic species of birds found in the rainforests of Jaco. Since Jaco is where the rainforest of Costa Rica starts, various species of birds have found a home within. You can see birds of prey, toucans, and also a very special specie of bird, the Scarlet Macaw. The Scarlet Macaw is easily distinguishable with its bright scarlet feathers and blue-feathered wings.

Definitely go Ziplining in Jaco

Ziplining is a pretty common activity done all over the world, but with the enticing beauty of Jaco’s tropical rainforests and waterfalls, ziplining through feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience!  Although for ziplining it’s pretty hard to beat the time when we went to Laos and lived in a treehouse that was only accessible by Zipline.  However. We’re in Costa Rica, and so – this option of a Waterfall Canopy tour includes a 25-cable zipline, considered the longest combo in Costa Rica!

Visit Ocean Ranch Park and go Horseback Riding in Jaco

The Ocean Ranch Park is an 850-acre paradise located near Jaco in a private river valley in the Central Pacific, Costa Rica. The park offers a mix of eco-tours and adrenaline-filled activities like an ATV tour, canopy zipline, waterfall rappelling, and a horseback ride tour! You can check out more of what the Ocean Ranch Park offers here on their website, or you can book this horseback riding tour around Jaco.

Watch the Sunset in Jaco from the El Miro Viewpoint

The El Miro Viewpoint is shrouded with a mysterious atmosphere as it sits on top of Mount Miro, offering you great views of Jaco and Playa Hermosa. At El Miro, there’s an old mansion with tall pillars, some areas of which are now decorated with street graffiti. The entrance is by an old gas station and it is best to go by foot from here due to its muddy trails and leave your car at the parking spot, but you can also take a 4×4 along the trail. After 20 minutes of walking, you’ll reach the first lookout and as you continue, you’ll be able to find a map that will further guide you as to where you should head next. Another 25 minutes of hiking get you to the ruins of El Miro and from the old mansion’s roof, you’ll be able to witness the stunning sunset of Jaco. It is said that the old mansion was built by a wealthy man wanting a great view of Jaco, but before it was completed he died.

Visit the Crocodile Bridge near Jaco

Your visit to Jaco is not complete if you don’t cross its Crocodile Bridge built across the Tarcoles River. Look down as you cross above the American Crocodiles living in the river.

Nightlife in Jaco

Jaco isn’t just for nature lovers despite its abundance of nature-centered activities. Jaco is also known for lively nightlife! At night, Jaco comes to life for clubbing and bar-hopping which begins at around 8 in the evening. Black Merlin Beach Club is one of Jaco’s known clubs and you’ll also find theme parties, DJs, and runway shows. You can also check out the Croc’s Casino Hotel where you can try your hand at games like blackjack, roulette, slots, and tournaments.

Food isn’t something to miss so check out some of their restaurants and pubs like Koko Gastro Pub, Arigato’s, Tsunami Sushi, and Soda Rustico.

The Best Day Trips from Jaco

Jaco obviously has many activities and things to do to keep you busy, but this small city is also an ideal base spot for your visit to other Costa Rican spots. And here are the best day trips that you should take from Jaco.

Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

You can head to Manuel Antonio National Park for a combination of more great beaches and some incredible wildlife.   Our guide to Manuel Antonio is here. The national park has several super beaches like Manuel Antonio, Biesanz, Espadilla Sur, and Espadilla Norte. Manuel Antonio National Park is also a perfect place to get up close with wildlife as it is one of the top spots to see different animals like monkeys (howler and squirrel monkeys), sloths (two- and three-fingered sloths), macaws, and raccoons all in their natural habitat.

You can get to Manuel Antonio National Park by car in about an hour. You can also head there by bus, from Jaco, you can take a bus to Quepos which is about an hour and a half. From Quepos, get on the white National Park bus, which is labeled with “Quepos–Manuel Antonio National Park”, which will take about half an hour.

You can also join a full-day Manuel Antonio National Park tour and go hiking around the national park!

Visit Arenal National Park from Jaco

If you want to see some of Costa Rica’s magnificent volcanoes, you can head to Arenal National Park from Jaco! There are plenty of incredible things to see and do in Arenal waiting for you there and we’ve written all about it here! From Jaco, you can drive to Arenal which will take you about four hours. You’ll first reach San Ramon, and following the same road from San Jose, you’ll reach Arenal.  If you’re not up to driving, that’s okay! You can check out this one-day tour to Arenal and its hot springs from Jaco.

Visit Monteverde from Jaco

Get to touch the clouds with a day trip to Monteverde from Jaco! Housed within the Monteverde Cloud Forest is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve protecting around 1,700 different species of animals. You can hike, take a ziplines and aerial tram tours, and cross hanging bridges as you explore the forest.

You can drive directly to Monteverde from Jaco which will take about 2.5 hours. You can also take the bus. From Jaco, board a bus to Puntarenas which is about an hour and a half. From Puntarenas, take another bus to Santa Elena. Santa Elena is the town where you’ll find the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  Alternatively to make it easy check out this tour which will let you experience the famous Sky Trams and Hanging Bridges of Monteverde as you explore the cloud forest.

Take a Tour of Tortuga Island from Jaco

Tortuga Island is one of the most popular day-trip destinations for travelers from different parts of Costa Rica. Its white-sand beach and exquisite view offer you a lounging area where you can relax and do other activities such as snorkeling, hiking, and ziplining. There are also three shipwrecks which you can explore off the shore of the island!

You can take an estimated 1.5-hour car ride to Tortuga Island from Jaco. Or you can take a 1.5-hour direct bus from Jaco to Puntarenas.  Your alternative is to take a guided trip from Jaco to Tortuga Island and make the most of your time there!

Things to Know about Visiting Jaco

Jaco is for you if you like the warmth of the sun, open beaches, and water activities so be sure to bring lots of sunscreen.

Be sure to remember, however, that Jaco comes with a slightly sketchy reputation particularly late at night, especially since its nightlife is a party scene. Keep your valuables either hidden or safely tucked away in your hotel (or better yet, lock them away in a portable safe). At night, it’s better to take a taxi instead of walking, definitely, if you’re alone (and more especially if you’ve had drinks), take the red taxis, they’re the official and safe ones. If you cannot help but walk, make sure you have someone accompany you, and take a flashlight or head torch.

Jaco’s slightly iffy reputation mostly stems from sketchy activities in bars and pubs, so if you’re not dipping your toes where you shouldn’t, going to Jaco, particularly during the night, shouldn’t be a problem.

Parking spaces at Jaco’s beaches are usually unfenced as they’re unofficial spaces, don’t leave any valuables in cars or on display.

That said, Jaco’s reputation has improved in recent years and we don’t think it’s any worse than anywhere else in the world. 

Where is Jaco

Jaco is located just two hours away from Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, and less than an hour and a half from Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria International Airport. Jaco is also considered the closest beachside destination to San Jose, so once you’ve finished having fun in San Jose (find out what to do here), and you want some beach time, Jaco is the place to be!

When’s the best time to visit Jaco

While Jaco is a place you can travel to all year round, visiting during the dry season is the best time to visit. The dry season is from December to early April when the skies are clear and the weather is perfect for spending time at the beach. Jaco is busiest during the months of January, February, and March, and prices for some accommodations and activities are also likely to increase unless you book your travel in advance. Around September is the least busy month so you can also try visiting during that time, however, it will most probably be still the wet season at that time.

What is Jaco known for

Jaco is a place for many unforgettable activities, but it’s mainly known for sandy beaches and big waves perfect for surfing! But Jaco’s epic nightlife is also something Jaco is known for; its vibrant nightlife with a party atmosphere is best for unwinding and relaxing after a day of physical activities.

How to get around Jaco

You can get around this small bustling city by walking, but with tons of activities, taking a taxi is also an option, especially at the night. You can also rent a scooter or an ATV instead if you want to get around Jaco fast. Uber is also available here.

How to Get to Jaco

There are plenty of ways to get to Jaco. One of them is by air; however, since Jaco does not have its own regional airport, the closest airport is the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) where it will take another 1.5 hours to reach Jaco.

How to Get to Jaco from San Jose

If you’re going to Jaco, you’re most likely coming from the capital city, San Jose. So here are a few ways you can get to Jaco from San Jose.

Drive to Jaco

Driving to Jaco from San Jose only takes about an hour and a half. The fastest route to take would be the Caldera Route 27. Exit right on Route 34 straight to Orotina, then signs will point you to Jaco. There will be around USD5 for tolls, so be sure to be prepared for that.  If you need a rental car while in Costa Rica, then we recommend Discover Cars and you can rent a car here.

Take the Bus to Jaco

From San Jose, a bus will depart from Coca-Cola Station. If you’re heading to Playa Hermosa, any heading to South Jaco such as those heading to Quepos or Manuel Antonio. This will cost you around USD1.  You can check bus and shuttle transfers to Jaco here.

Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica

Final Words on The Best Things to do in Jaco

Jaco is a picture-perfect travel destination, with sunny beaches, big waves, scenic views, and thrilling activities. Jaco is the perfect place to be if you want to spend your days relaxing and getting away from reality, despite its bustling city life. This little city offers a mix of heart-racing activities and exciting explorations along with a cheery atmosphere and lively nights. Jaco is the perfect getaway from the stress of everyday life. Spend your days soaking up the sun and getting a perfect tan and your nights having fun unwinding. We can’t wait for you to visit Jaco!

With thanks to the author of this article, Alyssa Manuel

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