The small beach town of Jaco in Puntarenas province is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. No matter what time of the year you visit Jaco, it’s buzzing with activity.
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Jaco, on the Central Pacific coast, is known for its great waves, nice beaches, and many nearby activities. Jaco has always had a reputation for being a party city, but you can still find many outdoor activities and other things to do in Jaco if partying is not your top priority on holiday.
Honestly, Jaco is probably our least favourite destination in Costa Rica. It’s busy, a little seedy, and it’s definitely not a place for slowing down and enjoying the natural beauty of Costa Rica. But we know many other travelers that love this vibrant town and come back to enjoy this popular destination every year.
If you are trying to plan your first visit to Jaco, here is some info to help you orient yourself.
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When is the Best Time to Visit Jaco, Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has two main seasons: the wet season and the dry season. The weather in Jaco is no different.
The Costa Rican weather also depends on the coast. Each coast gets the same amount of rain, but some months are wetter on the Pacific Coast and drier on the Caribbean side.
On the Pacific Coast, the wet season starts in June and continues until early December. During the wet season, it rains heavily for an hour or so mid-morning or afternoon. It also rains at night. Planning your day is easy when you can predict weather patterns better.
In Jaco, the dry season starts in December and ends around April, which makes this time of the year the most popular time to visit. If you’re not afraid to get a little wet, you’ll be glad to know that airfare is a lot cheaper during the wet months.
How to Get to Jaco, Costa Rica
The easiest way to get to Jaco is by car. The town is located less than 2 hours away from San Jose, making it a popular weekend destination with San Jose residents as well as travelers. If you’re travelling from Tamarindo, the drive takes a little longer, with a 4.5-hour journey.
Renting a car from San Jose is easy, and our recommendation is to rent from Vamos Rent-A-Car. They service the San Jose International Airport and surrounding areas. They are reliable, and you know what you’re getting from them; there are no hidden fees.
If you are uncomfortable driving in Costa Rica, you’ll be happy to know that Jaco is one of the best-connected towns in Costa Rica, with plenty of public transportation options. Check out Bookaway to book buses, shuttles, and ferries and to find the best way to get to Jaco from San Jose and other parts of Costa Rica.
Top Things to Do in Jaco, Costa Rica
Jaco, Costa Rica, may be known for its great nightlife, but there are plenty of other things to do in Jaco to keep outdoor lovers busy during the day.
Hike to Nearby Waterfalls
The roads in Jaco may have gotten a bit more paved, but luckily, the waterfalls are still accessible to anyone looking for an outdoor activity in Jaco.
Tres Piscinas waterfall is a set of three waterfalls with natural pools. This waterfall is between Jaco and Parrita, approximately 45 km (28 mi) south of highway 34. The entrance fee is $4 per person, which includes parking.
Catarata Bijagual, also known as Manantial de Agua Viva, is one of Costa Rica’s tallest waterfalls. It’s a moderately difficult hike, with a natural pool that you can soak in to cool down after the hike. Catarata Bikagual is located outside of Carara National Park. The entrance fee is $20 USD for foreigners and $10 USD for Costa Rica residents.
It is easy to get to the waterfalls on your own if you have rented a car for the duration of your time in Costa Rica, otherwise, you can visit the waterfalls on one of these organized tours:
- Canyoning and Canopy Tour: This tour will take you hiking, ziplining, and swimming. You’ll see waterfalls and even rappel down the waterfall in a sturdy harness.
- Extreme Adventure Waterfall Tour: This tour will take you to five different waterfalls in the Jaco area giving you the option to cool down in many of the natural pools throughout the day.
- Sky Bridge & Waterfall Climbing Rainforest Tour: This will take you on a nice hike to the top of a waterfall. It also includes an awesome zipline experience and a chance to walk on a hanging bridge.
- Explorer Waterfall Tour: Will show you great rivers that lead to smaller waterfalls around Jaco. You’ll hike across bridges and bathe in swimming holes.
- Zip Line and ATV Adventure Tour: Get your adrenaline pumping as you ATV and zip line through the rainforest before arriving at a stunning waterfall.
Enjoy the Sandy Beaches
There are many things to do in Jaco Costa Rica, but in our opinion, nothing beats enjoying the beach. Take a break and work on your tan while in town.
Jaco Beach is the main beach in town, where you’ll find restaurants, surf shops, bars, bicycle rentals, smoothie shops, and more. It’s one of the closest beaches to San Jose, located in the Puntarenas province, and it attracts a lot of surfers with its impressive breaks. Many regard it as having some of the most impressive waves in the country. It also has a lot of riptides, so it’s not the safest beach for swimming.
Try not to get too confused by the name! There are four beaches called ‘Playa Hermosa’ in Costa Rica. It means ‘beautiful beach,’ so each one has earned its name. This Hermosa Beach is well known for surfing and also for partying. If you’re hoping to catch a few waves by day and then see what the nightlife has to offer, Playa Hermosa could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Just be careful. It’s not always safe for beginner surfers or for swimmers.
Just a few miles north of Jaco, Playa Herradura was once a tiny fishing village, but it’s grown into a well-known tourist destination over the years. Herradura Beach is a black sand beach, making it striking and beautiful to look at, and it’s surrounded by shopping options, galleries, and boutiques thanks to recent construction.
Herradura Beach is also great for water sports. Thanks to the marina nearby, sport fishing, jet skiing, surfing, and parasailing are all popular, with tours offered in the area.
As the name–’white beach’–implies, Playa Blanca is a beautiful white sand beach. It’s a peaceful sight to behold, with bright blue water and rocky outcroppings that can be admired and explored. The water is also much calmer than the other beaches near Jaco, so if you’re looking for a beach to do some relaxing, then Playa Blanca is perfect for you. Just make sure to bring everything you’ll need to enjoy the beach with you; you aren’t guaranteed to find any of it after you get there.
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Learn to Surf
If you’re interested in learning how to surf, there are many surfing schools to choose from in Jaco. Each surfing school is local and family-owned. You have the option of choosing from Tico Surf Lessons, Jaco Surf School, Tortuga Surf Camp, or Surfer Factory. If you already know how to surf, you can always rent a board and hit the waves on your own.
Tico Surf Lessons
Tico Surf School offers surfing lessons from beginner up to advanced, from just starting to ride on the white water with the instructor at your side to basic tricks. Erly Farrier has 27 years of surfing experience and 15 years of teaching experience. His team of instructors is made up of highly experienced surfers.
You can get a single group lesson for $50, or a package of 3, 5, or 7 daily lessons, in a group or privately. With each lesson, surfboards are free to use for 24 hours.
Jaco Surf School
At Jaco Surf School, you’ll get the best instruction whether you’re just starting out or are already experienced. They offer group or private lessons or surf camping packages for those looking for something more comprehensive. For 2 to 5 days, depending on the package you pick, you can get a taste of the VIP life and learn the basics of surfing or more advanced tips and tricks.
Tortuga Surf Camp
Tortuga Surf Camp has been in operation since 2007, and they pride themselves on their comprehensive programs to fit the needs of surfers of every experience level. They offer 2-hour lessons to give new surfers the basics and explain surf and water safety, and they also offer surf camps with beachfront lodgings. Depending on what you’re interested in, there is a more rigidly structured camp or a more free-form camp, where you can go at your own pace while still enjoying the benefits of their lodgings.
Surfer Factory has a number of locations, including in Jaco and Manuel Antonio, and they function more like a fitness club than a standard surf school. If you’re interested in learning how to maximize the athletic and health aspects of surfing, then the highly trained team at Surfer Factory is equipped to offer that. They offer board rentals, lessons, week-long surf camps, and stand-up paddleboard tours and expeditions.
Visit Carara National Park
Carara National Park, located about 30 mins outside of Jaco was established as a biological reserve back in 1978 but upgraded to a National Park in the early 90s.
Carara National Park’s forest is denser than Manuel Antonio National Park. It creates an ideal environment for birds like the Scarlet Macaws, parrots, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. It also has more bugs and mosquitos found throughout. Other exciting features of the park include about 15 pre-Columbian archaeological sites that date back to 300 BC to 400 AD.
Visit Tortuga Island
There are no hotels on Tortuga Island, so you can’t stay overnight there, but it’s worth a visit all the same. It is beautiful and diverse, with stunning golden beaches, glorious hiking opportunities, and some excellent snorkelling and scuba diving that is also suitable for beginners.
You can also hike to the summit of the island, try a zipline, relax on the beach, go swimming in the turquoise water, rent a kayak, or get a ride on a glass-bottom boat for a view you won’t be able to get any other way. The wildlife and the flora on Tortuga Island are unique and diverse, and tours or day trips to Tortuga Island can be set up in Jaco.
Try a Horseback Riding Tour
In many cases, you can get to secretive, remote places while horseback riding that you wouldn’t be able to reach in a vehicle or on foot. Whether you’re riding along a jungle trail or along the beach, it gives you a view of the world that you can’t get in any other way.
If you can, try to schedule your ride in the morning or around sunset. The scenery is even more impressive that way, and it’s better for you and the horse. Costa Rica is hot, after all, and you don’t have a permanent fur coat to worry about.
Go on an Aerial Tram Tour
If you haven’t seen one before, the idea of aerial tram tours might seem a bit unusual. An aerial tram is basically a cable car, but it’s suspended off of the ground. In some places, they’re purely practical, and in others they offer the benefits of some spectacular scenery. In Jaco, you can appreciate the jungle canopy below you and see the rainforest from a vantage point you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. If you have a guide with you, they’ll be able to point out specific animals that you probably wouldn’t have known to look for otherwise.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the jungle from the same angle as someone on a zipline without the speed or harness, then a gentle aerial tram ride will give you exactly what you’re looking for.
Hike to El Miro
The El Miro Ruins are tucked away in the mountains, like a secret. If you look closely enough at the mountains from Jaco, you might be able to spot them. To hike to the ruins, you’ll first go to the El Miro Trail and follow it. Keep an eye open while you’re heading to the trail, as it can be tricky to spot.
The trail is lined with intricate murals, and about halfway along, you’ll reach a beautiful lookout. It can be pretty easy to mistake the lookout for the ruins, so keep an eye open for the map once you get there. From there, there’s about another kilometre until you get to the ruins.
The lookout and the ruins are just as intricately painted as the trail, though a lot of it is graffiti. That doesn’t take away from the beauty of it. If you climb to the top of the ruins, you can see the entirety of Jaco.
Visit the Royal Butterflies
If you want a great way to relax, then a trip to the Royal Butterflies is a must. As you look around, you’ll be surrounded by the natural beauty of the butterflies and over 70 varieties of fruit trees that are planted on the property. You’ll get to learn all about the life cycle of the different types of butterflies while walking along a river path at your own leisure. It will most likely take you less than an hour. Children under 6 get in for free, and it’s $10 for everyone els. So, it’s a great option if you need to fill time between family outings.
According to TripAdvisor, it’s the top rated activity to do in Jaco.
Go Bird Watching
The number of different types of birds you can spot in Jaco is impressive all on its own, and all of them are beautiful in their own way. Carara National Park is a great place to try it. You could very easily see between 20 and 40 different types of birds on one walk. From macaws and toucans to manakins, motmot, hummingbirds, and more.
For photography lovers, it’s a great opportunity. With just a couple of hours of walking, you can get some of the most vibrant photography, with birds you’ll only be able to see in Costa Rica. Relax, enjoy the hike, and enjoy your colorful photo subjects.
Go Sailing at Sunset
Jaco’s horizon and coastline are already stunning at any time of day. Also, if you can get the chance to see them at sunset, then you’ll never forget it. For the best experience, you’ll need to schedule the sailing trip, though.
Sealounge Catamaran Costa Rica offers an incredible sunset catamaran tour that lasts a bit over 4 hours. You’ll get to relax on a private catamaran as it sails to Playa Fantasia, which is only accessible by boat. You’ll stop there and get the chance to sit back on the beach, or borrow the free snorkelling equipment, boogie boards, or paddleboards while a delicious lunch is prepared, before making the return trip back to Jaco.
Try Out Scuba Diving
If you give scuba diving a try while you’re in Jaco, then there are so many amazing gems you’ll get the chance to see, be they the marine life or the volcanic rock formations that are common off of the Pacific coast. If you do see any of those formations, be sure to take a closer look, as there could very well be something living in or around it.
There are a number of incredible sea creatures you could see. Some of the ones people consider most exciting are several species of sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, moray eels, and octopus. You could also see schools of tropical fish, lobsters, sea stars, nudibranchs, and seahorses.
Go on a Day Trip
There are tons of incredible options for day trips from Jaco, but a couple we would like to recommend are Manuel Antonio National Park and the Tarcoles Bridge.
For less than $20, you can get into one of the most well-known national parks in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park is home to sloths, coatimundis, various birds, a number of reptiles, many varieties of insects and arachnids, and 3 out of the 4 monkeys native to Costa Rica. It covers 1,950 hectares of and 55,000 marine hectares, offering vital protection to the plant life and wildlife living within the park. If you hike along the trails, you will spot countless incredible sights. Also, there are even wheelchair-accessible trails.
The Tarcoles Bridge, or the Crocodile Bridge, is a bridge across the Tarcoles River, where spotting crocodiles is an everyday occurrence. Even when just driving by, it’s common to look down and spot a dozen crocodiles. If you’re taking your time, you might even spot the giants that have reached over 4 metres long.
Best Hotels in Jaco, Costa Rica
Considering Jaco, Costa Rica is growing rapidly there are lots of accommodation options available in town. With so many hotels to choose from, here are our recommended eco-friendly options.
Selina Jaco Hostel
If you’re interested in unique, beachside accommodation near the centre of town, a hostel like Selina Jaco may be a good option. Selina Jaco is half a hostel, half a regular hotel. It’s very popular because of its unique young vibe. This hostel has rooms for every type of traveller.
If you’re travelling with a group, you have the option to choose a room with bunk beds, hostel style. You can choose a regular style room with a good size bed. Selina Jaco also has a few cylindrical pods with beds in case you want something different. There is a communal kitchen, restaurant, and work area.
Even with all of the amenities, the hostel is an open space. It’s built to blend into the surrounding environment and features a yoga terrace.
If you’re looking for eco-friendly things to do in Jaco Costa Rica, nothing beats staying in an eco-lodge that has assisted in boosting the population of the Scarlet Macaw in the area. That’s why staying at the Macaw Eco-Lodge inside the Carara National Park is incredible.
The Macaw Eco-lodge is located deep inside the jungle and was built with nature in mind. It was also made to help the birds nest and reproduce. While here, you can learn all about the environment inside Carara National Park and see many types of birds.
The lodge offers Wi-Fi, yoga classes, and decent-sized rooms with air conditioning. The hotel also takes pride in educating its guests on sustainable practices in the area.
Best Restaurants in Jaco, Costa Rica
You’ll find every kind of cuisine in Jaco, from traditional Costa Rican restaurants to raw, vegan and vegetarian options. Here are a few Jaco restaurants worth a visit.
Costa Juice is a one-stop shop for carnivores and herbivores alike. It has tasty smoothies and salads. Located at Avenida Pastor, near Casa Del Camino BCR, Costa Juice serves a cacao açai bowl that will make your friends jealous.
If you’re looking for a great restaurant with worldly cuisine, check out Jerah, a family restaurant making it big. This restaurant uses sustainable and ethical food practices. They also only use organic and in-season fruits.
If you’re looking for a vegan-only restaurant, you can find Casa Vegan near Playa Jaco (Jaco Beach). Everyone raves about their diverse vegan menu. This restaurant also delivers. It’s cash-only so make sure you have some Costa Rican Colones ready.
For a well-decorated, chic, adult beverage, check out Le Loft. This classy establishment is excellent for groups heading out for a night on the town. Le Loft is more of a club. However, it’s located in the centre of town, with many other bars and clubs to make the best of your Jaco Costa Rica nightlife.