Jaco, Costa Rica Travel Guide

I’ll never forget Jaco. The coastal city was the first place I ever visited on my initial backpacking trip 7 years ago. My introduction to the world abroad was certainly not what I expected. The beach exploded on the weekend and left behind piles of garbage, the humidity was overbearing and on my first night out I was harrassed by a group of cross-dressing men you kept trying to grab my mid-section. I’d be lying if I said my initiation to the world was a smooth one. Jaco is packed with strange. Prostitution is rampant and, since it is essentially the closest beach town to San Jose, it is over crowded. I was back in Jaco for a couple days this past year and I have to say that not all too much has changed except it is about 10 times the size. Personally, I would recommend that you skip it all together. Maybe spend an extra day or two in Manuel Antonio or at least choose a quiter beach nearby like Playa Hermosa.

Lunch at Playa Hermosa near Jaco

Things to Do in Jaco

  • The Beach: It’s hard to miss the beach in Jaco, and it’s a decent place for a swim. The waves can get pretty big and the is sometimes I rip current, but for the most part it is safe. Personally, I would avoid the beach on weekends as it gets packed.
  • Horse riding: If you’ve ever dreamed of sitting on the back of a horse splashing through the water at sunset, you’ll be able to make that a reality here. However, if you do wish to go for a horse ride check on the horse. There are lots of horses in the area and some of them are quite maltreated or malnourished.
  • Ziplining: As seems to be the case anywhere there are tourists, there are actually a couple ziplines in town. The lines are decent, but at $60 I think they’re over-priced. If you are to only zipline in one place in Costa Rica make in Monteverde and not Jaco.
  • Surfing: The surf is decent in town. It is a beach break and the waves are very consistent. However, if you’re looking for much better waves head down the road to Playa Hermosa.
  • Hiking: There’s a mountain called Miros Mountain that makes for a nice hike especially early in the morning. You’ll get an amazing view of the landscape and you’ll also have the chance to spot some wildlife.

The coast near Jaco

Where to Eat in Jaco

Restaurants change hand in Jaco on a daily basis it seems. There wasn’t a single one of the places I ate at during my first visit still in place when I returned this year. Thus, this guide is likely to change. If you eat somewhere really good, or you have eaten recently at one of these places and it was bad, please let me know in the comments section.

  • Soda Flor: They say that you can tell how the food is somewhere if it’s full of locals. Soda Flor is always packed. The food is very typical Costa Rican, it is cheap, and it is quite good.
  • The Taco Bar: This is one of the backpacker favourites in town and is a bit of gringo hangout and there is a reason for it. The place has a massive salad bar, amazing fruit smoothies and fish tacos to die for.
  • Tsunami Sushi: On my weekly meal splurge I went to Tsunami which actually had really good sushi. I ended up spending about $20 but properly feeding my sushi fix made it completely worth it.
  • Poncho Villa’s: Although I never ate here nearly every backpacker with a party bone does because it’s one of the last places to get food in town. If you’re out partying, chances are you’ll stop in here.

Where to Stay in Jaco

I’ve been to Jaco twice and both times I stayed at Rutan Surf Cabinas which was actually called something different on my first visit. In my opinion, this is the best place in Jaco to stay. However, if they are booked up there are plenty other options in the city.

Getting out of Town

Jaco is just a quick ride to San Jose via the bus (1 hour). It is also now connected by a newly paved road to Manuel Antonio (1 hour). If you’re looking to start making your way north to Puntarenas there are also a couple buses a day (1 1/2 hours). Something that’s fairly new to Jaco is a boat transfer to Montezuma. It used to take a full day travel to get there, but now for about $35 you can get there in an hour.

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