When you research Playa Jaco, most of what you’ll find is about surfing. Jaco is indeed the surfing mecca of Costa Rica but there’s so much more to do than catching waves. For those who aren’t keen on standing on a board in the ocean, don’t fret. As Jaco sits in the Central Pacific near a large river and a unique national park bordered by many hills, there’s plenty of things to do in Jaco to keep you happily occupied.
From tasting some of the most diverse and delicious foods in Costa Rica to hiking hidden viewpoints and jumping off waterfalls in the jungle, anyone who visits Jaco will have a fun-filled, action packed time, even without ever standing up on a board!
Here are our top things to do in Playa Jaco plus recommendations on where to stay. You can stay for a couple days or use it as a home base to explore the Central Pacific. Since it’s so close to San Jose Airport, it’s one of the easiest beach towns to get to!
Surfing has to be on this list as it’s the top thing to do in Playa Jaco. It’s said to be one of the best beaches for beginners since it’s long with consistent waves. If you’re determined to ride out a wave, don’t miss out on this opportunity!
You can take a lesson or join a surf camp with other like minded travelers and it’s always a great way to meet people if you’re traveling solo. There are a ton of surf shops lining the streets of Jaco downtown and there are always lessons going on so it’s not hard to join one. If you’re pretty good at surfing, you can head to Playa Hermosa, which is where they hold national championships and competitions for surfing as waves there are much bigger.
If you want to get away from the tourists, head to Playa Esterillos or Playa Bejuco. Both are great surfing beaches but has a more local vibe. Bejuco is a super long beach and is fairly undeveloped so you can have a spot all to yourself.
There are many waterfalls near Jaco. Right outside of Jaco beach town lies beautiful rolling hills, home to lush jungles and charming waterfalls. As these hills have yet to be developed and are inhabited by few people, it is the best place to explore the many waterfalls ensconced in the rain forest.
There are waterfall tours that take you to a private estate high up in the hills that has several waterfalls that you can climb up, jump off and swim under. This tour is one of my favorites as there’s no better way to enjoy a waterfall than feeling the power of the water on your shoulders.
Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can take your 4X4 (necessary for the hills) and explore on your own. There are many roads that lead to hidden spots in the hills and you can even drive to the same private estate that the tour goes to. It’s $5 per person for entrance and though you can’t climb up the waterfalls, you can visit the other ones and swim in the pools.
Another waterfall nearby is Bijagual, about a 20 minute drive from Jaco. It costs $20 to enter the private property and it is about an hour hike to this impressive waterfall.
Check out the beautiful viewpoints
There are many places to get incredible views of Jaco and the surrounding area. First, you can go up in the hills outside town and there are many spots that give you panoramic views of the entire town and beach.
Or you can go to the popular viewpoint at the sound end of the beach to an abandoned building. It’s best to have a 4X4 to go up this one, especially in rainy season as the trenches and holes get quite deep from being washed out. There are two viewpoints on this route but I recommend to go to the top one. You get an even better view of Jaco!
The entrance to this viewpoint is across from the southern most road off the highway to Jaco.
And don’t forget the viewpoints on the road to Playa Hermosa. There are several of them where you can see Jaco from another perspective. Sunsets at any of these places are also amazing and it’s a great place to see macaws.
From Jaco to the South Pacific, the wildlife and nature greatly increases due to the humidity and abundance of primary rain forest. Here is where you can see many animals you can’t see up in the North Pacific, especially birds.
I never saw a Scarlet Macaw before we moved to Jaco and we saw Scarlet Macaws every single day we lived there. They flew by our condo every morning and every evening, some so close I could reach out and touch them as they zipped past our balcony. Their loud chatter became our morning wake up call.
Bird watchers from all over the world come to the Jaco area to seek out some of the most interesting birds in Central America. You can take a guided tour which is recommended or practice your own bird watching skills in the hills and nearby national parks. Walking through and around town, it’s common to see toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, storks, herons and more.
Due to the bordering mountains and hills outside Jaco, ATV is a very popular and fun activity. Take your four-wheeler up somewhat treacherous roads, through rivers and into the jungle to places you can’t go on foot.
Combine that with some waterfall exploring and you have an extremely exciting day!
There are several ATV companies in town like AXR.
If surfing isn’t your thing, try SUP (stand up paddle boarding). You can do stand up paddle surfing at Jaco or regular SUP at nearby Playa Herradura since that beach has calm waves.
You can also SUP at Playa Agujas and Playa Mantas and go all the way to Playa Blanca, a white sand beach. We did this and at Playa Manta, we were SUP’ing with groups of manta rays all around us (hence the name of the beach). It was pretty awesome!
I personally love SUP and it’s such a great exercise for your entire body as you balance on the board and paddle. It’s not quite as exciting as surfing but it’s still an great way to see the landscapes and beaches! Many surf places also offer SUP lessons.
National Park Day Tours from Jaco
Near Jaco are two popular national parks: Carara and Manuel Antonio. Both are excellent for hiking and wildlife watching day trips. Manuel Antonio National Park is about 1 hour away driving and Carara is about 15 minutes.
Both are beautiful national parks but each one has their own special characteristics. Carara National Park is best for bird watching and hiking and they also have a universal access trail for the handicapped.
Manuel Antonio National Park has several gorgeous beaches and is more touristic with dozens of hotels strewn around the national park. One of the best places to see sloths! You can read more about things to do in Manuel Antonio.
Both can be visited in one day and it’s best to rent a car so you can get there as soon as they open to maximize your time there.
Rio Tarcoles boat ride
On the way to Jaco from San Jose is a big bridge that goes over the Rio Tarcoles. You can get out and walk on the bridge to see the famous crocodiles that live underneath as this river is home to some of the biggest crocs and the largest population in the country.
If you want to get up close and personal, take a Rio Tarcoles boat ride. This 2 hour boat ride down the river lets you see water birds like herons and egrets and gets you as near to a crocodile as you want to be. They teach you all about these impressive reptiles and you’ll get so close, you can see every line on its back.
It’s kind of scary to see them so close but extremely cool!
The river is only 20 minutes from Jaco and is a great half day activity. If you take the evening boat ride, you can see a lovely sunset over the river.
Looking for adventure? Jaco’s got it! There are several adventure parks where you can go ziplining, horseback riding, canyoning and other fun activities like that. Many of them offer combination tours so you can do several activities in one day.
We did a combo tour at Ocean Ranch Park with horseback riding, canyoning and ziplining that was incredibly fun. The scenery was just spectacular as we rode into the green hills and deep into the rain forest. If you want adventure, you definitely need to do one of these activities!
There is also a new outdoor obstacle course that is fun, challenging and very close to Jaco.
Visit nearby beaches in Jaco
Even though the Central Pacific doesn’t have as many nice beaches as the North, they are still worth visiting. Playa Blanca is the sole white sand beach in the area and definitely worth climbing through Playa Mantas at low tide. There is also Playa Agujas, Playa Esterillos Oeste and Este, Playa Bejuco, Playa Herradura and Playa Hermosa.
You can go sailing from Playa Herradura since this is where the marina is and outside of the bay are some nice snorkeling spots. Agujas is also great for SUP since it has calm waves.
Map of Jaco Attractions
As you can see, all of these activities are not too far from Jaco and there are still other things to do in Playa Jaco like take a day trip to San Jose and a boat trip to Tortuga Island. No matter what, you’ll have a fun time in Jaco whether you want to ride waves, relax or go on adventures!
Playa Jaco Hotels
- Beds on Bohio Hostel – Nice hostel right in town. Gets noisy on the weekends because of the parties but it’s decent for a cheap place to stay within walking distance to the bars and restaurants. Also pet friendly! Bed in a mixed dorm starts at $12
- Hotel Doce Lunas – Best luxury hotel especially for honeymooners. It’s two minutes outside of Jaco so you’re not in the middle of the hustle and bustle. The hotel is in the jungle so you are surrounded by nature which is nice and quiet. They have spacious rooms with separate sitting section and tall ceilings. They also have a beautiful pool. Rooms start at $160
- Villa Nasua – Best place for families. These are apartments and each one has 2-3 bedrooms. Has a fully furnished kitchen, living and dining room and there’s a pool right outside. It’s in downtown Jaco so you’re close to everything (5 minute walk to the beach) and it’s in a secure area with a parking lot. A 3 bedroom apartment starts at $150
And when you’re in Jaco, make sure you go out to the many bars and clubs! It’s the best thing to do in Jaco at night since the nightlife in Jaco is one of the best in Costa Rica with beach bars, fun clubs and a party atmosphere.
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Not sure if you want to visit Jaco? Read our article for 5 reasons you should visit Jaco and why you’ll love it.
Considering moving to Jaco? Check out what I thought about living in Jaco as a foreigner.
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