When you research Jaco, Costa Rica, 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. As the gateway to the lush Central and South Pacific coast, Jaco is an excellent place to experience adventure, nature and wildlife. Since it’s only a 1 hour drive from San Jose, you don’t need to worry about traveling far to to stay in a fun Costa Rican beach town.
We lived in Jaco for 6 months and have visited many times. Here are our top things to do in Jaco, favorite day tours and recommendations on where to stay.
Surfing has to be on this list as it’s the top thing to do in Jaco. Since this beach is said to be one of the best for beginners due to the long consistent waves, don’t miss out on taking a surf lesson or joining a surf camp.
A 2 hour surf lessons runs around $50 per person and there are a ton of surf shops in town you can go with. School of the World, Tortuga and Jaco Surf School are a few good ones.
The most popular and best spot for beginners is the south end of the beach called Madrigales. For more experienced surfers, head to the middle and more norther section of the beach.
There are many waterfalls near Jaco, Costa Rica. Right outside town lies lush mountains, home to many rivers and waterfalls.
We did a Jaco waterfall tour a few years ago which took us to those waterfalls right outside town. We got to trek through the pristine rainforest, jump off waterfalls 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.
This is definitely one of the must do things in Jaco!
Beautiful View Points
There are many places to get incredible views of Jaco.
The best one is the popular viewpoint called Miro Mountain, at the south end of Jaco. It’s an abandoned building with a beautiful view of Jaco. You can drive or hike up there.
The entrance to this viewpoint is across from the southern most road off the highway to Jaco. The road can get kinda bad in rainy season so be careful if you’re driving. You’ll see a small “parking area” and there is a short trail to the left to the abandoned building. Keep your eyes open too, last time we were there we saw toucans and macaws!
Since Jaco is right where the tropical rainforest starts, the wildlife and nature greatly increases. You can see much more wildlife in this area than you would up in the North Pacific.
Bird watchers from all over the world come to the Jaco area to seek out some of the most interesting birds in Costa Rica.
In this area, you can see toucans, birds of prey and one special bird in particular, the Scarlet Macaw. Carara National Park has the largest breeding area of Scarlet Macaws, whose population was decimated years ago from deforestation and hunting.
If you are an avid birdwatcher, consider staying at Macaw Lodge. It is an excellent hotel built for birdwatchers.
ATV is a very popular and fun activity thanks to the muddy trails going up the mountains and is one of the best things to do in Jaco. Go on an ATV tour to ride 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! Some recommended companies for ATV tours are Ocean Ranch Park, Los Suenos and AXR.
SUP (Stand up paddle board)
If surfing isn’t your thing, try SUP (stand up paddle boarding).
We did a stand up paddle boarding tour with Kayak Jaco from Playa Aguja, about a 20 minute drive from Jaco. We paddled all the way to Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca, a beautiful white sand beach by the Punta Leona resort.
It was a really fun day out on the ocean and stand up paddle boarding is a great exercise. You really feel connected to the ocean since you need to paddle and watch the waves. This was my first time ever stand up paddle boarding, it was hard at first but once you get your balance, it’s not too bad!
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 crocodiles. They teach you all about these impressive reptiles and you’ll get so close, you can see every line on its back.
The river is only 25 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.
Rainforest Adventure or Ocean Ranch Park
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. At Rainforest Adventures, they have an aerial tram and trails that is very nice.
There is also a fun outdoor obstacle course called Jaco Ropes right outside of Jaco.
Visit Playa Blanca, Herradura or Other Beaches
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.
Watch the Surfing Competition at Hermosa
Every Saturday, there is a surf competition at Hermosa beach. Hermosa beach is actually a better surfing beach than Jaco and all the international competitions are held there. If you’re there on a Saturday, you can watch the locals battle out the waves while sipping a nice cold beer at the Backyard Hotel and Bar.
Day Tours from Jaco
Here are some great day tours from Jaco.
If you’re looking for a day trip to see a beautiful white sand beach and more nice scenery, take the Tortuga one day tour! You’ll cruise through the Gulf of Nicoya to Tortuga Island on this fun one day trip. You’ll get to see another beautiful part of Costa Rica.
There aren’t many white sand beaches in the Central and South Pacific, only Manuel Antonio and Playa Blanca. Nor is there any snorkeling in Jaco so if that’s what you’re looking for but only staying in Jaco, then you have to go to Tortuga Island!
Manuel Antonio and Carara National Park
There are two national parks near jaco: 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.
You can take the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio or book tours to both parks. A tour is highly recommended for Carara since there is no direct bus and the wildlife is harder to see there.
Deep Sea Fishing
Although Jaco itself doesn’t have good fishing, all you have to do is head over to Herradura beach and you can go deep sea fishing. Herradura is home to Los Suenos Marina, a luxury resort and marina in Costa Rica. Fishermen can fulfill their dream of catching a marlin, roosterfish, sailfish or tuna.
Head down to the Dominical area and hike to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica, the Nauyaca Waterfalls.These impressive waterfalls require a 4 kilometer hike in the jungle but it is worth every step to see with your own eyes!
The waterfalls are on a private property so you can pay the $8 entrance fee to hike or take the horseback riding tour the local family offers for $75 per person. You do need to drive yourself or you can take a tour with Paddle 9 from Jaco.
Things to Do in Jaco at Night
Jaco is a party town and you can hit up Croc’s Casino Hotel for a fun “Las Vegas” style night. It’s actually a really nice casino with blackjack, roulette, tournaments and slots. Their food and drinks are top notch too!
Hit Up the Bars
Likewise, you can have a very fun night out or two in Jaco hitting up various bars and clubs. You can find the fancy clubs with bottle service like Le Loft or dance the night away at Orange Club. Puddlefish Brewery and the Beer House are two great places for craft beer, games and food.
Speaking of food, foodies will love Jaco. In our opinion, Jaco has some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica! Check out Graffiti, Tsunami Sushi, Soda Rustico (best traditional Costa Rican place), Tacobar, Amancio’s, Lemon Zest, Ridiculous Burgers or Green Room.
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. 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. They have spacious rooms with separate sitting section and tall ceilings. Rooms start at $160
- Villa Nasua – Best place for families. These are apartments and each one has 2-3 bedrooms, a fully furnished kitchen, living and dining room and shared pool. 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.
Read about other things to do in Costa Rica below!
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