Jaco, Costa Rica is the closest beach town to the capital city of San Jose, making it a popular destination for locals and tourists. Known for having some of the best waves in the country, Jaco attracts visitors from all over the world looking to soak up sun and surf for their vacation.
Jaco beach is 2 miles (3.2 km) of pure surfing waves with dark sand and deep blue waters. The surrounding landscape stays green all year long due to the nearby Tarcoles river and high humidity of the tropical rainforest.
Scarlet Macaws are commonly seen flying around the beach and the surrounding hills. As a result, you have rainforest, beach and wildlife at Jaco!
Another great thing about Jaco are the spectacular sunsets as you get a full view of the sun going down.
Our favorite spot on this long beach is the south end. This spot is popular for surf lessons and beginners and you can find many surf shops in on the street going to the beach. They also have a very nice walking path on the south side, which was a recycled bottle project.
Keep in mind that the shore is fairly rocky therefore it’s not the best for sunbathing but you can find a few sandy and shady spots. Just make sure to keep an eye on the tide because it will come all the way up in high tide!
Similarly, make sure to be careful of rip tides which are common in Jaco. This is why Jaco beach is best for surfing, not swimming.
Due to the fact that Jaco is the most developed beach town in Costa Rica, you can find everything like pharmacies, restaurants, supermarkets, banks, ATM’s, souvenir stores, car rentals, all inclusive resorts and condos.
See what the town looks like in the video below!
As you can see in the video, Jaco has nice roads with painted lines. There are also marked parking spaces and sidewalks, something not very common in beach towns in Costa Rica.
Jaco, Costa Rica map
Jaco is 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of San Jose on the Central Pacific coast in the Puntarenas province.
The closest international airport to fly into for Jaco is the San Jose International Airport (SJO airport code).
How to get to Jaco from San Jose
Jaco is about a 1.5 hour drive from San Jose International Airport, making it it one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica to get to without a car.
Bus: To take the bus to Jaco from San Jose International Airport, you must go to the 7-10 bus station in downtown San Jose. It is about a $5 USD ride and 2 hour bus ride. You can read our guide on taking the bus from San Jose to Jaco.
Shuttle: You can book a private or shared shuttle. The private shuttle costs around $120-150 USD for 1-6 passengers one way. A shared shuttle costs ~$49 USD per passenger with Interbus/Tropical Shuttle.
Driving: The drive from San Jose to Jaco is all on a well paved highway. You need to get onto Route 27 and exit at Jaco to Route 34. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive with no traffic and there are a few toll booths that range from $.20-$1.80 USD. You can pay these tolls with credit card, USD or CRC.
If you plan to drive, make sure to get our Costa Rica car rental discount here!
How to get to Jaco from Liberia
Driving: From Liberia, it’s about a 3.5 hour drive on the highway.
How to get around Jaco
You can walk, bike, taxi or rent a scooter/ATV. It takes around 30 minutes to walk from end to end of town so it’s a big town. If you go out at night, we recommend to take a taxi. There are also a handful of Ubers in Jaco.
The main bus station is across from the Best Western at the north end of the beach.
Things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica
Take a lesson at any of the surf shops in town to experience the feeling of catching waves.
A group lesson costs around $50 USD per person.
Stand up Paddle Board
Take a SUP class or SUP tour. For SUP classes, the best place is at Playa Herradura or Agujas. We did a stand up paddle boarding tour with Kayak Jaco from Playa Agujas which was really nice.
Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park
Go ziplining, ATV’ing canyoning and horseback riding at Vista Los Sueños. They have a beautiful property with ocean views and a delicious restaurant. They’ve added a chocolate tour for a full day of Costa Rican fun, adventure and culture. Get our Vista Los Suenos discount here!
Jaco Waterfall Tour
Because of the lush mountains outside Jaco, there are many waterfalls. As many of them are hidden or require a 4×4, the best way to see them is to go on a waterfall tour.
The Jaco waterfall tour is one of my favorite things to do in Jaco. Hike, jump off and walk up over 10 waterfalls in the deep rainforest! We did this tour with a company called Costa Rica Waterfall Tours.
There is also a bigger waterfall called Bijaguas which is an hour hike and 20 minute car ride from Jaco.
Miro Mountain Viewpoint and Hike
For the best view of Jaco, hike up to Miro Mountain right outside town. It’s an abandoned building that has been tastefully decorated by local graffiti artists and it’s a fun hangout spot (and works up a good sweat to get there).
It’s outside Jaco on the south end and takes about 30 minutes to get to the top.
Manuel Antonio and Carara National Park Day Trip
Carara National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park are two excellent national parks for hiking and wildlife. Manuel Antonio is a very popular national park so it is easy to get to from Jaco with a direct bus.
You can read this article to see how to take the bus to Manuel Antonio from Jaco. Unfortunately there is no direct bus to Carara so if you don’t rent a car, we recommend booking a tour.
The drive from Jaco to Manuel Antonio National Park is about 1 hour and the drive to Carara is about 20 minutes.
Nighttime in Jaco is always busy with plenty of lively bars and clubs and you will definitely have a memorable time. Our favorite bar is Isaga. Excellent mix of local and tourist!
Another great place for nightlife in Jaco is Le Loft for an upscale atmosphere, VIP section and bottle service. Orange Pub is a popular club and Surf Dogs usually has live music with great drink promos. The Beer House is also another fun place for craft beer and nightlife.
The weather in Jaco is hot and very humid and experiences typical tropical dry and rainy seasons. Average daytime temperatures are mid 80s F (29 C) in the dry season and low 80s F (26 C) in rainy season.
Dry season is from December – end of April and rainy season from beginning of May – December. The hottest months are March and April, similar to the rest of the country.
Due to the fact this area is more humid, Jaco rains especially hard in September – November, mostly in late afternoon and night. A typical rainy season day starts with a very sunny and hot morning and then clouds and rain in the late afternoon and night.
Read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.
Jaco Beach Hotels
- Hotel Doce Lunas: This hotel has won awards for being the most romantic getaway in Costa Rica. Located just outside downtown Jaco.
- Oceans Diamante del Sol: Small but cozy apartments/studios. They are very close to the center of town and are pet friendly. They have a nice pool.
- Best Western Jaco Beach: This is a beaachfront all-inclusive, a little bit nicer than your typical Best Western. Popular with locals as they offered day passes.
- Croc’s Casino Resort: Has a Las Vegas style casino, a huge pool, is on the beach and has modern rooms.
- Villa Nasua: Villas in a little bit back of town so quiet surroundings and a ten minute walk to the beach. They have a nice pool and large 2 and 3 bedroom villas with fully equipped kitchens.
- Beach Break Resort: Beachfront and on the south end of Jaco. Has a large property, they offer standard rooms and a pool.
- Jaco Laguna Resort & Beach Club: Beachfront resort on the south side. They have standard rooms and suites on their large property with beautiful gardens. Delicious cocktails.
- Hotel Tuanis Jaco beach: Super close to the beach with one and two bedroom apartment with fully equipped kitchens. Affordable apartments with a pool and free Wi-Fi.
- Birds of Paradise: Newly renovated budget hotel with a pool right in downtown.
You can also find many Airbnbs and vacation rentals. Vista Las Palmas is a luxury condo complex on the beach with huge rooms and ocean views. Costa Linda is a smaller condo complex on the north end. Paloma Blanca, Jaco Gardens and Sueños del Paraiso are other nice condo complexes for long and short term rentals.
Jaco has some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica. Here are some of our favorites.
- Soda Rustico: Best place for Costa Rican food, particularly lunch.
- Soda Garabito: Another decent local place.
- Koko Gastro Pub: One of our favorite places in Jaco. Excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner. They specialize in tuna and their bowl and tacos are excellent.
- The Pizza Shop: Yummy pizza and sandwiches.
- Pesca Seafood House: A little expensive but delicious seafood and great drinks. In Jaco Walk.
- Tacobar: Fish tacos with an all you can eat salad bar. Serves $3 breakfast.
- Cevicheria Jacobeno: Our favorite place for ceviche.
- Pachi’s Pan: Local bakery with pastries, cakes, sweets, empanadas and coffee. Get the enchilada with chicken or beef, it’s a meal in itself!
- El Barco: Great place for gelato
- Bagel Boys: For those who like bagels and bagel sandwiches
- Oasis: Yummy nachos and pizza
- Amancios: One of the best for Italian food (lasagna is excellent)
- Amara: Cute place for Mediterranean food like hummus, seafood and gyros.
- Tsunami Sushi: Pretty good place for sushi. They have 2×1 on Wednesdays.
- Arigato’s: Another excellent sushi place
- Graffiti Cafe: Nice place in Jaco walk for tacos, steak, etc.
- Ridiculous Burgers: A bit pricey but you get huge burgers like the name says.
Shopping and Gas
There are a ton of souvenir stores in Jaco in downtown so you can do some great shopping. You can find everything from carved wooden statues, sarongs, tshirts, bikinis, paintings and jewelry. You can read what our favorite Costa Rica souvenirs are.
My favorite store is Tico Pod because they have a fun mix of jewelry, paintings and other trinkets. Dantica Gallery also has some beautiful pieces. Dkoko, Del Toro, Marveca and Bikini Love Designs are super cute bikini stores.
For groceries, there is a Mas X Menos on the main street and Maxi Pali supermarket in the back of town. In Herradura plaza, there is an Automercado supermarket.
There are a couple gas stations outside of Jaco near Herradura.
What to Know About Visiting Jaco
If you’ve heard that Jaco is known for prostitutes and drugs, unfortunately you are correct. In fact, that is how Jaco became popular but it is very opposite now. Jaco has cleaned up a lot. There’s always police around and it’s become more family friendly. It’s a favorite destination for local and international tourists. I would just avoid the Hotel Cocal at night to avoid the party scene.
The bottom line is that Jaco is a city beach and you can find all sorts of entertainment in town. If you are the type of traveler who likes cities, parties and surfing then Jaco is a great place for you to visit.
If you’re more interested in staying outside this busy beach town but still want to enjoy all it offers, consider staying at nearby Playa Hermosa instead. It’s a 10 minute drive and a surfing beach with few restaurants and hotels but very quiet and laid back. Playa Herradura is another option.
Living in Jaco, Costa Rica
We lived in Jaco for 6 months in 2015 and had a great experience. We really enjoyed all the excellent restaurants, how close it was to the South Pacific (like Manuel Antonio, Dominical, Uvita, etc.) and how convenient it was in town.
However, I can definitely see why most foreigners who live in Jaco are transients. After all, it’s a beach town geared more towards young entrepreneurs who want all the conveniences and services of the city at the beach. For tourists, it’s a great beach town with excellent restaurants, great infrastructure, awesome waves and fun parties.
Read other beach guides below!
Or read this article, if you’re trying to decide between Tamarindo & Jaco for surfing.
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