Playa Jaco has gone through quite a transformation in the past decade. As the closest beach to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, it is popular with locals to go for a weekend trip as well as tourists since the road is in good shape and it’s only a one hour drive from the city.
Jaco has exploded in growth and is a bustling beach town, filled with residents and visitors from all over the world who want to experience one of the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica. As you drive through downtown, you’ll see it is unlike other beach towns in Costa Rica with high rise towers and huge condominium complexes everywhere.
Many visitors stay in Jaco for a couple days as a gateway to the South Pacific and Osa Peninsula but you can perfectly use Jaco as a home base especially if you’re visiting for a short period of time. Though many expats scoff at Jaco as an unruly beach town, it’s an excellent beach for first time visitors since it’s not too far from SJO Airport and is close to many natural attractions.
Don’t let those naysayers ruffle your feathers, Jaco has something to offer everyone with much to discover in the area and enjoy. As someone who isn’t a huge city person, I loved Jaco from our first visit even though it’s a party town, the beach isn’t that pretty and it is very developed area. But I had a blast exploring the entire Jaco (not just the town and beach), meeting the local surfers and experiencing the Central Pacific of Costa Rica.
What do you want to read about first? Click the section to skip to it below.
Location and Directions to Playa Jaco
Playa Jaco is in the province of Puntarenas in the Central Pacific.
You can get to Playa Jaco by several different ways from San Jose.
- By bus: read our complete guide to taking the bus from San Jose to Jaco. It’s only a $5 and 2 hour bus ride from San Jose.
- By shuttle: You can book a shuttle from SJO airport to Jaco. This hour drive costs around $100 for 1-4 passengers. A shared shuttle costs $44 per passenger.
- By driving: You need to get onto Ruta 27 and exit at Jaco to Ruta 34. There are three tolls booths you must pay which costs 660, 500 and 390 colones. The road is very good as it’s on the highway.
If you coming from the Tamarindo area, the fastest way is to go by way of the Friendship Bridge (Puente de la Amistad). If you are coming from Liberia or Gulf of Papagayo beaches, the fastest way is to go by Route 1 towards San Jose. Exit off the highway when you see the signs for Jaco and there is a toll both.
From Tamarindo, it’s about a 4 hour drive. From Liberia, it’s about a 3 hour drive.
Playa Jaco Beach
Playa Jaco is 2.5 miles of pure surfing waves. People come and enjoy the waves up and down the beach which can be small to large depending on the tide. It has dark sand and deep blue waters and the landscape stays green in dry season due to the nearby Rio Tarcoles.
The beach is quite long and vast so you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to lay down in the sand or a spot to swim out at the ocean. Sunsets here are spectacular as you get a full view of the sun going down.
Waves aren’t very suitable for swimming so keep that in mind when you go to the beach. Also be careful of rip tides as they are common in Jaco and the Central Pacific. I especially love the northern most part of Jaco, during low tide you can walk to the very end and get a great view of the whole beach.
The best spot for surfers is at the southern most or the central part of the beach, with waves perfect for beginners to pros. There is a section of the beach near the middle where it is fairly rocky.
See what Playa Jaco looks like from the air!
Playa Jaco Beach Town
Jaco is arguably the most developed beach town in all of Costa Rica. You will find high rise condos on the beach, a handful of excellent restaurants and all of the conveniences and services. Jaco’s thriving development is due to its close proximity to San Jose.
See what the town looks like in our drive through video.
The weather in Jaco is hot and very humid, staying around high 80’s to low 90’s in the dry season and low 80’s in rainy season. It’s considerably more humid than the North Pacific but still experiences typical tropical weather with the dry season from December – beginning of May and rainy season from middle of May – December.
It rains especially hard in September – November and the hottest months are March and April. During rainy season, you will still have sunny days but it rains pretty hard at night. We even had a mini tornado pass through Jaco in September! It knocked down a lot of trees and power lines, so be very prepared for rain during those months.
Jaco Things to do
There are a ton of fun activities in Playa Jaco but the number one activity is surfing. There are many surf camps and schools or you can take a day lesson. Waves are suitable for beginners to pros.
These are our favorites things to do in Playa Jaco:
SUP: SUP is getting very popular in Costa Rica and many surf camps/schools also offer SUP classes. You can stand up paddle surf at Playa Jaco but most people stand up paddle board at nearby Playa Herradura or Agujas.
Adventure parks: There are several adventure parks outside of Jaco up in the mountains and lush jungles. Go ziplining, canyoning and horseback riding through the dense jungles for some adventure. You can read about our combo adventure at Ocean Ranch Park near Jaco.
Waterfall exploring: Within the mountains outside of Jaco are many hidden waterfalls. Many are small enough that tour companies have built a day trip to hike up and climb the waterfalls such as the waterfall explorer tour. There is also a bigger waterfall, Bijaguas which is an hour hike and 20 minute car ride from Jaco.
National park day trips: There are two popular national parks close to Jaco: Carara National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. Both are close enough to Jaco that you can easily visit for day trip.
Some other popular activities are kayaking, ATV, sport fishing and kayak surfing. Read about more things to do in Playa Jaco..
There are several smaller beaches in the area such as Playa Blanca near Punta Leona, Playa Manta and Playa Agujas. Playa Herradura is just 4.4 miles north of Jaco and Playa Hermosa is 6 miles south. Playa Blanca is the only true white sand beach in the Central Pacific and can be accessed through Playa Manta in low tide.
Nightlife in Playa Jaco is always busy with plenty of restaurants and bars open to have a fun night. Jaco is known for a crazy night life so hit up the clubs and bars for a memorable time. (You will see a lot of bachelor/bachelorette parties going on in Jaco). Our favorite bar is Isaga. Excellent mix of local and touristy!
A couple of other great places for nightlife in Jaco Beach is Le Loft for an upscale atmosphere. They have a VIP section with bottle service. Orange Pub is a popular place to go clubbing and Surf Dogs usually has live music with great drink promos.
Jaco Beach Hotels
As a beach town, you will find several hostels right in the heart of downtown, perfect if you are a single traveler or just want to meet new people and have close access to everything. Playa Jaco has lodging for every kind of budget.
Most of the lodging is in the center of town so if you want something quieter, look for a place that’s on the most southern/northern side of the beach.
Here are our recommended hotels in Jaco:
- Hotel Doce Lunas for a luxury stay. This hotel has won awards for being the most romantic getaway in Costa Rica. Located just outside downtown Jaco, visitors can have the crazy nightlife if they wish or enjoy the peace and quiet of the nature. Gorgeous rooms with tall ceilings and a separate sitting area. Nice pool too!
- Villas Nasua for families. These apartments are huge with 2-3 rooms, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room and living room. The pool is right outside and the villas are right in the center of town, in a quiet area behind downtown.
- Oceans Diamante del Sol. This hotel also rents out their apartments so this is an option for long term renters too. They are very close to the center of town, are pet friendly and rooms are very modern. Kind of small rooms but suitable for couples.
- Buddha House Boutique Hostel for the best hostel in the center of town. They have mixed dorms, private rooms and suites and a very nice library and hammock area. Gets pretty noisy on weekends.
- Morgan’s Cove Resort. It’s near the south end of Jaco so it’s a little further away from Jaco center. They have tennis courts and are located near one of the best surfing spots for beginners.
- Best Western Jaco Beach. This is an all-inclusive near the north end of town, right on the beach. They have a nice pool so you can lay out and watch the sunset on the beach. They also sell day passes.
- Croc’s Casino Resort. The newest hotel in town, the Croc’s has a Las Vegas style casino (it’s actually super nice), a huge pool on the beach and modern rooms. The food is really good, especially their deserts and coffee.
There are also a handful of apartment/condo rentals and Jaco is one of the beach towns that has luxury condos right on the beach. Vista Las Palmas is a very high end condo complex with huge rooms, ocean views and a pool. Costa Linda is a modern, smaller condo complex on the northern side with a pool and no ocean view.
Lots of competition and a diverse group of residents make Jaco a great place for food lovers. You can find typical sodas and international cuisine such as sushi, Italian and Mexican.
Prices are lower than some other places due to the high volume of businesses and you can get a full typical meal with a casado and drink for 2500 colones ($5). Even eating at a fancy place isn’t crazy expensive, you can get a high quality burger for about $15 with taxes included.
These are our favorite restaurants in Jaco:
- Soda Rustico: Typical food, buffet style. Lunch is around $5-6, open every day. Best place for local food.
- Soda Garabito: Also a buffet style soda. Cash only. We prefer their gallo pinto than the other soda.
- The Pizza Shop: One of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in Costa Rica. Also has sandwiches during the day
- Tacobar: Fresh healthy fish tacos with an all you can eat salad bar. Serves $3 breakfast.
- Cevicheria Jacobeno: Our favorite place for ceviche. They make it fresh in front of you!
- Pachi’s Pan: Local bakery, sandwiches are OK but the sweets are delicious.
- El Barco: Great place for gelato!
- Graffiti Cafe: Amazing food and atmosphere, huge portions and one of the best burgers. Try their coffee and chocolate steak!
There are a ton of souvenir stores in Jaco, you can spend a whole day checking them out! You can find everything from carved wooden statues, sarongs, tshirts, paintings and jewelry. Remember to bargain if you’re buying multiple items and visit several stores to comparison shop.
I have actually found souvenirs in Jaco to be a tad cheaper than other tourist destinations like Arenal and Monteverde. I got a sarong for $10 and I’ve seen them on sale for $20 in other shops before.
There is one souvenir store I loved that had a lot of unique paintings and art. It’s by Pizza Pata downtown.
Living in Playa Jaco
If you’ve heard that Playa Jaco is known for prostitutes and drugs, unfortunately you are correct. Jaco has gotten that reputation due to the increase amount of tourists with those intentions as it grew economically and commercially. It has gotten drastically better over the past few years however. We saw police cars on every street and many families, locals and foreigners, come to visit.
Don’t let the bad rep of Jaco prevent you from visiting. As long as you use your common sense, it’s a great town to visit with so much to experience and enjoy.
Still not convinced? Read our 5 reasons to visit Jaco. Find out why Playa Jaco became the biggest beach town in the country with fantastic weather, gorgeous scenery and a great location. We also wrote a post about why we loved visiting Jaco.
We lived in Playa Jaco for 6 months and it was a very interesting experience for us. We highly enjoyed our time there and you can read what we thought about living in Jaco in this article. I can definitely see why most foreigners who live in Jaco are transients and it’s a beach town geared more towards young entrepreneurs who want all the conveniences and services of the city but at the beach.
If you like this article, follow us on Facebook for more Costa Rica/travel tips and inspiration!
If you like this beach guide, check out these other ones:
Or read this post if you’re trying to decide between Tamarindo & Jaco for surfing.
Disclaimer: This post has affiliate links.