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 decent and only an hour and a half drive from the city.
It has exploded in growth and is now 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.
Visiting Playa Jaco? Check out our guide below!
Playa Jaco Travel Tips
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Playa Jaco is in the province of Puntarenas near the Gulf of Nicoya. It is a little over an hour drive from San Jose.
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 2 hour bus ride from SJO airport.
- By shuttle: You can book a shuttle from SJO airport to Jaco. This hour drive costs around $100 for 1-4 passengers.
- 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.
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.
Activities at Playa Jaco
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.
There are many more fun things to do in and around Jaco. These are our favorites:
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. See wildlife, go bird watching and enjoy beautiful beaches.
Some other popular activities are kayaking, ATV, sport fishing and kayak surfing. You can read about more things to do in Playa Jaco in this article.
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.
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. Our favorite bar is Isaga. Excellent mix of local and tourist!
Where to stay
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.
These are our picks:
- 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.
- 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 south 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.
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).
These are our favorite places:
- 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.
- Kaya Grill: Argentinian grill that makes a hearty tuna burger and mean steak, chorizo and chicken grill platter. Love their homemade mayo.
- 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!
- Graffito Cafe: Amazing food and atmosphere, huge portions and one of the best burgers. Try their coffee and chocolate steak!
Playa Jaco Town
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 in and around. Still not convinced? Read our 5 reasons to visit Jaco.
There is a reason why Playa Jaco became the biggest beach town in the country with fantastic weather, gorgeous scenery and a great location.
Read what we thought about living in Jaco.
Drive through video of Playa Jaco in Costa Rica
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