Things to Do in Jaco
Jaco is a lively beach town known for its water sports and party atmosphere. Located on some of Costa Rica’s most developed coastline, within two hours of the capital, it’s a favorite escape for San José residents, as well as backpackers, snowbirds, and North American retirees.
A postcard-perfect paradise of white-sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and sapphire-blue water rife with marine life, Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) is an ideal spot to swim, snorkel, or bask in the sunshine. The island is only accessible from Costa Rica’s main cities via a scenic boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya—an extra perk for your vacation.
At the confluence of two important Costa Rican ecosystems—the wet and wild Pacific Rainforest that characterizes the southern coast, and the dry tropical forest for which Guanacaste is known—this small, popular national park packs a lot of wildlife into a 5240-hectare (12,950-acre) package.
Most notably, Carara is home to one of Costa Rica’s last remaining populations of scarlet macaws, who you’ll likely see gossiping and preening in small groups throughout the park. The Rio Tarcoles, which forms the park’s northern border, is well known for its enormous population of huge crocodiles.
There are two short, 1km (.6mi) interpretive trails through the wilderness and waterfalls, perfect for families and less active travelers. A longer, 4.5km (2.7mi) trail follows the Rio Tarcoles and mangrove marshes, where both the crocodiles and scarlet macaws settle in for the evening.
There are scores of other animals in residence, hailing from both forest ecosystems straddled by Carara: sloths, peccaries, deer, monkeys, armadillos, and even big cats. Birders will appreciate the bounty most, with some 400 species easily spotted in this relatively small area.
Just a few minutes south of Jaco’s hustle and bustle is the much mellower surf beach of Playa Hermosa. A handful of hotels and restaurants come with a reggae soundtrack and view over the Pacific, along broad, often empty, volcanic-gray beaches. What it lacks in amenities, however, it more than makes up for in waves.
Playa Hermosa’s claim to fame is unsung surf that’s more challenging, and less crowded, than nearby Jaco. Thus it brings in the more serious surfers, rather than those who have come to Costa Rica to test themselves in other ways after hours. It’s not for everyone—some folks find themselves wishing that they were within walking distance of Jaco’s dining and nightlife options. Others, however, enjoy Hermosa’s awesome views of the moon and stars, reflected in the dark Pacific.
There are at least five well-known breaks along the shore, and plenty of relaxed hotel-restaurants where you can wile away the hours between sets. And it’s just as convenient to Juan Santamaria International Airport, and other hot spots on the Central Costa Rican Coast, as its more famous, and crowded, neighbor.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls boast nature trails, streams, and views of the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica. After exploring orchid gardens and watching toucans flying overhead, you can enjoy an al fresco meal on the patio.
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