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Jaco is easily one of the most popular holiday destinations in Costa Rica, both among locals and international visitors. Not only is this bustling coastal city only 90 minutes from Costa Rica’s capital and largest international airport in San Jose, but it’s also absolutely stunning.
Imagine stunning beaches, palm trees, luxury hotels, and, of course, mountains covered in lush rainforest. Some say Jaco really has it all, and I agree.
Although the city does have its drawbacks, such as its overly touristic atmosphere, Jaco has all the amenities you could want for a comfortable stay.
Pop into the mountains to zipline or chase waterfalls, then retreat to the beach for sunset. In this blog, I’ll share the 15 best things to do in Jaco to help plan your upcoming trip!
15 Things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica
1. Watch the sunset from El Miro viewpoint
Without a doubt, the best view of Jaco is from El Miro Viewpoint on the outskirts of the city. The viewpoint is actually an abandoned hotel that was never finished, and visitors can walk or take a horse to the top to admire the spectacular views.
For an even better expereince, visit an hour before dusk and relax at the top to watch the sunset. I did this and really loved the view.
All up, it takes around 30 minutes to walk up to the top along the abandoned road. You’ll first reach a lower viewpoint with a small structure. Don’t stop here though, keep walking another 10 minutes until you turn a sharp corner to the left. Just after this turn, the entrance to the viewpoint is on your left. It can be a little tricky to find at first so just keep an eye out.
You can either walk, drive, or get a taxi to the beginning of the trail from town. The abandoned road, not suited to vehicles anymore, is located on the southern end of town, just off the main highway. You can find its starting location on Google Maps, but the abandoned road is not shown.
This was without a doubt one of my favorite things to do in Jaco!
Safety Note: It is important to leave before it gets dark and travel in groups as petty thefts have happened on the trail. If you’re worried, it’s recommended to go at sunrise or during the day.
2. Learn to surf
Getting into the ocean for a surf has to be the most popular activity in Jaco. In fact, you’ll run into a lot of visitors here for just that. They’ll spend just about every day surfing the long beach in search of the perfect wave or to practice and learn.
As a beginer surfer myself, I jumped at the opportunity to get in the water and learn to surf in Jaco. I really enjoyed the softer waves and huge beach, which meant I could practice without large crowds. With that said, the best surf breaks do attract a lot of surfers. The only place better for beginners on the Pacific Coast is Samara, Costa Rica.
Most surf rental shops rent boards for 24 hours, and this usually costs $10 USD so long as you’re not after a high-performance board. If you want an instructor, expect to pay $50 USD for a group lesson which usually lasts 2 hours and includes your board rental. You can even book this top-rated surf lesson in advance with Jaco Surf School.
Beginer surfers should stick to the southern end of Jaco Beach, whereas intermediate surfers can head to the middle or north end. If you’re an experienced surfer looking for larger waves, take an Uber or taxi to Playa Hermosa. This is Jaco’s most famous surf beach, but it’s only suited to those who can surf well. In fact, swimming at Playa Hermosa is banned due to the large swells and strong currents.
3. Take a tour to Tortuga Island
One of the most relaxing tours I have done in Costa Rica was to the beautiful Tortuga Island. Unlike many beaches in Costa Rica, the sand is white. On top of that, the area is surrounded by coral reefs, perfect for snorkeling.
Tours to the Island from Jaco leave every day and begin with a short drive to Punta Arenas. Along the way, we visited the Tarcoles River, where we could spot massive crocodiles. Afterward, we boarded our boat, where the best part of the tour began.
We traveled across the Gulf of Nicoya on a speedboat to Negritos Island wildlife Reserve, where we had the chance of spotting dolphins and monkeys. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any dolphins the day we went, but I really hope you do!
Next, our tour took us to Tortuga Island to enjoy the pearly white sand, snorkeling, and a delicious lunch. Available on the island are beach chairs as well as coco locos, so be sure to bring some cash along! We got a little tipsy and laid in the sun. Others enjoyed kayaking in the calm waters or playing volleyball on the beach. Regardless, it’s incredible!
Overall, Tortuga Island is a highlight of my travels through Costa Rica. However, it’s important to book a tour with a speedboat to cut the travel time down – that’s why we booked this specific tour.
4. Drink craft beer at PuddleFish Brewery
After our sunset hike up to El Miro, we were pleasantly surprised to find a local brewery not far from the beginning of the trail. So, we stopped in for a beer to try it out!
Well, I’m happy to report PuddleFish Brewery is the best place to visit in Jaco for craft beer lovers. They had around six beers on tap during our visit, including a mango pale ale and strong IPA (my two favorite beers.) On top of that, they served really creative cocktails made by a professional bartender.
To pair with our beers, our group ordered a few appetizers and some chicken wings which we also really enjoyed.
Seriously, if you love craft beer, you have to visit PuddleFish Brewery in Jaco!
5. Visit the famous crocodile bridge or do a tour
A short drive north of Jaco will eventually bring you to one of the best free activities in Costa Rica. Tarcoles River is a large river filled with massive crocodiles, and from the bridge above, you can see them everywhere!
The famous crocodile bridge, as its known, is arguably the best place to see crocodiles in Costa Rica for free. We got the see around 15 crocodiles during our visit – some as big as 15 feet or 5 meters.
If you have a rental car, you can drive for 30 minutes out to the bridge from Jaco and park on the far side of the bridge. If you don’t have a car, there is a local bus that passes the bridge. Or, you can do what we did and rent a scooter for the day. Scooter rental in Jaco costs $25 USD for 4 hours or $45 USD for 8 hours, and you only need a valid driver’s license and a $500 USD deposit charged to a credit card.
Once at the river, walk along the bridge down the pedestrian path and be sure to check out both sides.
If you want to get a closer look at the crocodiles, there are really good tours along the river that you can do. This specific tour from Jaco picks you up and takes you out to the river for a cruise you’ll never forget. Get within meters of giant crocodiles from the safety of a boat. The tour even includes lunch. It comes super highly rated and we wish we would’ve done it (next time I guess!)
6. Go ziplining
Is a trip to Costa Rica complete without going ziplining? The answer is no!
Ziplining has to be one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica. So, if you haven’t been before or want to give it another go, Jaco is the perfect place. With coastal views and tall mountains covered in rainforest, it’s arguably one of the most beautiful places to zipline.
Depending on your budget and fear of heights, you can do a few different tours in Jaco. The cheapest option is this Zipline Canopy Tour. It’s a great introduction to ziplining and costs only $65 USD. However, the experience isn’t best suited to those who have done extreme ziplining, and I’d recommend this more for families.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth ziplining expereince, I highly recommend this Amazing Mega Zipline Tour over 11 Waterfalls. The tour includes 25 zip lines, and the views are breathtaking. The tour also includes lunch and lasts for 3.5 hours.
Another option I never got to do was the Full Day Jaco Jungle Adventure Pass. This epic full-day tour combines ziplining, rappelling, horseback riding, and an ATV ride in one massive day of adventure. Although the tour does cost $195 USD, doing all these activities separately would cost a lot more.
Related read: Ziplining is also one of the best things to do in Monteverde!
7. Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
I’ve been to many national parks in Costa Rica, and although I’ve enjoyed them all, a few stand out from the rest. One of those is Manuel Antonio National Park.
Located just over 1 hour from Jaco, Manuel Antonio National Park is a coastal park home to spectacular views, sprawling jungle, and tons of wildlife. The best part about the park is its size. Manuel Antonio is small compared to others, which means less walking and densely populated wildlife. You can see many different bird species, monkeys, and sloths.
On this tour from Jaco, you’ll be guided around the park walking trails such as the sloth walk. Your expert guide will spot animals you would never see on your own and show you the best beaches to swim and enjoy. It’s the best way to see a ton of Costa Rican wildlife and make your trip unforgettable. My favorite part was seeing the sloths!
If you aren’t already making a trip to Quepos or Manuel Antonio town, then a trip to the national park is one of the best things to do from Jaco.
8. Watch the sunset at Villa Caleta
Although I said El Miro was the best place to watch the sunset in Jaco, to many, Villa Caletas will be their top choice.
Villa Caletas is actually a hotel located a 15-minute drive from Jaco. However, there is a beautiful Greek-themed amphitheater at the hotel restaurant where you can enjoy a drink while you watch the sunset. While I was there, they had a happy hour from 4 pm to 6 pm, which included delicious cocktails. If you’re hungry, stay for dinner and enjoy the views from your table.
Without a rental car, you’ll need to visit Villa Caleta via taxi or Uber. This costs around 5,000 to 7,000 Colones each way. If you are driving, don’t worry about driving after dark, the road here is paved and well maintained.
9. Go on an ATV tour through the jungle
ATV tours in Costa Rica are so much fun! The rainforest trails are just so cool to explore, and on some tours, you’ll splash across rivers and even spot monkeys in the trees above.
In Jaco, there are lots of different ATV tours to choose from. However, the most popular and top reviewed is this 3 hour ATV adventure. It includes a gorgeous ride through the rainforest to a 35-foot waterfall which is perfect for cooling off after a hot ride. Afterward, you’ll ride to the beautiful mirador with views as far as Manuel Antonio National Park.
Lastly, take a dip in another waterfall and jump off a 15-foot platform into the water below. It’s a waterfall, and ATV tour, all rolled into one, making it great value.
10. Visit Playa Mantas and Playa Blanco
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jaco Beach. However, sometimes you just want to relax at the beach and swim in calm water – especially if you’re traveling as a family. Well, while in Jaco we did some exploring up the coast and found the perfect beach for that.
Playa Mantas is a beautiful sheltered bay with some of the calmest water I have ever seen in the ocean. On top of that, the water is shallow, and even standing out in the water 50 meters only produces water up to your waste at low tide. It’s the type of beach families love because you can let your kids explore and play in the water without worrying about big waves and currents.
Once you’re done relaxing at Playa Mantas, you can walk over to Playa Blanco. This beach is only accessible from the beach due to a large resort blocking the road. Here you’ll find a restaurant as well as more beaches to enjoy.
Unfortunately, to enjoy Playa Mantas, you need to drive 25 minutes north from Jaco to this parking lot. It costs 1,000 Colones per hour to park at the beach, and on weekends it’s very hard to get a spot if you’re not early. During the week though, the beach is really quiet!
Hot tip: The beach is actually not far from the crocodile bridge, so you can join these two activities together.
It’s no secret that Jaco is a party town. Many visitors come for the vibrant nightlife that stretches from north to south along the entire beach. The best part is that there are great parties for everyone. Bailey and I prefer the early parties that start just before sunset and finish early.
The best spot for this was Mahi Mahi Chill Out Restaurant by Los Papos. This small bar and restaurant have a DJ on most nights around sunset, and there is a rooftop area for the perfect view. It’s known as a local spot because the drinks and food are cheap! If it’s not busy here, try Aloha Beach Front Bar and Restaurant Jacó.
The hostel we stayed at, Room2Board, is another cool party place, especially for the pre-party. They have a DJ on weekends who plays from 7 pm to 11 pm. Afterward, everyone heads out to the clubs such as Jaco Blu, Republik Lounge, and XTC.
There are restrictions in Jaco currently, and bars and clubs must be closed by 11 pm. Although I am not condoning breaking the rules, there are underground parties that are well known. These are “speakeasy” clubs hidden in plain sight.
12. Enjoy drinks and food by the sea at El Point
By far, my favorite place to enjoy seaside drinks and food in Jaco was El Point. This top-rated restaurant is located right on the beach, and they even have tables on the sand.
Although I’m often skeptical of restaurants with the best location because the food and drinks usually lack, El Point was an exception. All the cocktails I tried, including the passionfruit margarita and Pina Colada, were delicious.
On top of that, El Point was the best place I ate during my trip in Jaco. I must have ordered the seared tuna with mango chutney three times – it was that good! The best part is the prices are very reasonable, with the average main costing $12 USD.
If you can, pop down around an hour before sunset to get a table and enjoy the views. A location as good as this paired with high-quality food and cocktails is rare to find.
13. Go deep-sea fishing
Anyone who loves fishing as much as I won’t want to skip a fishing charter in Jaco. For starters, the fish love to bite off the coast of Jaco, and although no one can guarantee you’ll catch a fish, your chances are really good.
I went out at the crack of dawn on a 3-hour tour and managed to leave with 12 tuna between our boat and plenty of fillets for the next few days. We caught a few yellowfin tuna as well as black tuna and mackerel. Because our tour was only 3-hours, we didn’t go very deep, nor did we search for the larger game fish such as marlin.
I would love to recommend my tour. However, I met our skipper in town and organized a pick-up at our hotel the next day. With that said, there are plenty of places you can book tours in Jaco. Expect to pay around $120 USD for a half-day tour.
If you want to go deep-sea fishing on a professional boat and search for big fish, you usually need to book the entire boat, which costs around $700 USD per group for 8 hours.
14. Day trip to Nauyaca Waterfalls
There’s certainly no shortage of waterfalls in Costa Rica. So if you’ve already traveled a lot here before, you may be thinking, “really, another waterfall.”
I get it, but Nauyaca Waterfalls is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular in Costa Rica. It’s up there with Rio Celeste Waterfall and La Fortuna Waterfall (two of the best things to do in La Fortuna.)
Nauyaca Waterfalls is made up of two huge waterfalls. This upper waterfall is 40 meters tall (131 feet), and the lower waterfall is 20 meters tall (65 feet.) You can visit both the top and bottom waterfall, but it’s only safe to swim in the lower falls. There is a lifeguard on duty and toilets but no other facilities.
A visit to the falls is a bit of a mission from Jaco at about a 2.5 hour drive each way. You can choose to drive or take a tour, but no matter what you choose, you’ll need to walk 4 kilometers (1 hour) from the parking lot to the waterfalls via a poorly maintained road. It’s a relatively easy walk, but you certainly earn that swim at the end.
If you really don’t want to walk, there are options to take a horse ($80 USD) or tour in a 4wd ($32 USD) that can be booked at the gate or online on their website. These drop you right at the waterfall and take you back to the parking lot.
Entry to the falls is $12 USD (although it says $10 USD online, so book it there to save $2 USD), and tickets are purchased from the office on the main highway (not the parking lot) or online. If you forget, there is a cafe a kilometer before the waterfall that also sells tickets.
The ticket office is open from 7 am, with the last people allowed to begin the hike at 2 pm. If you can, start the trail at 7 am. We enjoyed the waterfall to ourselves for the first 30 minutes.
Canyoning is one of the most underated tours you can do in Costa Rica. The truth is most don’t know what canyoning is, so they tend to shy away from booking tours. That’s such a shame!
I fell in love with canyoning in Banos, Ecuador, and since then have done it all over the world, including in Jaco. For those who don’t know, canyoning involves repelling, swimming, jumping, and climbing your way through a canyon and down waterfalls. It’s an adrenaline-filled activity that’s tons of fun!
The best tour in Jaco is this canyoning tour. It’s a half-day adventure that includes taking in the views of a 300 foot (91 meters) waterfall! You’ll also repel down four waterfalls ranging from 70-90 feet (21-27 meters.) It’s a crazy adventure, and if you’ve never been canyoning before, this is the perfect chance to fall in love with this underated sport!
Where to Stay in Jaco, Costa Rica
If you’ve done any searching for a hotel in Jaco I’m sure you’ve been a bit overwhelmed with the huge selection of amazing places to stay in Jaco. It’s true what they say, sometimes too many choices aren’t a good thing. Luckily, there are some really stand-out hostels and hotels in Jaco.
I love the social atmosphere in Jaco, and the best place to stay for that is Room2Board Hostel. Not only does this awesome hostel have such a fun atmosphere where travelers can meet and hang out, but it’s also right on the beach. We loved the pool, yoga sessions, and the bar is really fun on the weekends. With that said, you can still get a good night’s sleep and enjoy the onsite surf school and board rentals.
They also have all types of rooms available from hotel-quality private rooms with ensuite bathrooms to dorm beds – something for all budgets!
If you’re not a fan of hostels or traveling with the family, don’t worry, I have a few really great places for that too. My first recommendation is Apartotel Flamboyant if you’re looking for one of the cheaper hotels right on the beach. The rooms aren’t super modern, but the location and pool are excellent. The hotel is also spotless, and the gardens are perfectly manicured.
Another option is to check out some of the apartments for rent, especially for larger groups. Places such as Best in Jaco Condos at Diamante del Sol rent apartments right on the beach at great prices.
Thanks for reading!
Jaco is well known as a party place, but as you can see, there are plenty of other things to do in Jaco which make this destination one of the best in Costa Rica. I, for one, love Jaco, but I spend my time surfing, exploring, and eating my way around the city as opposed to staying up late. The choice is yours, but don’t let the natural beauty of Jaco go to waste!
Thanks so much for reading! If you loved this blog, be sure to read more of our Costa Rica blogs such as: