There’s a lot to be said about Jacó, some of it is rad, but some of it is quite grungy, even for a surf bum.
For years, this beach town has been getting mixed reviews from all sorts of surfers, travelers, and vacationers, so we’re here to set the record straight.
Having visited Jacó dozens of times, I know the best places to stat, eat, and party, without feeling unsafe or unclean. The overall structure of Jacó is incredible. There’s basically one ‘busy’ street in Jacó, which is full of surf shops, taco joints, souvenir emporiums, and a whole lot of places to get drunk.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]There’s definitely a technique to visiting Jacó, because if you decide to just wing it solo and stay at the cheapest hostel and eat the cheapest meals, you’ll have a terrible time. [/box]
There will be a ton of people trying to convince you to stay here and eat there, but if you follow the advice on this page, I guarantee you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.
Similar to the majority of Costa Rican surf towns, Jacó caters to surfers, partiers, vacationers, and a ton Gringos. Though Tamarindo gets the name Tama-Gringo, Jacó brings in the masses of Gringos and fat Americans.
I say this with all honesty, if you want to avoid chubby, pale, gnarly looking vacationers, then I would seek a surf trip elsewhere. This is not to say that there aren’t beautiful surf babes in Jacó, because there’s a ton!
As you enter town from the north, you’ll drive past a Best Western (great place to stay if you want a quiet place), then past Tico Loco Tacos, and then you’ll eventually cross the bridge to enter the heart of Jacó, Costa Rica.
With the famous slogan “Get Wacco in Jacó”, you can imagine why so many surf bums and party animals choose to call this place home. There aren’t too many places in Costa Rica that are really built up, and Jacó isn’t extremely built up either, but compared to somewhere like Dominical or Avellanas—this places is crazy incorporated.
You won’t find skyscrapers and all inclusive resorts, but you’ll discover that Playa Jacó and Key West Florida look incredibly familiar—feels like Spring Break most of the year.
Jacó is without a doubt the most convenient surf town in Costa Rica, because you’ll be able to get just about everything you’d ever need in this town. Whether you’re looking for a specific set of surf fins, a name brand type of whiskey, or simply want some constant waves, Jacó is definitely a great place to do any of the three.
When my friends visit from the states, I don’t personally take them to Jacó (especially my parents), but if you are on a strict budget and can’t make it to the rarities of Pavones or Avellanas, then I’d definitely recommend a place like Jacó.
If you and your boys (or girls) are planning a surf trip, but want to have a bunch of late nights, then choosing a place like Jacó can be very smart.
Your day will begin with awaking to the noise of Ticos selling lottery tickets in the streets and noisy Americans strolling through the streets—some of them likely never went to sleep. Your hostel will offer a free breakfast, otherwise you can find several eateries off the main drag that provide American or Tico style breakfast for about 5$.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]If you choose to cook your own meals, you’ll end up paying about 3-4$ for each meal. Eggs, chicken, bread, and milk are all ridiculously cheap, so keep that in mind. [/box]
As far as places to eat, drink, and party, Jacó has some of the best of Costa Rica. Though it doesn’t mirror the quality of some of the tourist heavy spots like Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo, it definitely has some great spots.
My favorite place to munch down at would have to be the Taco Bar of Jaco. This place has fresh fish, chicken, and beef tacos at a pretty affordable price. You’ll end up spending about 14$ on three tacos, so if you’re on a backpacking budget this place is not ideal. But, if you can spend the cash and enjoy a nice taco, then you’d be insane not to make a stop here.
If you like sushi and want to treat yourself, then there’s a place called Arigato Sushi on the main strip where you can feast on some of the best sushi in Costa Rica for under 20$. As I recall they don’t open their doors until 6 or 7 pm, due to the fact they only cook with the fish that’s caught that day. Yes, it’s that fresh. The chefs here are world class and if you order the Jacó roll, you won’t be disappointed.
If you want to party, it won’t be difficult. There’s dozens of pub crawls, bars, and drug dealers everywhere, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you chose the right beach town.
I have a friend named Billy from NYC who opened a bar called Moonshine on the main strip, where you’ll find 2$ cocktails and a ton of great people to party with. Otherwise, you can go dancing at Pub Orange, drink a few beers with local surfers at Swell Bar, but you best bet is to get to sleep early and catch the sunrise surf. Because once 10 a.m. hits, the water will be packed.
Located in the Golfo de Nicoya area of Costa Rica, Jacó has a fair amount of exposed breaks and doesn’t bring in too many surfers. Normally there will be reliable offshore winds from the northeast, but like any beach, it can be terrible on bad days. The best swell is going to be fro the south, southwest, which will bring in beach breaking waves in both directions.
Whether you like rights or lefts, both will be thundering if you get to Jacó on a good day. Though some of the locals prefer to surf low-tide because the waves are a bit more hallow, I really only surf it during high tide. I’ve found that as the tide comes in, the waves break a little cleaner and because the beach is so huge, it’s never too crowded. Though I say it’s not crowded, the best point (further south), is by far the best. The waves on this end of the beach are much larger and don’t wash out as easily.
One of the best parts about Jacó is the fact that it’s so versatile for every skill level. I’ve been to a ton of beaches around the world and I’ve never seen as many surf camps than in Jacó Beach.
Not only are there about 30 surf shops (all offering lessons) in the town, but there’s an additional 10-12 beach front surf schools.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]These are great for beginners that have never surfed before, while intermediate surfers should stay away from these classes.[/box]
The instructors will do just about anything to convince you to take a lesson, but don’t listen! They’ll tell you that there’s sharks in the water, a terrible jellyfish population, or sting ray breeding season, but they are probably lying.
I’ve surfed Jacó dozens of times and I’ve never seen, heard, or even slightly thought about a shark. Sting rays are a different story. I’ve been stung 5 times in my life, once was at Jacó, but it’s all part of the sport.
Because there’s a ton of advanced surfers who visit Costa Rica, I have to mention Playa Hermosa de Jacó. This is where you’re going to want to surf. The wave works very well when it reaches overhead heights and has a ton of power. Hermosa is only about a 5-10 minute drive from Jacó, so it’s easy to get to. Hermosa is a great spot to visit if a big swell comes in, especially if you’ve got the balls to try a tow-in day. My advice, check the surf report and bring the gun.
Let check the surf now . . .
The Buddha House Hostel: This is one of the best options for surfers and backpackers that don’t have a bunch of money to spend on accommodations. I normally either stay here, or with friends.
The Buddha House is clean, safe, and comfortable. Three things that you won’t find everywhere in Jacó. A room will cost you 12$/night for the shared dorms, 25$/night for the private air conditioned rooms, and 35$/night for the master bedroom.
They have a beautiful Argentinian receptionist named Camilla, basically the reason I sleep there. You’ll feel at home at the Buddha House, so get cozy and enjoy your vacation.
Clarita’s: Easily the most lively place to stay in Jacó. This place is home to the Miss Jacó competition each year, so you imagine what type of things ensure.
Wet T-shirt contests, beer pong, and a ton of other games. I don’t specifically stay here, because I like to sleep at night, but I always catch a few post surf brews here.
Clarita’s is notorious for housing hundreds of drunk people, especially during high season. Though it can get quite ratchet some nights, it is actually a decent hotel. Rooms are anywhere from 40-100$/night.
Room 2 Board: This is a huge hostel complex, where a ton of backpackers stay. Rooms are 10-15/night, rooms lock, and it’s pretty clean. This is the largest hostel, so you’ll be able to meet people from around the world.
They host pub crawls, surf camp, and Spanish lessons, so it’s a pretty organized facility.
Jacó is a great vacation spot in Costa Rica, but it is most definitely not for everyone. If you’re young, like to party, and are comfortable with your surf skills, then you may feel right at home here.
There’s a ton of great eateries, a decent amount of waves, and one of the rowdiest nightlifes in all of Central America. Things to keep in mind!
Jaco is not as safe as the majority of other surf towns, so keep your belongings close! Don’t bring out too much cash, don’t get too drunk, and don’t walk on the beach at night. The locals in Jacó are by far the worst, so if you slam a bottle of Flor de Caña and smoke a bag of grass, don’t expect to make it home with any dignity.
If you avoid the beach, stay with your group, and know a little Spanish, you won’t have to worry about anything. Just don’t follow a local into a dark ally, use your head! Though it isn’t the most extravagant place to surf, Jacó is a great beach, full of a lot of great surfers, so rip some waves and drink some rum!