¡Pura Vida! The saying you’ll hear everywhere in Costa Rica means a lot of things but literally translates to “pure life” or “simple life.” A bit like aloha, pura vida has a lot of connotations. It’s a greeting you’ll encounter throughout the country, and you may even find yourself saying it when you get home.
Costa Rica is one of the most enchanting, magnificent places on the planet. From eating my body weight in casado (the country’s national dish of rice, beans, veggies, salad, protein, and often cooked plantains) to ziplining over forest canopies, it is a place that has cemented a spot in my heart.
Generally, Costa Rica is an affordable international destination. That carries over to the hotel options, particularly in a place like Jacó. You won’t really find overly expensive, luxury properties here.
Most places will either be budget or mid-range — though the resorts might be much more than you’d expect for the price. From bigger resorts with casinos and shopping to more intimate and boutique spots, the Jacó area really runs the gamut.
On the Pacific side, Jacó is home to incredible beaches, nature, and culture. The city has a reputation for being a party town because of the nightlife but there is still plenty to do outside of partying. Though not as big as Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, there are still plenty of things to do in Jacó, Costa Rica.
Show Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Jacò, Costa Rica
- 1. Visit the Carara National Park
- 2. Ride the Aerial Tram
- 3. Watch the Sunset from El Miro
- 4. Day Tour of Tortuga Island
- 5. ATV Tour Through the Jungle
- 6. Experience a Waterfall Tour
- 7. Day Trip to Manuel Antonio National Park
- 8. Enjoy Jacó Beach Nightlife
- 9. Spend a Chill Day at Herradura Beach
- 10. Go Surfing at Hermosa Beach
- 11. See the Rainmaker Park
- 12. Day Trip to Nauyaca Waterfalls
- 13. Check Out Bijagual Waterfall
- 14. Chill Out at Jacó Beach
- 15. Visit Puntarenas
- 16. Go Horseback Riding on the Beach
- What is Jacó, Costa Rica, known for?
- Is Jacó, Costa Rica, a party town?
- Is Jacó, Costa Rica, family-friendly?
- Most significant landmark – El Miro
- Best park – Carara National Park
- Best free activity – Visiting the Beach
- Best activity for kids – Tortuga Island tour
- Best activity for adults – ATV tour
- Best food – El Hicaco Seafood
- Best nightlife – Orange Pub
- Best all-around accommodation – Crocs Resort & Casino
Things to Do in Jacò, Costa Rica
1. Visit the Carara National Park
National parks are among the most worthwhile things to do while visiting the country. Not only are they some of the most biodiverse parks on Earth, but their resident creatures are also a sight to behold. Within Carara National Park, you’ll also find the Tárcoles River, or the Río Grande de Tarcoles, which is full of crocodiles.
Brightly colored birds dot the trees throughout the tropical rainforests within the national park. Macaws, toucans, and dozens of other species thrive here. Plus you might get lucky and spot a sloth!
Carara National Park’s famous Crocodile Bridge is where visitors can gaze at the river’s massive crocs. Though some tour guides outside the park will feed the crocs on tours, it’s illegal. Still, it’s incredible to see the 20 – 25 foot crocodiles — from the safety of the Crocodile Bridge, of course.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Liberia, Costa Rica
2. Ride the Aerial Tram
When visiting a country like Costa Rica, the best views of its natural beauty are often from above. For folks like me who are terrified of heights, that can be a dealbreaker — though I did zipline in the country to push that fear. A nice compromise is something like the Pacific Aerial Tram at Rainforest Adventures.
The tram operates like a ski lift, letting guests stay seated comfortably during the trip. A group of up to ten people can climb aboard the aerial tram and safely see wildlife up close in the tropical rainforest canopies. Remember to bring binoculars to see creatures hiding amongst the trees.
Overall, the Rainforest Adventures excursion lasts for a few hours. Guests can also enjoy the butterfly garden as part of their tram admission. It may still be too much for anyone with a fear of heights, though it is a much more lowkey activity than ziplining.
3. Watch the Sunset from El Miro
With incredible views of Playa Jacó, El Miro is a somewhat bizarre location. The abandoned, partially finished mansion serves as a lookout point for folks who walk up to it. Now decorated in graffiti, El Miro’s height makes it the perfect place to watch the sunset after a day of adventure.
Roughly half a mile up the hill leading to El Miro, travelers can stop at an initial viewpoint. The views here are lovely, though some may want to continue onward. Another half mile up the hill is where you’ll find the mansion.
From the path and the viewpoints, you can see the Pacific Ocean, bits of tropical rainforest, and Jacó itself. Since the walk up to El Miro is free, albeit arduous, it is the best way to get a panoramic view of the area below.
See Related: Best Costa Rica Excursions to Book Today
4. Day Tour of Tortuga Island
A little over an hour from Jacó is Isla Tortuga, or Tortuga Island. The white sand beaches of this remote island, with its calm ocean water, make it a premiere destination for day-trippers. Snorkeling is a popular activity here along with scuba diving.
Hired tours of Tortuga Island often include hotel pick up and drop off, so you don’t need to worry about getting yourself to the docks. Instead, you can daydream about the restful day you’ll spend among the palm trees.
If a chill beach day isn’t your style, perhaps a hike to the top of the hill on Tortuga Island is something you’d enjoy. Wildlife abounds on the island that can be seen on foot or through ziplines via a canopy tour. Either way, your day trip to Tortuga Island is bound to be filled with gorgeous beach views and fun times.
5. ATV Tour Through the Jungle
Address: Adventure Tours Costa Rica, Av. Pastor Díaz Local 1, Provincia de Puntarenas, Jacó, Costa Rica
Plenty of ATV tours are offered throughout Jacó, though the sights you see vary wildly. With Adventure Tours Costa Rica, you can take an ATV ride through stretches of the Costa Rican rainforest. You even get the chance to chase waterfalls along the way!
The Adventure Tours trip takes you through the forest to a vista point and two different waterfalls, one of which has a 15-foot jump into the natural pools below. Bring your bathing suit! These ATV tours are an excellent way to see more of the area’s terrain and high vistas that you otherwise might not be able to.
Even if you opt not to jump off the top of the waterfall, you should still take a dip. It’ll be refreshing after trekking through dirt for a long time.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
6. Experience a Waterfall Tour
Address: Jaco Walk Shopping Center, Provincia de Puntarenas, Jacó, 61101, Costa Rica
Waterfall tours aren’t just for looking at the pretty falling water. Many tour companies take the journey to the next level by offering extreme sports options for some adventurers or tamer activities for others. Which will you pick?
Costa Rica Waterfall Tours, for example, offers four different kinds of tour options. The Explorer allows you to experience some of the falls up close through swimming, or The Extreme Adventurer allows you to leap from the tops of the falls if you want.
Meanwhile, the Canyoning and Extreme Canyoneering tours are not for the faint of heart. One has you ziplining across canyons, while the other has you cliff jumping and rappeling. There is an option for most travelers, depending on your comfort level and accessibility needs.
See Related: Best Day Trips From San José, Costa Rica
7. Day Trip to Manuel Antonio National Park
Location: Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica
As far as day trips go, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, or Manuel Antonio National Park, is about as far as you’ll want to go. It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jacó, so even a half-day tour is out of the question. You’ll want to dedicate as much of your day trip to being in the park as possible rather than just being on the road.
Before you plan your journey, I highly suggest contacting José at Passport Adventure. Not only was he the best tour guide we could’ve hoped for when we were in Costa Rica, but he remains a dear friend to this day. We even got matching sloth tattoos during our week-long trip to Costa Rica. You couldn’t ask for a better host or friend to show you this incredible country.
Although it’s a trek from Jacó, seeing Manuel Antonio National Park is an absolute must — especially if you’ve never been there before. Not only is the forest one of the most beautiful sights you’ll see, but the region is also one of the most biodiverse on Earth. Plus, there are three beaches within the park to relax after walking through it.
Manuel Antonio National Park is smaller than Carara National Park but is still teeming with wildlife. I saw so many squirrel monkeys zooming around the trees! Arrange a tour with a naturalist who will bring a telescope to show you even the tiniest forest inhabitants up close.
We saw sloths napping, iguanas sunbathing, and so many fascinating insects. This park was a major highlight of my time in Costa Rica.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica
8. Enjoy Jacó Beach Nightlife
Jacó nightlife is at the heart of what many travelers come to the area to enjoy. Even if clubbing isn’t your vibe, there are plenty of spaces to hang out. Fine dining restaurants, though not really considered “nightlife,” are something Jacó also has plenty of.
From happy hour to closing time, you’ll find plenty of tourists and locals enjoying Jacó Beach late into the night. Jacó Blu Beach Club and Le Loft are two of the favorite spots for partiers. Anywhere you go at night around Jacó Beach will provide a fun atmosphere and is bound to be lit up with colorful lights.
If you want to enjoy the nightlife scene but not the clubbing, check out some of the more casual spots instead. Jacó Bar, Aloha Beachfront Bar, and Tiki Bar are a bit more low-key. Plus, if you’re craving live music, there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty around town. There’s a reason why Jacó has such a profound entertainment reputation.
9. Spend a Chill Day at Herradura Beach
Beaches along the Central Pacific Coast give visitors a glimpse of paradise. That’s certainly true at Herradura Beach.
The coastal town of Playa Herradura is a little outside Jacó proper with watersports as its major tourist draw. Playa Herradura is named for the coastline’s unique horseshoe shape (herradura means horseshoe), so it’s only fair that its waterfront is the main attraction.
Herradura Beach is smaller than some of the other beaches in the area. There are beach chairs available, a lifeguard during tourist season, and nearby eateries to snag a delicious lunch. What it lacks in amenities compared to the larger beaches, Herradura Beach makes up for in personality. There’s also a parking lot at this beach if you have a rental car. Either way, you’ll have incredible views of the nearby Pacific Coast, so you can’t go wrong.
Near Herradura Beach, perched above stretches of the rainforest with the Pacific Coast in the background, Villa Caletas has some of the most gorgeous views you can get. Whether your room has an infinity pool facing the forest or loungers to enjoy the scenery, you’ll fall in love with this place.
10. Go Surfing at Hermosa Beach
Address: Guanacaste Province, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
Considered the best surfing beach for beginners, Playa Hermosa (Hermosa Beach) is an excellent place to catch some waves. Lines of lush, green palms in contrast with the gem-colored water make it obvious why Playa Hermosa is so popular. It’s a fitting name since hermosa means beautiful.
Natural beauty at Playa Hermosa is hard to beat, whether or not you’re interested in surfing. The waves along this portion of the Central Pacific Coast are often less intense than elsewhere in Costa Rica, which is why it’s a good spot for newbie surfers. Swimmers also get some advantages with the smaller waves since it makes for a safer area.
Unlike some of the other beach towns near Jacó, Playa Hermosa has more for visitors to do. Nearby there is also the town of Coco which features some of the amenities of Jacó such as clubs, shops, and a casino.
Should you want a hotel with premium beach access at a more laid-back, less party-centric location, consider staying at the Backyard Hotel. Being right on the Pacific Coast, practically on the sand at Playa Hermosa, the Backyard Hotel is a budget-friendly way to stay beachside. This three-star hotel has an oceanview pool and a private beach area for guests to enjoy.
A step up in quality from simpler hotels in town, this location gives a lot to guests despite being so much smaller. It is a small hotel with less than ten rooms that makes for a more private getaway for families or couples.
11. See the Rainmaker Park
Considering how dedicated Costa Rica is to its natural beauty, it should come as no surprise that several items on this list focus on that. Rainmaker Conservation Park, about an hour’s drive from Jacó, is similar to its neighbor Manuel Antonio National Park. Both are flush with water, greenery, and creatures to discover.
What sets Rainmaker apart is the astounding canopy walk system that takes you high into the trees for a different viewpoint. Manuel Antonio has a marsh walkway which is equally beautiful — and much lower to the ground. Groups like Jade Tours have some incredible options to help you make the most of your trip out to Rainmaker.
There are over 1,500 acres of protected rainforest within the bounds of Rainmaker. Even if you stopped at every park in Costa Rica, you would not experience every precious moment of natural beauty. Rainmaker would be a great day-trip option combined with the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park. That way, you can see how different and similar these tracts of pristine land are to one another.
12. Day Trip to Nauyaca Waterfalls
Address: San Salvador de Barú San José Pérez Zeledón, 11909, Costa Rica
You’ll visit many places, particularly green spaces in Costa Rica, are public property. However, Nauyaca Waterfall within the rainforest is on private property owned by Don Lulo. The falls are accessible on foot from the road, though you need to purchase passes from the property owners.
Hiking to the falls is around five miles round trip. If you aren’t up for that hike, horseback rides are available to bring you to the Nauyaca Waterfall. Once there, you can go swimming or even cliff jumping if you’re bold enough.
Bring water shoes with good grips. Beneath the crystal clear water, the rocks are extremely slippery. Despite feeling very clumsy during our visit, the waterfalls were a delight. Just be mindful of your footing getting in, out, or around the water because of how worn down the rocks are.
See Related: Things to Do in Guanacaste
13. Check Out Bijagual Waterfall
You shouldn’t always have to set aside a whole day to see waterfalls. Bijagual Waterfall is located just 30 minutes outside of Jacó. Its rushing water making its way from Carara National Park. Like Nauyaca, the falls are accessed on foot or on horseback.
The hike is a bit shorter at Bijagual Waterfall at just over three and a half miles. These are the highest falls in the country, although the cascade is smaller than others in the region. Still, keep those water shoes handy if you plan on swimming.
It can be difficult to locate the waterfall since it’s on private property. However, signs near Carara National Park can help you locate the top of the trail leading to the falls. Just don’t forget to bring cash for the property owners.
See Related: Where to Stay in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
14. Chill Out at Jacó Beach
You might not know it from looking, but Jacó Beach isn’t the biggest in Costa Rica. It’s the largest in the Jacó area, so it’s still a huge beach, though it’s a chill place to hang. Its proximity to town makes it a great spot to spend a day with lots of food and entertainment options.
Playa Jacó is also popular among surfers. Surf shops line the nearby street with pros offering surf lessons to anyone who needs them. Because of the wave break near the beach, this is another good spot for newbies to get their surfing feet wet.
If you like the chill, surfer vibe, consider staying at Selina Jacó and Surf School. This bright and funky hostel with private room options is a great place to call home. With the range of rooms available, there are price points for many kinds of travelers. Especially for young folks or anyone traveling solo, it’s also a great way to meet other travelers.
One of the ways this location is unique is its cylinder rooms. The repurposed concrete cylinders may not have private bathrooms en suite, but they have a one-of-a-kind space. Think of it like pod hotels which are gaining popularity worldwide. Far from a pared-down hostel, this location has a beachfront bar, pool, spa, and even surf lessons if that piques your interest.
Whether you decide to hang ten or not, Jacó Beach is lively every day. Full of folks looking for relaxation by day or partying by night, there’s always something to do.
See Related: Where to Stay in Tamarindo
15. Visit Puntarenas
An hour from Jacó is Puntarenas, one of Costa Rica’s most populated cities. The city of Puntarenas is a popular port for cruises, so there is a lot of nightlife, all-inclusive hotels, and shops to keep tourists coming back.
Beaches are another major draw for Puntarenas. Expect to find a lot of “sodas” or casual diner-esque places with delicious food. Chances are they serve casado. And casado is frequently so much better at sodas. Holes in the wall are often the best food spots.
San José is obviously the country’s biggest city, though Puntarenas still knows how to have a good time. Festivals bring it to life with tourists, locals, and Ticos (the nickname for Costa Ricans) looking for excitement. Be sure to try a Costa Rican copo or shaved ice made famous in Puntarenas.
See Related: Best Islands to Visit Around the World
16. Go Horseback Riding on the Beach
I hadn’t been horseback riding since I was a Girl Scout — maybe 11 or 12 years old. When we had the opportunity to go horseback riding on the beach, however, I couldn’t say no. We went riding at Playa Tárcoles, though plenty of nearby beaches have tour guides that offer rides.
Visit Playa Mantas or Playa Blanca, for example, for an exhilarating ride. Traipsing through low tide along the beach is an unparalleled moment. Regardless of your experience with horses, your guide will pair you with one that suits your needs.
As an anxious traveler, our guide José made sure the horses’ owners put me with a gentle giant named Hippie. While Hippie and I couldn’t gallop across the sand (Hippie was an older horse), we had a blast. If you do anything on the beaches of Costa Rica, I hope it’s horseback riding.
There are legitimate tour locations that can help you take a spontaneous horseback trip, but be wary of men just wandering the beaches hocking horseback riding excursions. Your best bet is to find a tour provider online before you head out for your own safety.
What is Jacó, Costa Rica, known for?
Jacó is known for having incredible food and entertainment as well as proximity to natural beauty. Because it is so popular with tourists, there is much to do.
Is Jacó, Costa Rica, a party town?
While Jacó’s reputation is that it’s a wild, party destination, there is much more to it than that. Nightlife is a big part of what the city is known for, but it is also friendly for other kinds of travelers as well.
Is Jacó, Costa Rica, family-friendly?
Absolutely! From Tortuga Island, Surf Camp, and other watersports activities, families have so much to do in Jacó. Lots of nearby nature activities, like the aerial nature walk, give kids plenty to stay busy.
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- About the Author
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, HuffPo, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local.” Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.