Visit Jacó Costa Rica: This Booming Beach Town is Artistic, Fun and Family-FriendlyDespite being one of Costa Rica’s most familiar and popular beach communities for nearly four decades and counting, Jacó has become a place full of surprises. Although the surf and party playground label still fits to some extent, a great deal has changed about this long-established Pacific paradise. Whether it’s your first visit ever or lately, what Jacó today has to offer may be much more than you expect.

Then and now

As the capital city of Garabito county in Puntarenas province, Jacó (pronounced ha-coh) traces its roots back to one of Costa Rica’s earliest settled regions. Garabito is named for the principal ancestral chief of the region’s Huetar kingdom during the 16th century, who became a powerful indigenous hero for all of Central and South America.

Four centuries later, in the mid-1920s, only a few families were living in the Jacó vicinity. However, it was already attracting visitors from the Central Valley as a summer vacation destination, where some eventually started building their own beach houses and villas. Consistent with this trend, one family set up a vacation campsite.

Jacó’s allure is compelling
before you even get there.

In 1973, a foreign businessman, Johannes Dankers, began construction of the Cocal Hotel, which for many years remained the only hospitality option for international tourists. Then during the 1980s and 90s, Jacó underwent a tourism boom, notably with projects such as Jacó Fiesta Hotel in 1988 and vacation-residential developments like the renowned Punta Leona. Seemingly in a growth sector’s heartbeat, Jacó became the pulse of a region that draws more domestic and foreign visitors than almost any other Costa Rican destination.

Enjoy the journey

Proximity to San José has always been a reason for Jacó’s popularity as a Tico travel destination. For anyone seeking a vacation escape from the big city or just a family day trip to the beach, the 90-minute drive is all it takes to become immersed in the central Pacific coast’s beautiful tropical rainforest.

Jacó’s allure is compelling before you even get there. On the way, you will cross the famous Tarcoles River bridge where a mind-blowing number of enormous American crocodiles are impossible to miss.

A bit further on is Carara National Park, featuring a disabled-accessible trail and other well-designed paths for viewing the diverse flora and fauna species, including the famous scarlet macaw. Having become almost extinct in Costa Rica before the turn of the century, these splendid birds have gradually been reintroduced to their natural habitats through diligent conservation efforts initiated in the Carara park area.

Upon arriving in Jacó, you will readily notice the Miami beach-style hotel towers, cool restaurants and lively bars. Most of all, you will soon pick up on the town’s chill beach vibe — the true pura vida you’ve likely been anticipating.

Deciding what to do

Whether your preference is for a family-friendly hotel or a hidden hilltop villa, exciting adventures or a surf scene like no other, Jacó has it all.

What to do first? The number and range of activities can be overwhelming to choose from. Some of our favorites include: ATV rides, ziplining over the rainforest, snorkeling in the depths from a secluded island shore, partying on a luxurious boat and sportfishing via Los Sueños Marina and Resort in Playa Herradura.

The following experiences are also highly recommended during your visit to Jacó: sampling the  infinite selection of appetizing food menus, hiking on nature trails with spectacular views, joining a yoga class, booking a relaxing spa session or even taking Spanish lessons.

One opportunity you should definitely not overlook is catching some of the best surfing waves in Costa Rica. Whether you are a seasoned surfer or looking to take your very first class, surfboard rentals are easy to come by in Jacó, as well as lessons. We suggest these surfing schools: Surfer Factory, Tortuga Surf School and Laguna Surf School. Hard-core surf enthusiasts can drive down to Playa Hermosa, home to the annual International Surf Championships.

Taking it to the streets

It’s impossible not to be impressed with the artistic renaissance Jacó has been undergoing. Just take a walk around town to see what we mean! In recent years, Artify Jacó has attracted mural artists from around the world to paint the town with wallscapes inspired by Costa Rica’s natural exuberance and traditional indigenous culture.

To learn about Jacó’s history and the story behind each mural, the Jacó Art Tour is highly recommended. For a different perspective, hike up to the famous lookout point at the abandoned ruins of El Miro, where you can see more cool street art along with an incredible view of the area. Ask any local for directions.

Still on the subject of art and style, Jacó is a great place to shop. You can find gorgeous souvenirs made by local artisans, not to mention cool beach fashions and swimwear designed by Costa Ricans. We love this about Jacó!

It’s the same way we feel about the eclectic mix of small, fun and inviting places you’ll soon discover when strolling around. From coffee shops and local craft beer to art galleries, they are yours to check out at outdoor shopping centers like Jacó Walk. When hunger strikes, your choices range from traditional fare like casados or gallo pinto to burgers, seafood and meat dishes, often with vegetarian and vegan options.

If you prefer a higher-intensity party atmosphere, or even want to test your gambling luck, Jacó has plenty of casinos and bars going for it also. Notably, Croc’s Resort & Casino is the place to stay or drop by if gaming is your scene. There is something for everyone at this all-inclusive, luxurious, full-service resort, including over 150 slot machines and Las Vegas-style gaming tables.

Education and nature

Jacó also offers everything you could want in a cultural and educational experience. With classrooms here as well as in San José, Academia Tica Spanish School is well regarded by students who have attained local-caliber fluency in Spanish and knowledge of Costa Rica. Enroll in regular general courses set in Jacó’s natural paradise, prepare for DELE exams (Spanish as a Foreign Language Diploma) or participate in the Traveling Classroom program in different Costa Rican locations.

Not surprisingly, nature has also been a huge tourism draw to the Jacó area, inspiring the community’s deep commitment to protecting the environment. Reforestation projects such as Costas Verdes have played an instrumental role. The non-government organization has planted thousands of trees at Playa Hermosa National Wildlife Refuge. With the mission of restoring and bringing wildlife to degraded beaches in Costa Rica, Costas Verdes helps teach and remind us how important it is to be conscious of the environment when visiting this or any other ecosystem in the country.


From these highlights of all that Jacó has to offer, we hope to inspire and guide your visit to this exquisite destination. Find out what you have been missing or never expected while enjoying a wonderful vacation … maybe even your future home.

Reinventing Itself by Design

As a distinctively beach-oriented tourist destination, Jacó’s reputation for demographic diversity is unlikely to change anytime soon. While the population count adds up to more than 10,000 full-time residents, the number of Costa Rican and foreign visitors increases significantly during the summer (dry) high season and peak holidays. At any given time, the town’s multicultural flavor is remarkable. Interactions between people from all over the world are commonplace — from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Argentina to Canada, the United States and many other ethnic backgrounds.

Jacó’s tourism-based local economy relies on public and private companies working together to promote growth and development. Increasing emphasis has been on attractions that are safe and clean, while offering a wide range of activities and cultural exposure.

The outcome has been an image makeover for Jacó, from crazy party town to much more family-friendly forms of fun.

Facelifts of a more tangible kind are also apparent to keep pace with regional expansion. Several projects are planned or underway to restore old abandoned buildings, along with new condo developments being pursued by organizations such as Jacó Desarrollos.

Otherwise, urban beautification and cultural enrichment initiatives such as Artify Jacó and the Jacó Walk outdoor mall have made the local streets as visually appealing as they are intriguing and welcoming places for people of all ages to shop, browse or socialize while enjoying a meal, snack, drink or entertainment.

A proud achievement for Jacó in 2019 was having the first 100% accessible beach in Central America. All visitors can now enjoy this seaside locale, with convenient nearby parking available for people with disabilities, plus access ramps connected to walkways reaching almost to the shore. And to help keep everyone safe, permanent, volunteer lifeguards are on duty 365 days of the year.