Lined with palm trees and bookended by breathtaking cliffs, Playa Jacó is easily one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. If you visit during off-season, it’s basically your own private oasis. The delightfully desolate beach makes it hard to believe that Jacó is described as one of the most developed beach resort cities in Costa Rica. I come from New Hampshire, where we use every single square inch of our 11-mile coastline. So when I hear “developed” I picture sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers packed in so tight you can barely see the sand in la Cape Cod… shudder. The highest concentration of people we saw on Playa Jacó was a group of 10 or so kids playing sand soccer.
While mornings were spent exploring, most afternoons were spent on the beach with a book while J got owned by waves, and every night we meandered into town in search of food. One row back from the beach is a roughly 2 mile strip of restaurants, surf shops, casinos, and the like. Ironically, we spent most nights at an Indian/Mediterranean fusion restaurant where J and our waiter, an Israeli who just finished his compulsory time in the IDF and was traveling Central America, traded stories about their military service. Finding common ground with strangers in unexpected placed really is one fo the best parts of traveling. (If you’re ever in Jaco, visit Cafe Namaste.)
Opinions about Jacó diverge: some find it seedy and tacky, while others revere the surf and the parties. As with most places, though, it’s what you make of it. We’d been told multiple times how wild Jacó gets at night, but it’s easy to avoid that scene if you want to, especially by staying on the southern end of the beach. Maybe if we had come from North Carolina I’d feel differently, but compared to Tegucigalpa, Jacó was actually a calm, quiet respite from craziness. Our wildest encounters were with giant lizards who tried to climb into our rental car’s engine block and share J’s pizza at lunch.
Jacó is situated on the central Pacific coast, making it a convenient jumping off point for day trips if you’re not afraid of driving an hour or two. We paid a steep price for a full-day waterfall tour, which ended up being worth it simply for the convenience of not having to find the places ourselves. And for the sake of having a local around while J threw himself off 75 foot cliffs… you know, just in case.
We also drove slightly south to Playa Hermosa, known for having the best surf in all of Costa Rica, and slightly north to Carara National Park, where we saw a few white-faced monkeys. But if you really want to experience Costa Rica’s biodiversity, the place to be is Manuel Antonio National Park, which deserves its own post mainly so I can share roughly a million sloth pictures. (Stand by for that.)