Rain or shine, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries to visit. The Central American country is covered in lush beautiful forests, fruit bearing trees, volcanic mountains and clear blue warm beaches.
I recently had a 48 hour trip to the central coast of Costa Rica and managed to cover both Jaco and Quepo.
48 hours is in no way near enough time to fully appreciate all that Costa Rica has to offer, but it’s a good introduction to the Pura Vida as Costa Ricans call the easy-go life. Ideally I’d like to head back and explore more of what the country as a whole has to offer and plan a Costa Rica in one week type of trip.
Jaco is one of the most tourist filled towns in Costa Rica, but it’s the closest beach town to San Jose Airport, a with lots of bars and surf. Jaco is one of the most popular starting points for a Costa Rican getaways with many tourists.
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
Even during the rainy season, Costa Rica is a gem. The day that landed in San Jose from Los Angeles, I was really disheartened by the lightening storm and pouring rain, even though it was about 80 degrees out. My taxi driver assured me that the next morning, it would be clear, sunny and so dry that I wouldn’t have even realized that it rained the night before and he was right. Expect clear skies and humid heat until about 4 p.m. on a daily basis before the weather turns to grey skies, lightning and heavy showers. The high tourist season is between December through April because it rains less often, but rain or shine, Costa Rica is perfect during any season. If you want to avoid the big crowds of people at the beach and national parks, a visit during the off peak season or “green season” would be ideal, which is May through November.
What to Pack
If there was anywhere to pack light, it’s to Costa Rica. Shorts, a light sundress and a few t-shirts and swimwear is all you need. Costa Ricans don’t believe in rain gear, so leave the umbrellas, ponchos and rain coats at home and enjoy the few hours of rain. Wearing pants unless they’re omni shield pants, would be very uncomfortable so pack light and pack what you think you’ll really need. The best types of shoes for hiking through the jungle are trekking sandals like the ones made by Keen because they’re made for rocky trails and water crossing so you can’t go wrong there.
Getting to Jaco
Jaco is about an hour away from San Jose airport and getting there you have a few options depending on how much you are willing to spend and how quickly you would like to get there. There’s a new road or highway that’s been constructed that has several toll stops, but it is a straight shot into Jaco. The old road is still around and only adds on about 20 minutes to your trip, but it detours through residential neighborhoods. Tip: The airport in San Jose can be extremely overwhelming with drivers trying to get you to use their service. Decide on your transportation plans beforehand so you that you’re confident in the service’s reliability and trustworthiness. Never enter a vehicle that does not seem “official.” Tourism vehicles and taxis always have phone numbers and logos on them and Costa Rica is a very tourism-centric country so they know to cater to these ideas.
If you take a bus to Jaco, it costs about $4 and a 2-3 hour bus ride depending on the day and time. You can board the bus by the airport or at from the Coca Cola Station. The bus is considered to be reliable so if you don’t mind the length of the ride, it’s a perfectly fine and safe mode of transportation. Just make sure to keep all of your belongings with you.
If you decide to take a shuttle into Jaco, be absolutely sure that your reservation is scheduled. You will most likely have to pay while you create your reservation online or over the phone so have your confirmation number and printed receipt with you at the airport. If you don’t prepay, chances are that the company is not sending a car to pick you up. In the U.S. there’s normally a line of shuttle cars waiting in front of the airport picking people up even if they a reservation has not been made. This is not so much the case in Costa Rica unless you’re lucky. San Jose to Jaco should cost $35 per person and will drop you off at your hotel.
Taking a taxi to Jaco is the priciest method, costing from $70 to $100, depending on whether you can bargain the rate, but make sure to settle the price before you take the ride to avoid any issues later. Make sure to only ride with a legitimate taxi service and a clearly marked company car. The driver will most likely be wearing a T-Shirt with a taxi company logo on it too.
Where to Stay
In Costa Rica, hostels are also known as Cabinas, so you may come across those more than you do “hostel.” Hostel stays are a great way to meet other travelers or backpackers and they’re also a very inexpensive option, ranging from $8 to $30 per night depending on the type of room you would like. For that rate, you are also getting what you paid for so if you had air-conditioned suites in mind, then hostels may not be the right move for you.
Rutan Surf Cabinas is located in one of the busier sections of Jaco and is only 25 yards from the beach so its convenient when you want to grab something to eat or go shopping. Rutan’s is well maintained and the grounds keeper keeps the place on check to make sure there aren’t people wandering in that aren’t guests and keeps the area very clean. There are dorms and private room available all equipped with free wifi. The private rooms have their own showers and bathrooms, or else there is a clean bathroom and shower for all the guests to use. There is an outdoor grill that is free for use and a fridge as well so you can BBQ after you come back from surfing at the beach. If you ever wanted to learn to surf, Rutan also offers surfboard rentals and lessons for $10 a day which is the average price of surfboard rentals in Jaco. Rates begin at $8 per night.
Costa Rica Hostel Network:
If you’re looking for a bit of a break from the heat and humidity, there are several hotels and resorts available in or nearby Jaco.
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Central Pacific -All-inclusive Beachfront Resort
If you’re looking to use points for your stay, then the Hilton DoubleTree Resort just outside of Jaco is a good choice. The resort offers all-inclusive stays so it really does cater to families and anyone looking to just relax at the resort. Their all-inclusive package comes with food from their restaurants, drinks, water sports, and a choice of suite. Accommodations available are Deluxe Suites that have their own private pools, Suites and Guestrooms. Rate in October begin at $158 per night or 50,000 HHilton points per night.
Villa Caletas is a five-star hotel and resort in Jaco atop a lush green hill overlooking the Nicoya’s Gulf. The resort has a private beach, an infinity pool and access to Friends of the Forest Trail which gives you a chance to see monkeys and toucans up close. The hotel offers two types of luxury suites and rooms, Zephyr and Villa Caletas and they all have a luxe feel to them. They come with wi-fi, satellite television and some suites have their own outdoor swimming pool. There are also two restaurants located in the resort, Mirador Restaurant and Anfiteatro Restaurant that’s built as an amphitheater. Rates in October begin at $174.00 per night.
Where to Eat
Save money by eating at “sodas.” Sodas are Costa Rican restaurants or huts, depending on the location, that serve the “typical Costa Rican dish.” The typical dish comes with beans, rice and a choice of protein from beef, fish, pork or if it’s breakfast, you can have eggs cooked any way you like. A meal at a soda costs about 3,000 colones which is about $6.
What to Do
If there’s anything that Costa Rica is known for it’s the amount of outdoor activities you can try in the most beautiful rainforests and beaches. Jaco’s location is perfect because it’s near so many activities and you can get a few done in a day without getting exhausted from so much traveling.
Zip Line Canopy Tours
Jaco has only one certified zip line company, Rainforest Adventure. They also take pictures of you while you are zipping through the forest on your harness. If you’ve ever had a fear of heights, it possibly the best way to get over it since you’ll be a couple of hundred feet over ground with your feet dangling down. If you are out there on a good day, you may see a few white faced monkeys on canopy tops checking out what you’re up to. Canopy tours generally cost $60 for two hours and that also includes transportation to the zip line and fruit at the end of adventure.
Other things to do in Costa Rica
- Standup Paddle Boarding
- Hike and swim in Manuel Antonio
- Hike through the Monteverde National Park
- ATV jungle and beach tours
- Take a Plantation Tour
- Neo Fauna Nature Hikes
It’s common in Costa Rica to hire a driver who takes you to all the adventure places and hotels you would like to visit that have inside information of what’s good and what’s not if you don’t have much time to travel. I personally recommend Dos Gringos Eco Tourism, the drivers are all bilingual and provide internet hotspots in their air-conditioned vans. On their website they say “If you thought one day is not enough, We´ll make sure to do our very best in order to fulfill your expectations about Costa Rica, visiting or exploring places you just heard friends talking about” and considering I had less than 48 hours in Costa Rica, they met that promise with really just one day.