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Things to Do in Jaco

On Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, the small town of Jaco draws visitors with its opportunities for rainforest adventure, relaxed social climate, and surfing, all just a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital, San Jose. On dry land, travelers can take adventure tours in the jungle via horseback, get muddy on an adrenaline-filled ATV tour, fly through the air by zipline or tram, or get wet with waterfall tours, whitewater rafting, crocodile river cruises, and mamgrove kayaking. In the Manuel Antonio National Park, tours offer views of native wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, and agoutis in their natural environment, along with 180 species of birds—as well as stretches of white sand beach. The Arenal Volcano brings the heat with visible plumes of smoke and rivers of molten lava and after viewing, tours often stop for a soak in nearby geothermal hot springs. Cool off with surf lessons on Jaco beach, where the waves are surfable year-round and the long beach offers a variety of waves for different levels, from rookie to expert. Cruises from the Gulf of Nicoya take passengers to the white sandy beaches and sparkling turquoise waters where snorkeling and sunbathing opportunities on nearby Tortuga Island (two hours away), while other boats offer full-day fishing trips for marlin, mahi mahi, and even tuna.\
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Jaco Beach
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17 Tours and Activities

Jaco is a lively beach town known for its water sports and party atmosphere. Located on some of Costa Rica’s most developed coastline, within two hours of the capital, it’s a favorite escape for San José residents, as well as backpackers, snowbirds, and North American retirees.

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Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)
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A postcard-perfect paradise of white-sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and sapphire-blue water rife with marine life, Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) is an ideal spot to swim, snorkel, or bask in the sunshine. The island is only accessible from Costa Rica’s main cities via a scenic boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya—an extra perk for your vacation.

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Carara National Park (Parque Nacional Carara)
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16 Tours and Activities

At the confluence of two important Costa Rican ecosystems—the wet and wild Pacific Rainforest that characterizes the southern coast, and the dry tropical forest for which Guanacaste is known—this small, popular national park packs a lot of wildlife into a 5240-hectare (12,950-acre) package.

Most notably, Carara is home to one of Costa Rica’s last remaining populations of scarlet macaws, who you’ll likely see gossiping and preening in small groups throughout the park. The Rio Tarcoles, which forms the park’s northern border, is well known for its enormous population of huge crocodiles.

There are two short, 1km (.6mi) interpretive trails through the wilderness and waterfalls, perfect for families and less active travelers. A longer, 4.5km (2.7mi) trail follows the Rio Tarcoles and mangrove marshes, where both the crocodiles and scarlet macaws settle in for the evening.

There are scores of other animals in residence, hailing from both forest ecosystems straddled by Carara: sloths, peccaries, deer, monkeys, armadillos, and even big cats. Birders will appreciate the bounty most, with some 400 species easily spotted in this relatively small area.

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Playa Hermosa
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Just a few minutes south of Jaco’s hustle and bustle is the much mellower surf beach of Playa Hermosa. A handful of hotels and restaurants come with a reggae soundtrack and view over the Pacific, along broad, often empty, volcanic-gray beaches. What it lacks in amenities, however, it more than makes up for in waves.

Playa Hermosa’s claim to fame is unsung surf that’s more challenging, and less crowded, than nearby Jaco. Thus it brings in the more serious surfers, rather than those who have come to Costa Rica to test themselves in other ways after hours. It’s not for everyone—some folks find themselves wishing that they were within walking distance of Jaco’s dining and nightlife options. Others, however, enjoy Hermosa’s awesome views of the moon and stars, reflected in the dark Pacific.

There are at least five well-known breaks along the shore, and plenty of relaxed hotel-restaurants where you can wile away the hours between sets. And it’s just as convenient to Juan Santamaria International Airport, and other hot spots on the Central Costa Rican Coast, as its more famous, and crowded, neighbor.

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Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls
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Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls boast nature trails, streams, and views of the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica. After exploring orchid gardens and watching toucans flying overhead, you can enjoy an al fresco meal on the patio.

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