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Friday, February 23, 2024

The Biggest Little City in Costa Rica?

Jacó needs a moniker. I propose “The Biggest Little City in Costa Rica.”

Really. Jacó’s population is only around 12,000, but the nonstop activity that radiates from this town belies it’s modest population. Due to its proximity to San José – just over an hour drive on Ruta 27 – city dwellers flood this once-sleepy beach town on weekends and holidays. This ease of access also makes Jacó an easy stop for travelers exploring Costa Rica. The result is a 24/7 city that, with the exception of the capital, doesn’t exist anywhere else in Costa Rica.

jaco beach surfers
Surfers walk in downtown Jacó.

In the wee hours of the morning, you can still dance in a disco, get a cold beverage, grab some tacos, or even pick up a gallon of milk at a bodega (called pulpería locally). There are restaurants galore, from inexpensive lunch counters to gourmet culinary experiences. Lodging options run the gamut as well, from hostels to internationally renowned resorts. You’ll even see mini skyscrapers there. It’s all new and exciting.

“Until the early 1980s,” says the photographer Andrés Madrigal, “a trip to Jacó would take four hours in a 4×4 eating dust for more than three-fourths of the journey. Along the way, you had to cross the Tárcoles River on a flimsy four-car barca [small wooden river ferry]. But once you got there, it was paradise: a pristine, nearly deserted beach, a few cabinas, one small hotel, a couple of pulperías, and a few locals. On a one-week trip, my family would carry everything for the trip: food, gas lamps, ice, and so forth. We got fresh water from a well with a manual pump.”

The beach remains the main attraction. It’s a long, flat crescent that has sections that are great for swimming and surfing. For expert surfers, ten-minute drive south to Playa Hermosa a offers the region’s best waves.

los suenos marina
Los Sueños Marina is located in Herradura, a ten-minute drive outside of Jacó.

Jacó is more than the beach, though. It’s the gateway to the Central Pacific Coast’s wonderful array of activities that bring nature lovers, beach bums, thrill seekers, party animals, and holistic healers together in the same spot – with plenty for each group to do.

All of this activity has helped boost municipal coffers, to the point that this once-sleepy fishing village boasts a theater, movie theater, fire station, clinic, and civic center. These are the trappings of city life.

skateboarders in jaco
A couple of girls work on their moves at Jacó’s new skate park, located at the civic center and library.

Throughout this week, we’ll explore some of this region’s hot spots, hidden gems, and can’t-miss activities. Tomorrow we’ll look into the mountains surrounding Jacó.


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