If you’re planning a trip and looking for things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica, rest easy knowing there’s something for everyone. From casual beach lounging to off-road ATVing, I recommend packing your trip with a variety of activities that help you experience all that Jaco has to offer.
I discovered the beauty of Jaco after my extended family decided to plan a family reunion there. Here are the quick details:
- Where I stayed: Jaco South Beach
- Dates: August 20-27
- Travel group size: 24 people
You can choose to stay in a hotel in Jaco, but I recommend checking out the vast selection of VRBO and Booking.com house, villa, or apartment rentals. Especially if you have a big group because a lot of these houses can hold up to 25 people.
What’s more, many are managed by agencies that offer catering, chauffeuring, cleaning, grocery-shopping, and other services that make for an ultra-relaxed trip.
Note: This article may contain affiliate links to which I may make a small commission from at NO extra charge to you.
What is Jaco, Costa Rica Known For?
Jaco has become a popular tourist stop in Costa Rica thanks to its beautiful dark sandy beaches and huge waves that draw in avid surfers from around the world. You get to experience both the lush rainforest and the beach in Jaco, where it’s also known for its vibrant nightlife and friendly locals. It doesn’t hurt that it’s located less than two hours from the San Jose International Airport, making it a convenient spot for visitors.
It’s actually kind of earned a reputation as a hot bachelor party town. Which makes it all the funnier to me that it’s where my family chose to host our oh-so-wholesome family reunion. Whether or not you plan on partaking in Jaco nightlife, just know it’s easy to get a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep still–so long as you book on the quieter side of town (Jaco south beach area).
Casa Blanca Mansion on the Beach
Occupancy: Up to 25 people
We found the Casa Blanca mansion through VIP Jaco, an agency that specializes in organizing large group vacations. They also connected us to most of the tours we did. Of course, this isn’t a super affordable option unless you have a huge group to split the costs. But with 24 people in the house, that equates to about $91 per night, per person–not too bad!
This mansion has 14 bedrooms and fit all 24 of my family members and their families absolutely perfectly. And the best part? It’s right on the beach of the Pacific ocean:
Many of the houses along this road in South Jaco Beach are rental properties. This section of beach was quiet, calm and relatively private. It was a twenty-minute walk or five-minute drive into the center of Jaco. While you can get a rental car, Jaco VIP also offers driving services, which is mainly what we used. Highly recommend for large group trips.
Duration: 2 hours
Cost: $59 per person
Even if you aren’t an experienced surfer, I suggest giving it a try! Jaco has lots of surfing teachers who get a lot of joy from teaching newbies how to stand up on a surf board. I am not naturally inclined to try this, but I did and even got up!
Right across the street from our house was the Jaco Surf School by Surf Factory. We hired their team for a private two-hour lesson. Since our group was so big (24), they split us into three smaller groups, where we were shown the basics.
From there, they paired us up individually with an instructor who would swim out in the ocean with us. They would help grab our boards as we inevitably fell off, which made getting back up a lot faster and easier.
One of the most fun parts of the surf lessons was when we reviewed the photos that their team’s professional photographer snapped of each of us. I can’t recall if that was an added fee or came in the original price, but it was definitely money well spent in our group.
ATV Tour through the Jungle
Duration: 4 hours with a lunch stop (separate cost)
Cost: $130 per person
The ATV tour by Jaguariders was my favorite activity of the trip. Take ATVs (or side-by-sides) down muddy dirt roads, around the Tulin River, through the jungle and soak up the Costa Rican rainforest.
We opted for the longest of the ATV tours (4 hours) but there are shorter 2 or 3-hour ATV excursions also. But, the long tour takes you to the Gamalotillo waterfall where you can cliff jump in!
Then you head to a stunning cabana lookout where locals make lunch for you. The price of lunch isn’t included in your tour fee, but it’s reasonably priced, helps support locals, and well, it was just a delicious lunch with stunning views.
Real talk, a couple of the ATVs were in rough condition–my dad ended up repairing one right on the road. Honestly it kind of just made the trip more fun?! Near the tail-end of the trip it started raining on everyone. But since it’s such a warm and humid climate, the rain feels so nice and not cold.
Spice Farm Tour in Manuel Antonio National Park
Duration: 2.5hr tour plus 2-hr drive to/from Jaco
Cost: $47 per person
Looking for a slightly mellower but equally as picturesque adventure? Take the Villa Vanilla Spice Tour into the Manuel Antonio National Park jungle for some organic spices sampling. You’ll see how everything from vanilla, cacao, Ceylon cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, turmeric and exotic fruits and medicinal plants are grown and cared for.
This is one of the more unique things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica. It’s a bit of a haul to Manuel Antonio National Park (~2 hour drive). But the reality is, spices have played a massive role in shaping societies and literally helping explorers discover continents over the centuries. Spices can tell you a lot about a culture, especially a culture as rich as Costa Rica’s.
And if you’re lucky, you will spot some of the white faced monkeys, scarlet macaws or hummingbirds that live in the area.
Take some spices home with you to really flavor up your dishes and transport you back to the tropical jungle.
Tortuga Island Catamaran Cruise
Duration: ~7 hours
Cost: $115 per person (varies by group size)
Ready for a day of swimming in bright blue, warm Pacific waters and lounging on the beach? There are all sorts of boat tours around the Jaco area (deep sea fishing, sunset sailing tour) and we ultimately chose the Tortuga Island catamaran tour so we could get the best of both ocean and island life. All 24 of us hopped on a huge catamaran that took us on the 90-minute boat trip to Tortuga Island.
The tour includes snorkeling off the coast, banana boat rides, a delicious lunch on the island, beach chairs for lounging, and if you’re up for it, a short island hike. You can opt for one of the full day trips or a half day tour.
Oh, and let’s not forget the happy hour on the boat ride back from Tortuga Island. Our captain and tour guides provided us with bottomless mixed drinks and that really spiced up the last part of the day!
Zipline Jungle Canopy Tour
Duration: 2 hours
Cost: $60-70 per person
Here’s a totally different way to soak up the lush rainforest and Pacific coast views! Take a thrilling ride through the jungle canopy on ten different zipline courses across twelve platforms.
Professional guides will give you a rundown on how to control your zipline harness and provide you with all safety equipment. This zipline park is suitable for (nearly) any age–and for anyone who likes a nice dose of adrenaline with their vacation views. The course is located just outside of Jaco, near Los Suenos on Herradura Beach.
Hike to El Miro, Abandoned Hotel Restaurant
Duration: 1.4mi each way, 2-3hr hike roundtrip
Explore the tropical rainforest and listen to all of its wildlife sounds as you hike up to the eerie but beautiful El Miro ruins. The trailhead is tucked behind some overgrown palm trees, across the street from Del Mar Surf Camp and Shop, on the outskirts of Jaco.
There are differing stories on the origins of these ruins. Some locals say it was meant to be a living complex, others say a mansion, and some say a hotel restaurant. But what is known is that a very wealthy man started the construction of this structure but died before he could finish it. Soon after, the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of hike; catch beautiful graffiti drawings intermingled with lush rainforest and old, weathered ruins. You’ll have stunning views over Jaco beach and the surrounding town from the ruins’ balcony.
The hike up is a little strenuous–pretty much a straight shot up what starts as a paved path and turns into a winding dirt road. There’s one lookout point about 20 minutes into the hike and then a second lookout point at the top, another 30 or some minutes up.
The El Miro hiking trails are well-established (since they used to be a road for construction builders). The whole main trail is bordered by a cement wall with beautiful native Costa Rican animal drawings running along it. I HIGHLY recommend this free activity as you get good exercise, great bird watching opportunities, and a chance to absorb the natural beauty of Jaco.
Duration: 1.4mi each way, 2-3hr hike roundtrip
Cost: ~5/beer or ~10/plate
Just a five minute walk from the El Miro trailhead is the Puddlefish Brewery. Quench your thirst from the hike with a nice cold brewski! It offers a solid selection of craft beer and pub fare. We stopped there for a drink after our hike to El Miro and it was a great way to wrap up the adventure. The staff is very welcoming, the craft beer and appetizers were delicious, and the open-concept layout filled with board games made for a fun and easy way to hang out.
Other Jaco Activities
My group only scratched the surface of all the activities you can do in Jaco. So even though I haven’t personally done the activities below and can’t “vouch” for them, they are still worth checking out if you’re interested!
Jungle or Beach Horseback Riding
Carara National Park
Calling all nature lovers: plan a day trip to Carara National Park to observe all Costan Rican wildlife in its natural habitat. See where the bright, colorful macaws nest and where crocodiles like to hang out when you cross the Tarcoles river. Maybe you’ll even see some white-faced monkeys hanging from the trees. Most popular mode of transportation to get here is rental car or hotel pickup and dropoff.
Cliff Jumping and Waterfall Tour
Explore jungle terrain on 4x4s through the Jaco mountain tops on this waterfall tour! The trails will lead you through rainforest and take you along rivers and pools for tropical swim time. If you’re feeling bold, try out some of the cliff jumping over waterfalls!
Ready to Visit Jaco, Costa Rica?
So, what adventures put a spark in your eyes? Not that you need adventures to enjoy the simple beauties of Jaco! With huge beach real estate, casual beach bars, a fun atmosphere and laid back locals, a full week of lounging shoreline is just as enjoyable!