About a week ago, my girlfriend Gabby and I took an amazing week-long trip to Jaco, Costa Rica. It was equal parts adventurous and relaxing, and all in all, it was one of the less touristy vacations I have taken – which I love. And we did it for under $1000 each. It was such a fun trip, I wanted to share the details for you.
Housing: Live like a local
I was a little apprehensive to use Airbnb, since it would be my first time out of US, but we had a great experience! We rented a two bedroom condo in a gated complex that was primarily full-time residences, right in the heart of Jaco at a fraction of the cost of hotels in the area. Our lodging came out to be around $100 a night, which we divided by the two of us.
Jaco is a small town with one main strip of restaurants and shops. Our Airbnb was one block off this main street, which was an ideal location for us. We were a block away from the beach, and right off the main strip of restaurants and shopping. Hotels are nestled away on a calmer side of the beach, but being settled right off the busy part of town was exactly what we wanted.
Which brings me to food and drink…
We found a local coffee shop, Cafe Bohio, that we visited almost every morning for an espresso and chocolate pan.
For lunch, we tried a few different places, but just about always had a casado. This is the traditional Costa Rican lunch, and it consists of rice beans, plantains, and either fish or meat. A plate was a couple US dollars, is delicious and super filling, and just what we needed to get us nourished to get back out in the ocean.
And for dinner, seafood! Jaco has fresh fresh fresh seafood! I can’t even remember the name of the place we had our favorite dinner, but look at this presentation!
Sure Jaco is a vacation destination, but while there we met so many friendly locals. Our Airbnb host, Jayson, an American expat, was so great. Beyond giving us pointers, he hooked us up with deals on most of the adventures we did, he even took us grocery shopping when we arrived! The first day in Jaco we went to a pool party at Jaco Blue, the city’s local hangout. This picturesque beachfront pool hosts pool parties on the weekend- think Las Vegas Pool party on the beach. Uhh what could be better??
At the pool party, we met a few Costa Ricans, both locals from Jaco and young people from the capital city, San Jose, who came to hang out over the weekend. We were immediately welcomed to ditch our lonely table and join a local group’s cabana. After this first day, we met countless other friends on our trip.
Activities around town
Jaco is a goldmine of outdoor activities, the city and neighboring jungles allow for tons of natural adventure. While in Jaco we had to prioritize because, even though the cost of living is low – the touristy activities can be pretty pricey.
ATV / Waterfall Hunting
One thing we knew we wanted to do was go ATV riding. Gabby and I signed up for a half day jungle tour, which was super fun and exhausting. We rode through some of the lushest trails to the peak of one of the largest mountains in the area, through the valleys, and stopped to romp around waterfalls.
Catamaran to Tortuga Island
This full-day excursion was the biggest splurge of our trip. We were picked up early by Calypso, the tour company, and drove about an hour away to the catamaran docking location. We were greeted with music and a full breakfast before boarding the catamaran. From there we had a scenic ride to Tortuga Island.
On the island, we were treated with a variety of activities including snorkeling, a banana boat ride around the island, and a traditional Costa Rican band. The snorkeling was the best I have done, we saw so many beautiful, and BIG fish, and I even held a starfish!
It was a great experience, though my one gripe is it was such a departure from the rest of the trip. It was a total touristy situation, from the upselling of additional activities to the branding on the island, it was a change of pace from the rest of the trip. I’m happy we went to Tortuga Island, but I was ready to get back at the end of the day.
Beach town Fun
Outside of the activities we did, Gabby and I spent our days strolling the streets, popping into both local and touristy shops. We also spent a few afternoons lounging on the beach. Not feeling quite adventurous enough for surf lessons [read, no money for lessons] we took note from little kiddos and romped around in the waves. Jumping through the large crashing waves and boarding back to the sand was like a workout!
Hanging out on the beach was my favorite time in Jaco. The beach was sparsely populated with families, a few groups of surfers, and a handful of tourists. Such a departure from other recent beach travels (Jamaica and Cabo San Lucas).
Jaco, Costa Rica was a warm and welcoming city, and a great way to relax and recharge! I am looking forward to future travels in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!