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Beach Bargain Travel Guide – Playa Jacó & Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

When we traveled to Costa Rica for the first time back in 2000 Playa Jacó was a beach village populated by fishermen, surfers and in-the-know backpackers. Not long before that the area was so remote that old-timer fishermen can remember seeing jaguars on the beach. Recently we found a very different Jacó full of bungee jumping towers, sports bars and lots and lots of gringos. The streets were paved and backpacker prices were hard to come by, even if you move on to neighboring Playa Hermosa. Neither beach ranks as the best in Costa Rica but they are among the most accessible at just over 60 miles (100 km) from San Jose. With that in mind, here’s our beach bargain travel guide to these two popular Pacific Coast destinations.

Beach bargain hotels in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

We were looking for a more mellow vibe (and, perhaps, nicer prices) so we hightailed it out of Jacó and drove five miles (eight km) south to Playa Hermosa where we chose to stay at the clean and charming five room Costanera B&B. The surf is a few steps away, the Italian owners were welcoming and the mid-range price (from US$35 double) includes an awesome breakfast.

Though descent truly budget accommodation was hard to find in Jacó we did spend a night at the perfectly acceptable Jaco Inn Hostel in a private room with a shared bathroom for US$25 including use of a shared kitchen. Bring insect repellent.

Playa Hermosa Puntarenas Costa Rica

A rare shot of the two of us together as we wander down Playa Hermosa. Photo courtesy of Dos.

Beach bargain food in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

You can’t miss the signs for Taco Bar along the highway near Jacó and you shouldn’t miss a meal (or three) there either. It’s not a bargain at around US$10 for a plate with two big fish tacos and unlimited access to a delicious and varied salad, sauce and condiments bar. But it is a delicious, fresh splurge that satisfies.

We learned too late that from 4-10 they’ll sell you a two taco plate for the price of a one taco plate but you need to present a flyer (available at some hostels and hotels including the Jacó Inn Hostel) to get that special price. Do not confuse Taco Bar with Jacó Taco. They are not the same.

If you have access to a kitchen at your hostel or hotel you should know that the Auto Mercado in Playa Herradura, four miles (six km) north of Jacó, is the best-stocked supermarket on the Pacific Coast, though there are decent supermarkets in Jacó as well.

What to see and do in Playa Hermosa and Jacó

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback along the Costanera Highway around Jacó . They’re often spotted in the trees on the hillside near a large dusty turn out off the highway just south of Jacó. We saw scarlet macaws there on numerous occasions and it’s worth a shot to try your luck, especially in the morning or late afternoon. Plus, it’s free.

Scarlet Macaws Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

Scarlet Macaws flying Jaco Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

Scarlet Macaws Costa Rica

Endangered scarlet macaws are slowly making a comeback near Playa Jacó and we know where you’ve got a good chance of spotting them.

To see more macaws and other tropical birds visit Carara National Park (US$10 per person) 14 miles (22 km) north of Jaco. Notably, in May of 2013 Carara unveiled a .75 mile (1.2 km) handicapped accessible walkway, a rarity in Central American parks.

Near the entrance of Carara the Costanera highway crosses the Rio Tarcoles. You will always see vehicles parked by the bridge and people on the bridge looking down at the river. Why? A large group of very large crocodiles lives beneath the bridge.

Lagartos Crocodiles Rio Tarcoles River bridge

On your way to Playa Jacó and Playa Hermosa park and walk onto the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles for safe-distance views of the enormous crocs that live in the river.

We also enjoyed watching our friend Dos take surfing lessons in Jacó where there’s no shortage of surf schools and instructors to choose from.

Learn to surf lessons Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

Our friend Dos making the most of the surf on Playa Jacó.

 

Jacó Travel Tips

Chifrijo Costa RicaA few miles after you exit the pay highway from San Jose and enter the Costanera Highway headed to Jacó you will see a handful of roadside stands on your right. Look for one with a handwritten sign that says “Hoy Chifrijo.” Pull into the dusty parking area and be prepared for the best example we had of San Jose’s signature dish. Chifrijo (left) is a big bowl filled with white rice and red beans topped with chopped tender pork then chopped chicharon (fried pork skin) then doused with pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime. The chifrijo they make here (US$5 including a soda) is so good it made our Best Food & Beverages of 2012 list.

 

 

Oh, and learn to pronounce Jacó correctly: it’s Ha-COE with the emphasis on the final syllable.

These two beaches are so popular that we suspect some of you have been here too. Share your own Playa Jacó and Playa Hermosa beach bargain travel tips by leaving a comment, below.

Sunset Jaco Beach Puntarenas Costa Rica

Sunset from Jacó in Costa Rica.

 

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Beach Bummin’ – Las Flores and Maculis Beaches, El Salvador

The thing about Las Flores Resort on Las Flores Beach near El Cuco, El Salvador is that it manages to satisfy surfers and non-surfers with a perfect learner’s break, nearby point breaks, a gorgeous, bluff-top, open air spa and laid back style.

Las Flores Surf beach El Salvador

Blissful Las Flores Beach in El Salvador.

 

Las Flores Surf Resort - El Salvador

The lounge in the bluff top, open air spa at Las Flores Resort in El Salvador.

 

Las Flores, El Salvador

Las Flores Beach, El Salvador.

It’s a toss up, but we think non-surfers get the better end of the deal at Las Flores, which hosted us for a few days of beach bummin’ so we could write this full review of the resort. Why? Because us non-surfers get to watch the show going on in the sea from the comfort of our private patio, the pool deck or the breezy bar.

Surfing, Las Flores Surf Resort - El Salvador

Taking advantage of the reliable waves at Las Flores Beach, El Salvador.

 

Beach house bliss

Less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) along the coast east of El Cuco is a beach so off-the-radar that it’s not on most maps of El Salvador. This is Maculis Beach, home of Los Caracoles beach house.

Las Caracoles - El Salvador

Shaded hammocks with a view are all yours at Los Caracoles beach house on Maculis Beach in El Salvador.

Created and owned by Pascal Libaily and Joaquín Rodezno, the same duo behind Los Almendros Hotel in Suchitoto, Los Caracoles is utterly charming with a fully-equipped, open-air kitchen (bring groceries with you) and living room with a concrete floor inlaid with shells. A round, blue-tiled plunge pool is set into a wooden deck just off the living room. A thatch roof shades a bank of inviting hammocks, gorgeous wood loungers and an outdoor dining table.

Caracoles beach house - Playa Maculis, EL Salvador

The plunge pool at Los Caracoles beach house on Maculis Beach, El Salvador.

 

Caracoles beach house - Playa Maculis, EL Salvador

The open air living room and kitchen at Los Caracoles beach house on Maculis Beach in El Salvador.

There are two bedrooms with a shared bathroom off the living room and a separate master bedroom, with a palm tree growing in its private bathroom, in “The Annex” a few steps away. Guests are left to fight over who gets to use the outdoor shower with a conch shell for a shower head.

Caracoles Beach House -  Playa Maculis Beach, EL Salvador

Beach house bliss.

Maculis, the beach maps forgot

All of this just a few steps from a wide, flat, clean beach you will pretty much have to yourself since, as we already mentioned, Maculis isn’t on anyone’s radar. Another plus? You get to see sunrise and sunset over Maculis beach.

Sunset  Playa Maculis Beach, EL Salvador

Sunset over Maculis Beach in El Salvador. The beach is positioned in such a way that it gets sunrise too.

We walked the beach for hours every morning and encountered no one before returning to our hideaway to cook or read (no WiFi!) or cool off in the pool.

We lived in our swimsuits and did precious little for three of the most relaxing days of the entire Trans-Americas Journey, content to be entertained by watching swooping pelicans (instead of surfers) and relaxed by the spa-like effect of the stylish, simple ease of Los Caracoles.

Playa Maculis Beach, EL Salvador

Enjoying the last of the light on Maculis Beach, El Salvador.

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