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 José. With that in mind, here’s our beach bargain travel guide to these two popular Pacific Coast beaches.

Playa Hermosa Puntarenas Costa Rica

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

Budget hotels in Paya Jacó and Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

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.

We were looking for a more mellow vibe (and, perhaps, nicer prices) so we hightailed it out of Jacó and drove 5 miles (8 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.

Budget eats in Jacó, Costa Rica

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, 4 miles (6 km) north of Jacó, is the best-stocked supermarket on the Pacific Coast, though there are decent supermarkets in Jacó as well.

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.

What to see and do in 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 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.

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

Learn to surf lessons Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

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

Jacó travel tips

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

Chifrijo Costa Rica

As you get closer to Jacó, near the entrance of Carara the Costanera highway where it 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. It’s worth a quick stop.

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.

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.

Here’s more about travel in Costa Rica