Located a 2-hour drive from San José along Coastal Highway 34 is one of the most easily accessible as well as one of the most visited destinations in the country. This sprawl of mountainous coastline comprising national parks and nature reserves, both wet and dry tropical forests, steep cliffs and picturesque beaches, as well as ranches, coffee plantations, forested mountains and small villages found inland, stretches from Puntarenas’s port to the small town of Uvita. Home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna, including endangered squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws, and whales and dolphins in the waters offshore, it’s the region’s incredible nature that first gave it a name. And it offers a fantastic list of activities to match, including surfing, sport fishing, and scuba diving.
The beaches of Jacó, Manuel Antonio, and Dominical, with its nearby waterfalls deep within the jungle, bustle with tourists, while you will find the remainder of the long coastline nearly deserted. Also included in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific are Playa Herradura, Playa Hermoso, Esterillos, and Bejuco – which all make for much quieter escapes. Among them all, Jacó and Playa Herradura are the region’s closest major beach destinations to San José, a popular choice for younger surfers as well as Costa Ricans looking to escape the city hustle.
North of Playa Herradura, Carara National Park is home to scarlet macaws, crocodiles in its Tárcoles River as well as many varied hiking trails, which present options for viewing more wildlife. Inland, Chirripó National park houses Costa Rica’s tallest peak, Mount Chirripó, whose summit sometimes affords views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
While first-timers most likely will want to hit the country’s popular beach town, Manuel Antonio, and its national park of the same name, Costa Rica’s “Central Pacific” is very well synonymous with “Jacó” for the majority of Costa Ricans. Jacó was the region’s first town to blow up from tourism development, today still drawing backpackers, surfers and snowbirds alike. And while its somewhat ramshackle charm may not attract everyone, a beautiful beach with always-perfect waves, which makes for some pretty great surfing, and an offering of cosmopolitan bars and restaurants, and an exciting nightlife, make it worth a stop.