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Introducing JacóJacó (pronounced ha-ko, not ja-ko and never ya-ko) has a special place in the hearts of Ticos as it is the quickest ocean-side escape for landlocked denizens of the Central Valley. Many joséfinos recall fondly the days when weekend shuttle buses would pick up beach-seekers in the city center and whisk them away to the undeveloped Pacific paradise of Jacó. With warm water, year-round consistent surf, world-class fishing and a relaxed, beachside setting, it was hard to believe that a place this magical was only a short bus ride away from San José. The secret got out in the early 1990s when Canadians on package tours started flooding Jacó, though for the most part tourism remained pretty low key. Things picked up a bit in the late 1990s when surfers and anglers from North America and Europe started visiting Costa Rica en masse, though Jacó remained the dominion of Central Valley Ticos looking for a little fun and sun. And then, something happened that was completely beyond anyone’s control – Baby Boomers started getting old.
In only a few years time, Jacó became the most rapidly developing town (some would argue city) in all of Costa Rica due to the constant stream of Western retirees looking for their own little slice of beachside paradise.
Plots of land were sub-divided, beachfronts were cleared, hillsides were leveled and almost overnight Jacó became the exclusive enclave of moneyed ex-pats. Ticos were happy that development brought coveted Western institutions like paved roads and fast-food restaurants, but suddenly the majority of residents in Jacó were pronouncing the beach’s name without the soft ‘j’.
And then, the problems started. Costa Rica’s carefree attitude towards drugs meant that Dick and Jane could buy a little reefer on the street and relive their misspent youth. Jack’s wife left him three years ago, but since prostitution is decriminalized in Costa Rica, his pension checks made him the most popular guy at the bar. It all started out as fun and games, but when the drugs got harder and the women younger, people started to worry.
Not surprisingly, most people in Costa Rica will tell you that you shouldn’t go to Jacó, though this is certainly unwarranted as the majority of people who stay there enjoy themselves thoroughly. The beach is also the party destination on the central Pacific coast and attracts a slew of sportfishing enthusiasts, surfers, spring-breakers, cruise-shippers (who disembark in Puntarenas) and package-holiday makers who all come to paint the town red at night and pass out on the beach during the day. The surf is also a killer, and on most days of the year you’re guaranteed consistent swells that are dreamy if you’re a beginner or intermediate surfer. But, if you’re looking for an authentic Costa Rican beach scene, it’s probably better to head to the beaches further south or west to Nicoya.
Jacó is expensive and during the high season it’s jam-packed with tourists, so reservations are recommended, especially around the winter holidays.