The Ultimate Guide to Jaco Surf

by Chris Smith

Jaco surf has come into the spotlight as Costa Rica becomes more popular. It’s very versatile, close to San Jose, and has waves for lots of levels.

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Jaco at a glance

The good

  • Line ups aren’t busy
  • Easy to reach from San Jose
  • Waves for all levels

The bad

  • Not the prettiest surf town in Costa Rica by a long stretch!
  • Exposed breaks

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica

What’s in this guide to Jaco surf?

An introduction to the Jaco surf

Trusty Magic Seaweed introduces this one as the “de facto capital of Costa Rican surfing”. We gotta’ say, that’s not right on the mark for us. It is. And it isn’t. The Jaco surf is certainly some of the most reliable and versatile in the country, but it’s not got the the quality and fun of Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, or any of the upcoming surf towns on the Nicoya Peninsular. Most of the plaudits are down to the huge SW-facing bay that fronts the town. It gets endless swells throughout the season and offers myriad peaks for all levels. However, there’s a tendency to get messy when its big and you can be left wanting for the peeling sandbanks that Costa Rica is known for.

There’s some serious quality in the waves that hit the southern headland and wrap around. They get extra protection from cross-Pacific westerlies and hold shape way better. Jaco surf also includes Playa Hermosa. Just to the south, that’s a advanced rider’s dream. It’s an officially designated World Surf Reserve and has beautifully hollow right wedges that fire up whenever there’s a SW swell on the way.

Jaco itself is a bit of a ramshackle town without the tropical charms of somewhere like Tamarindo. Still, there’s epic surf infrastructure – loads of schools and surf hostels and board rentals. We’d compare it somewhere like Weligama in Sri Lanka. Yes, the waves are great if you’re a total beginner, but better surfers will need to travel (only a little) to find real quality, and there’s some authentic Pura Vida character lacking.

Jaco surf

Where is Jaco?

Jaco is one of the first resorts that feels the full exposure to the Pacific Ocean on the Costa Rican coastline that extends southwards out of the swell shadow of the Nicoya Peninsula. it’s on the main 34 coast highway, sat west and south of San Jose. You can usually get in from the capital in about 1.5 hours. Scheduled minibus transfers to Jaco from the airport (SJO) usually take a little longer – around two hours or so.

A guide to the Jaco surf spots

Jaco surf spots

Jaco is the hub of about five or six very good surf spots. The keyword of this part of the Puntarenas coast is consistency over quality, but that’s not to say there aren’t some well-honed waves to hit. There are, especially in Hermosa, Central America’s newest World Surfing Reserve…

Playa Escondida

Go north through the palm-fringed bays that lie outside of Jaco and you’ll eventually come to Playa Escondida. It takes about 20 minutes in the car. The reward – when it’s working, which is rare – is a expert’s reef break that wedges up and drops both right and left across the rocky seafloor. It starts as one peak but quickly rips into two waves, one going one way and the other peeling the other. Both are pretty similar but opposite, with a fast drop and then potential to hollow out. Playa Escondida needs big SW or W swells to start going so expect to share the wave. Don’t surf it at low tide because the reef gets way too shallow.

Playa Herradura

Between Escondida and Jaco itself, Playa Herradura is a sheltered bay with views across the Golfo de Nicoya. It’s not really known for surfing. Much of the SW and W swells are cut out by offshore islands. What’s more, the beach is popular among families and there are lots of swimmers in the water. Our advice? Skip it alltogether.

Playa Jaco

Playa Jaco is the surf you’re after if you’ve come to Costa Rica as a beginner. But it’s not JUST for beginners. This wide, well-exposed bay is a swell magnet, but manages to temper oncoming SWerlies with its big headlands to the south and north and array of sandbanks. The result is a 2.5-mile run of of brown-tinged sand that’s riddled with breaks of all shapes and sizes.

Generally speaking, the waves are bigger and punchier up the north end of Playa Jaco. That’s not good news, though, because there’s so little protection there that bigger days can be as messy as a Costa Rican volcano eruption. Secondary swells run the whole length of the bay to offer loads for learners and schools. Meanwhile, the south end of the bay gets the better, glassier waves, which hold shape better, especially when the wind is up.

Roca Loca

The rock reefs at the far south end of Jaco bay crash into the headland of Roca Loca ro form this pretty gnarly right. Usually needs at least overhead in the swell to start working. When it does, it’s a steep wall of water that runs right and very shallow. Fast and fun but not for anyone below advanced level.

El Gato

A similar rock-reef to Roca Loca powers up El Gato on the headland at the south end of Jaco bay. However, here the S-SW swells are channeled into a neat left-hander that’s fast and rippable for a few seconds before peeling out. Best on higher days of 8-10 foot and only for the experts. Big local following. Rocks underfoot.

Playa Hermosa

Surfers in Jaco after the creme-de-la-creme of North Puntarenas simply have to visit Playa Hermosa. This is an official World Surfing Reserve and a spot with the best reliability, arguably in the whole country. Waves are strong, punchy and prone to close out, but there are days of perfect head-high wedges with lefts, rights, and all sorts. Watch out for the crocodiles!

We have a complete guide to surfing in Playa Hermosa if this one’s taken your fancy!

Where to stay when surfing in Jaco

There are plenty of places to stay in Jaco. This is one of Costa Rica’s original surf towns, after all.

Selina Jaco

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Selina Jaco is a gorgeous hotel. We can’t recommend it enough – just check out that pool, shaded by palm trees and gazing right over the sand to the waves of Jaco’s main beach. Rooms are colorful and artsy, with a touch of luxury, there are affordable dorms, along with uber-cool “cylinder rooms” that resemble glamping pods. We think you’ll love it!

Sunny’s ($-$$)

Sunny’s isn’t in Jaco’s heart but we like it because you get good access to the intermediate and expert breaks of Playa Hermosa (arguably the best spot in the whole region). Rooms are built like a Southeast Asian beach cabana, each with their own balcony.

Hotel Perico Azul & Surf Camp ($-$$)

One of the best choices in town for beginner surfers, Hotel Perico Azul & Surf Camp is just back from the quality waves on the south end of the beach. Rooms are quite simple, but there’s a central courtyard with a swimming pool, and the hotel offers an on-site surf school.

When to surf in Jaco

Playa Jaco

Tropical Jaco has wet and dry seasons, just like the rest of Costa Rica. The wet season is best for surfers because it connects with the southerly swell channels that power up most of the breaks. That said, you shouldn’t be without waves in the dry season, such is the consistency of this corner of the Puntarenas coastline.

Rainy season (May-November)

The SW swells are key to the Jaco surf. They come head-on into the bays here, firing up the breaks from Hermosa to Playa Jaco itself. The rainy season is the the best time to catch them, with consistent southerly swell directions from about May onwards. The issue is that Jaco is almost too well placed to hoover up the SWerlies in the rainy season, so expect a few complete close out days (or snapped boards if you do paddle out). Yes, there’s some extra rainfall but it’s never that bad. What’s more, there are far less people around and the beaches are mainly given over to surfers at this time of year.

Dry season (December-April)

Mellower waves and sunnier days reign supreme when the dry season swings around on the Jaco coast. That makes this a perfect time of year for beginners looking to get stuck into lessons with one of the local Jaco surf schools. Waves tend to cut down a few feet and the whitewash in Jaco Bay is prime for learning. Occasional westerlies do hit Hermosa for more seasoned riders.

Be sure to check out our gear guides:

Surf shops in Jaco

As one of Costa Rica’s original surf towns, Jaco is no stranger to surf shops. You can now rest assured that all the basics – wax, leashes, boardies – are on offer here. We’d still probably pack our own board, though.

The Surfing Co.

An all-in-one surfer’s gathering point, The Surfing Co. is a co-work spot and a cafe. They also stock some lovely shaped sticks and designer surf gear. We’d recommend dropping in just to meet the folks, even if you’re not after anything in particualr.

El Pana Surf Shop

El Pana Surf Shop is on the main road running through Jaco. They’re really all about bodyboards, so tray sliders NEED to drop in if they’re after anything at all.

Where to eat and drink in Jaco

KoKo Gastro Bar

KoKo Gastro Bar sits right on the bown-tinted sand of Playa Jaco. It’s a casual Costa Rican kitchen that serves up tapas plates, pulled-pork burgers, sliders, and more. It’s chilled, filling food for a post-surf session eat.

El Point Jaco Beach

El Point Jaco Beach is a top lunch or dinner spot if you’ve been surfing the reefs or sandbank waves at the south end of the playa. It has al fresco seats on the sand with a menu that runs the gamut from fried octopus to pub burgers. Good cocktails, too.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica

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