The first beach I visited in Costa Rica was Jaco. It is one of the most frequented beaches due to its close proximity to San Josè. It’s about a 1.5-2 hour drive away. It’s really easy to get to too, by traveling on toll roads Route 27 to Route 34. You can also get there via shuttle, taxi or bus. The town is small but bustling, with plenty of shops, bars and an abundance of outdoor things to do. The waters are good for surfing, not so much for a timid, open water swimmer like myself. The waters aren’t the prettiest either, rather dark and rocky. In some areas, the sand is white and clean while others are unkept and grimy.
My first stay in Jaco was with a couple of coworkers. We stayed at Hotel Terraza del Pacifico. On booking.com it’s advertised as a 4 star hotel, more like 3 in my opinion. It is beach front but it is also old. The pool is nice but the rooms are run down. And when I stayed there, half the outside terrace roof was broken and definitely not in safe condition. However, you can spot some interesting wildlife around the resort. I saw large iguanas and for the first time in my life, black squirrels.
In my opinion, Jaco is good for a quick getaway out of the city or adventure seeking activities, otherwise drive about 1 hour further to Manuel Antonio for better beaches and a more posh experience.
Manuel Antonio was the second beach I visited in Costa Rica. This time, a friend and her boyfriend took the ride with me but we stayed in separate places. I stayed at a resort called Shana by the Beach. This resort was more my speed, and closer to a 4 star than Hotel Terraza in Jaco. My room was huge and included 2 King beds, a 5 piece bathroom and a balcony with a jungle view. The resort has 2 large pools, one of which is an infinity pool and adult only. You can see monkeys, sloths and other amazing animals on this resort during your stay.
The resort is set up on a steep hill with amazing views and has a path to a part of Biesanz Beach which is a 5 minute walk away. The beach is small and average but somewhat calm. There were some locals there, when I visited, enjoying a leisurely day, some renting chairs and others selling snacks. In the distance you can see private boats sailing as well.
While in Manuel Antonio, you must visit the amazing National Park by the same name. You don’t need a guide to visit but you can arrange one to point out the hidden treasures or sneak into someone else’s private tour group. There is much to see there. The park is absolutely stunning and even has a beach inside that you have access to with admission.
Whether you decide to stay in Jaco or Manuel Antonio, you will enjoy a natural scenic ride. Don’t forget to stop on Gator bridge and check out the crocs swimming below.