Well, we made our first weekend excursion out of town. We settled on the closest beach we could get to in hopes of minimizing travel time thus maximizing beach time.
Luckily for us there is a popular beach town about a 90 minute bus ride away. We read the Lonely Planet description and various reviews from the net and found mixed opinions about Jaco. Some of the comments we agreed with, some not as much.
After a nice early Saturday morning bus ride, we arrived at the beach. First impressions of Jaco aren’t impressive. Had we visited here before Manuel Antonio we may have felt a bit differently, but we didn’t.
The bus dropped us off at the local Best Western – not my ideal Costa Rican vacation destination. We took off down the “strip” that is Jaco, and it is filled with surf shops, bars, restaurants, and a few night clubs. It wasn’t a “bad-looking” town really, but it is touristy and quite developed. But, we didn’t come for the shopping.
We ended up staying at a decent hotel/hostel out on the edge of town. The place wasn’t a five-star resort, but I have no complaints about it. The guys working were laid back, the room was clean (and air-conditioned), and we met some really cool people while we were there. Our private room was $40 and a bunk in the dorm room was $12. The room was nothing special, but it was a five-minute walk to the beach, and like I said, we got to meet some interesting people there from different parts of the world – we’d have no problem staying there again.
Playa Jaco (the beach) was a bit disappointing to say the least. If there is an ugly beach in Costa Rica, this was it. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say nearly every square inch of the beach was covered in rocks and/or driftwood.
From what I’m told, storms out in the Pacific scoop the rubble off the bottom of the sea and toss it onto the beach, and it hasn’t always been like this. We rode our free rental bikes from our hotel out to the beach, found it almost completely deserted except for surfers out on the water and decided to make our way elsewhere.
The guys at the hotel told us about a surf competition going on up the road a few miles at Playa Hermosa (one of 2 in Costa Rica). Hermosa means ‘beautiful’ in Spanish, and this beach lived up to its name. It is completely black sand, which doesn’t sound great, but is really nice. The soft black sand was infinitely better than the rocks of Jaco. From what I understand, Hermosa is usually a very quiet surf spot where serious surfers tackle the impressive waves that aren’t far off the beach. Saturday, however, there were at least a thousand people partying as a national surf competition was going on. We didn’t see much of the competition, but we did get a good game of 4 on 4 football with a fellow gringo and some Ticos. What started as a game of catch with me showing them how to hold a football turned into a lively game of two-hand touch. We hung out at the beach a while after the game before heading back to the hostel in Jaco. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our camera to Hermosa. Next time.
Jaco and Hermosa are world-renowned surf spots and even hosted the world championships a few years back. Knowing this, I figured it was the best time to give it a shot.
The hostel’s resident surfer gave me and another two travelers a lesson at the hotel then took us out into the waves for some practice. I have to say it went surprisingly well. I’m not a wake border or water skier, but I thought I did okay surfing and rode a few waves in. Torie had a good laugh watching me, but I think I did well enough that the next time we’re somewhere with some good waves she’s going to give it a shot.
You know I can’t post without talking about food. We ate pretty well over the weekend including some good calamari in Hermosa. The best meal of our trip so far in Costa Rica, however, came just before we left.
While we were waiting for our bus back to San Jose, we went back down the strip and found a little bar and grill with some specials. The specials were casado (which is the special everywhere everyday), chicken, and grilled tuna – all for $5. For 5 bucks each, we had fresh grilled tuna, mashed potatoes (that even I liked), steamed vegetables in cabbage, and tamarindo (a juice made from the tamarind fruit).
Despite Jaco not being overly impressive, the weekend was a success and we enjoyed the trip. At the end of this week, I’m chaperoning a two-day middle school team-building trip to a volcano which I couldn’t be more excited about. In two weeks we plan on making our way to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast during our first three-day weekend. We’ll be sure to let you know how our upcoming adventures go!