Few places in Costa Rica generate such divergent opinions and paradoxical realities as Jacó. Partying surfers, North American retirees and international developers laud Jacó for its devil-may-care atmosphere, bustling streets and booming real-estate opportunities. Observant ecotourists, marginalized Ticos and loyalists of the 'old Costa Rica' absolutely despise the place for the exact same reasons.
Jacó was the first town on the central Pacific coast to blow up from tourist development, and despite ups and downs over the years, it remains a major draw for backpackers, surfers, snowbirds and city-weary josefinos (inhabitants of San José). But, for all its comfortable tourist infrastructure, all the guests trampled a wide path. Although working-class Tico neighborhoods are in near proximity, open-air trinket shops and tour operators line the tacky main drag which, at night, is given over to a safe but somewhat seedy mix of binge-drinking students, weed-slinging surfers and scantily clad working girls.
While Jacó's ramshackle charm is not for everyone, the surfing is excellent, the restaurants and bars are cosmopolitan and the nightlife can be a throbbing, exciting adventure. And although the US-style cityscape of strip malls and gated communities may be off-putting to some, it’s impossible to deny the things that put this place on the map in the first place: the sweeping beauty of the beach, the constantly excellent waves and the lush tropical surroundings.