Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 1: Destination Jaco

Destination: Jaco

Jaco surf lessonsIt was another glorious sunny day, typical of summer in Costa Rica, when we departed for Jaco beach. Just 73 miles southwest of San Jose, it is easy to see why this Central Pacific beach town is popular with Ticos and travelers alike: accessibility. In addition to great surfing, Jaco is notorious for its lively party scene and adventure sports, including everything from parasailing and sport fishing to horseback rides along secluded mountain trails.

I was traveling with my co-worker, Rayna, who would be photographing our tours and joining me on culinary adventures as we re-acquainted ourselves with Jaco. In the last decade, the town has experienced a huge surge in development, and it continues to attract a young and boisterous crowd with its rousing nightlife. On the weekends, Jaco is overflowing with people, as Ticos pour in from the city and camp along the beach.

Orotina fruit standMy hometown of Atenas is on the western edge of the Central Valley, less than an hour and a half drive from Jaco. We caravanned along scenic mountain roads, passing the village of San Mateo, and stopped briefly at one of the fruit stands in Orotina where ripe mangos, melons and pineapple could be had for less than $1.

I followed the well-marked Costanera Highway and turned off at Herradura Bay, just a few kilometers north of Jaco. We wanted to check out the world-class marina at Los Suenos, a premier resort community that boasts a private beach club, 18-hole golf course, luxury hotel, and a marina filled with some very swanky boats.

Los Suenos MarinaThe gleaming charter boats, all certified by the Costa Rican Ministry of Tourism, ply the seas for big game fish, including mahi mahi, billfish, marlin and tuna. Anglers from across the globe come to try their luck while on vacation, and many go home with tall tales of 200-lb sailfish and monster yellow-fin tuna. Every year, Los Suenos hosts a billfish tournament with a purse of up to $250,000 -- quite possibly enough incentive for me to risk my shaky sea legs on the unpredictable Pacific seas.

We pushed onwards to Jaco, which by day looked like any developed beach town in Costa Rica. Restaurants, shops and hotels line the main street that parallels the ocean, and tourists mingled about in bathing suits and flip flops, soaking up the waning sun. Our home for the next three evenings was Doce Lunas Hotel and Spa, a relatively new hotel just minutes from downtown Jaco.

Doce Lunas hotel roomSet on five acres of nicely-landscaped grounds with a private yoga salon and spa, Doce Lunas is a peaceful alternative to the din of Jaco, but close enough to enjoy its amenities without the hassle of a long drive.

Our large suites were well-appointed with coffee makers, a fridge, A/C, and cable TV, and had filtered water that you could drink straight from the tap, a rarity in Jaco. We were greeted by a family of well-loved cats that lounged about the hotel property, seemingly aware of their good fortune.

Doce Lunas poolBut what I liked most was the hotel's inviting freeform pool and mini-waterfall. I quickly unpacked and uncorked a bottle of wine; it was time for Rayna and me to celebrate our arrival in Jaco. After a glass or two each, our bellies were rumbling so we set out for dinner at Caliche's Wishbone, a popular Jaco restaurant. We savored their shrimp phad thai and rice bowl with seared tuna, and I made sure to save some fish for my new feline friends.

While strolling the streets later, I had one of those embarrassing flip flop blowouts, where feet and body appear no longer connected. Luckily, other than Rayna, no one seemed to notice my flailing arms and awkward movements, just a girl without a shoe. After buying a replacement pair, we returned to our cool and inviting rooms at Doce Lunas.

Day 1: Destination Jaco in Pictures