San Jose by the Sea

Jaco Beach charms visitors with its mix of quiet beaches, surfing, and nightlife, with nature and wildlife activities within a short drive.
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Jaco Beach
COASTAL SANCTUARY: Jacó, city of silence, serenity, and (quasi) anonymity  (courtesy, Go Visit Costa Rica.)

Charles Vance had been on the lam for more than seven years when authorities finally caught up with him in Jacó Beach, Costa Rica, on December 17, 2007. The police arrested the 41-year-old on three outstanding warrants, including possession of a controlled substance and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Vance's indiscretions had occurred years earlier in the United States, and since then he'd been bouncing around Central America on a forged Mexican passport. In mid-2007, he showed up in the small beachside city of Jacó and found a job selling real estate in one of Costa Rica's most popular Pacific-side tourist destinations.

Only the now-incarcerated Vance knows why he chose Jacó, but anyone who's traveled there recently could make an educated guess. Development, most of it mid- to high-end condos and hotels, is happening at such a dizzying pace that Jacó has jokingly been dubbed "San Jose by the Sea," a reference to Costa Rica's sprawling capital city. Surely Vance was trying to tap into these newfound real estate riches.

The U.S. fugitive might also have been drawn by Jacó's aura of forgiveness. The small city opens its arms to all kinds of people without asking a lot of questions. Take a late evening stroll down the main street, Pastor Diaz Avenue, and you're just as likely to encounter trinket-buying tourists from the States or Canada as drug-pedaling teenagers from the country's Caribbean coast, or transplanted prostitutes from San Jose. In general, though, unless these disparate groups seek each other out, their paths don't tend to cross.

"There is definitely a seedy side to this place, but it's not a dangerous place," says Maria, a tanned 40-something Canadian who came here 14 years ago in search of warmer weather and decided to stay, opening Surf City Jacó, a gift shop that sells everything from kitschy paintings of sunsets and palm trees to long boards and surf lessons. "I sit here with my doors wide open until 2:00 a.m. without worries. People here don't bother you unless you want to be bothered."

It's an easy two-hour drive to Jacó from greater San Jose, and the close proximity attracts an eclectic mix of foreigners and Ticos, as the natives are known. Once vacationers arrive, surf, sun, and partying usually rank high on their agendas.

Published: 28 Jan 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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