San Jose by the Sea - Page 2

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Surf Lesson
RIDE THE WAVES: Jacó is a great beach to learn to surf, as waves are steady and qualified instructors are plentiful  (Jason Sumner)

Jacó's wave riding is decent but not great, offering a small beach break with mellow left and right peaks. Nearly the entire two-mile beach is fair game, but it tends to close out quickly when waves reach head height or during low tide. Advanced surfers often base themselves in Jacó, but spend most of their surf time at nearby Playa Hermosa or Playa Escondida. Hermosa serves up a consistent beach break that rarely falls lower than head high. Escondida is a perfect, tubing reef break with powerful lefts and rights.

For the beginner surfer, Jacó is the ideal place to learn. A half-day rental plus a three-hour lesson can be arranged for less than $50, and there's no shortage of supremely qualified instructors in town. A regular stop on the national pro surf circuit, Jacó has spawned a host of top-tier international talent, including ten-year-old Kalani David, whom Surfer magazine recently called one of the best young surfers in the world.

If riding waves isn't your bag, or if you're simply looking for a low-tide diversion, rent a beach cruiser bike, go on a canopy or horseback riding tour, or explore one of two nearby national parks, Manuel Antonio or Carara.

Fifteen miles north of Jacó, Carara Biological Reserve ( provides an oasis for wildlife amid the surrounding agricultural land. The 11,614-acre biological reserve protects the Rio Tárcoles River Basin and contains five eco zones with a variety of animals, ranging from crocodiles to two-toed sloth. The dense primary rainforest houses hundreds of bird species, including the colorful scarlet macaw; crocs can almost always be spotted from the highway bridge that crosses the Tárcoles along the park's northern border. Two miles south of the Tárcoles Bridge is the Quebrada Bonita Ranger Station and park headquarters, a good place obtain information about hiking in Carara.

Thick tropical forest borders four spectacular beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park (, a 4,769-acre wonderland about 40 miles south of Jacó. Soak up the sun, explore tide pools, or head inland on one of the countless hiking trails. In the forest, wildlife sightings abound, including the ubiquitous white-faced monkeys. It's easy to spend a full day here, so arrive early and bring a lunch. Also be prepared to share the scenery—as one of Costa Rica's most popular national parks, Manuel Antonio welcomes upwards of 300,000 visitors a year.

If crowds aren't your thing, don't sweat it. Just head back to Jacó, grab a book, and find a quiet spot on the beach. As Charles Vance found out, this is an easy place to get away—at least for a little while.

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