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25 Jun 2024
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Holiday Vacations

You’ve just touched down in paradise. Or paradise adjacent, at the very least, when you land at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica. With feet on solid ground in Pura Vida, you can set about arranging a car to transport you somewhere a little bit more beachy.

The Central Pacific Coast city of Jaco checks all the boxes. Not only is the laid-back town brimming with scenic vacation rentals like Los Sueños Resort, but it’s also an easy drive from the capital of San José and centrally located for travelers looking to explore the jungles, national parks, and more.

Let us guide you through the perfect road trip from San José to Jaco, Costa Rica, and make your arrival in the country a breeze.

Everything You Need

Photo Credit: Laura Libran

Renting a car is the most convenient way to get around in Costa Rica. Due to limited public transport, consider renting a car for your road trip adventure or hiring a driver. This is the most popular mode of transport, even for first-time visitors.

Is Costa Rica a safe country to drive in?

Photo Credit: Lopolo

Yes. All major roadways in Costa Rica are paved and well-maintained. Basic traffic laws are followed, and drivers are expected to drive on the right side of the road.

You should plan to travel only during the daylight hours of 6 AM to 6 PM to avoid driving some of the winding mountain roads at night.

Do I Need a Special License to Drive in Costa Rica?

Most of the time, all that is required is a valid driver’s license from your home country. This varies company by company, so be sure to check with the specific rental company you plan to use. It’s also a good idea to always ensure you have valid car insurance.

Car Rentals

Photo Credit: Gengwit Wattakawigran

The San José Airport (SJO) is the easiest car rental location for visitors. You can pick up your reserved car from Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, or any of the other major trustworthy companies without venturing into downtown San José. HRG Vacations can take care of a car rental for you, and it has it ready for your arrival.

Private Transfers

You could also consider hiring a private transfer or shuttle to deliver you door-to-door. If you’re interested in this, contact the team at HRG Vacations, and we’d be happy to arrange something for you.

Road-tripping to Jaco From San José

Assuming you have rented a vehicle and are ready to hit the open road, leaving San José behind, let’s explore some travel tips and route options.

The Distance from San José from Jaco

Jaco Beach is only about 90 km or 56 miles from SJO and can be easily traversed in about 1 hour and 40 minutes. But you should take your time and consider traveling slowly on the most scenic route possible rather than just making a beeline through the country.

The Best Route to Jaco

One route is far superior to the rest. Route 27 cuts across the Alajuela province and then tips south on Route 34. This is one of the easiest routes to navigate, and once you reach the coastal portion of the route, it is the most beautiful.

Another option for those who would rather spend time chasing waterfalls in La Cangreja National Park is to use Route 239 to reach the coast. This is longer, windier, and, in my opinion, less scenic than following the entire Pacific Coast.

Best Stops to Make Along the Way

There’s more to do than just take in the views and lovely roadside scenes. Here are the stops you can’t miss when driving from San José.

1. Route 27

Photo Credit:

The first 30-40 minutes of your drive will be on Route 27 as you cut through the center of the country. This portion of the drive will cut through the metropolitan areas on a well-maintained toll road. While it may not have all the best scenery, it’s a great place to stock up with vacation essentials.

2. Carara National Park

Photo Credit: Marco Diaz Segura

Approx. drive time from San José: 1 hour

Want a chance to stretch your legs? This national park is covered in hiking trails and packed with iconic Costa Rican wildlife, such as the Scarlet Macaw and the capuchin monkey. Be sure to park in a secure area, and don’t leave any valuables in plain sight.

3. Tarcoles Bridge

Photo Credit: Gianfranco Vivi

Within Carara National Park

The famous crocodile bridge of Costa Rica. This is an excellent place to get up close and personal with the country’s most beloved reptile in a safe way. For the best views be sure to get out of the car and walk the bridge.

4. Playa Mantas

Photo Credit: Jon Marc Lyttle

Approx. drive time from Carara National Park: 25 min

This is one of the best beaches near Puntarenas and Jaco. Once you’ve reached this stop, you’re only a dozen miles or so from your destination. Feel free to lounge on the wide white sand beach and enjoy your very first Costa Rican beach day. This is the best beach if you’re looking for a more local vibe.

5. Herradura Beach

Photo Credit: Karel Stipek

Approx. drive time from Playa Manta: 30 min

Another beach option is Herradura. This is the most popular beach in the region (aside from Jaco Beach). Golden sand, clear water, and fringed with palms, Herradura Beach, makes for a perfect last stop before you reach Jaco itself.

6. Playa Jaco + Downtown Jaco

Approx. drive time from Playa Herradura: 20 min

You’ve made it to Jaco. Here, you can experience the nightlife in the “downtown area” after checking in or head to one of the best places in town to watch the sunset. If you’re staying at the Los Sueños Resort, then you’ll likely be spending some time getting to know the city better throughout your trip.

7. Royal Butterflies

Photo Credit: Peter Milota Jr

Approx. drive time from Jaco: 20 min

Just south of town, you’ll find this popular tourist attraction. An American expat runs this butterfly farm, and you can see 15 different kinds of butterflies fluttering in the gardens and trees. While this is admittedly a little out of your way if you’re driving the recommended route, it’s still worth a mention, as it is one of the most popular sights in the area.

Pro Tip: The sanctuary closes at 1 pm each day, so plan an early morning stop here!

Stay at the Luxurious Los Sueños Resort

You made it. You’ve traversed the country on your own, and you won’t find a better place to stay in the greater Jaco area. From our spectacular resort, Los Sueños Resort, you’ll be able to easily reach all the best sights in Jaco as well as the best national parks like Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna. Relax after your long drive day and get ready to spend the week sampling the best beaches in the area.

Book your stay today!