Jaco

Its proximity to San José has made Jacó the most developed beach town in Costa Rica. Nature lovers and solitude seekers should skip this rather seedy place, which is known mostly for its nightlife, surf scene, and prostitution. More than 80 hotels and cabinas back its long, gray-sand beach, and the mix of restaurants, shops, and bars lining Avenida Pastor Díaz (the town's main drag) give it a cluttered appearance devoid of any greenery. Any real Costa Rican-ness evaporated years ago; U.S. chain hotels, casinos, restaurants, and a new shopping center have invaded the area, and you can pretty much find anything you need, from law offices and dental clinics to tattoo parlors and appliance stores. In recent years, several expats have opened a handful of cheerful cafés, restaurants, and hotels on side streets, offering a splash of color to the grungy town. Jacó does provide everything in terms of tours and outdoor activities, and makes a convenient hub for exploring neighboring beaches and attractions. Theft can be a problem here; watch your things like a hawk.

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