In the northern section of the strangely-shaped Puntarenas province
lays the capital city, Puntarenas. Not only is the province the largest in the country, but fittingly to its namesake, the city of Puntarenas is the largest city in the province. This city is home to over 100,000 Ticos, and its proximity to the ocean makes it a popular destination for locals and tourists. Those that are landlocked in San Jose
enjoy heading to its closest coastal neighbor – Puntarenas – especially over the weekends and during the holidays. Tourists enjoy this city for its beaches, nearby surfing, architecture, and historical value.
A Rich, Watery History
Being on the coast positioned the city of Puntarenas to be an important part of Costa Rica’s history. The location made it ideal to become a cargo port, and in fact it was once one of the most important seaports in the country. Today, Puntarenas is most important in offering a commercial fishing port for the country, but it also serves as a terminal for ferries and a docking station for cruise ships that are traversing the Pacific Ocean with many on their way through the Panama Canal.
The fishing port helps the country offer some of the most amazing fresh seafood, including lobster and shrimp. With the Puntarenas ferry terminal, people are able to easily travel the blue seas to get to the Nicoya Peninsula, where they can enjoy white sand beaches, surfing and protected areas of forests and beaches.
There are many other beaches and national parks that tourists and locals can travel to from Puntarenas in a relatively short amount of time. Some of the most popular surrounding areas that are traveled to include Playa Naranjo
, Mal País
, Santa Teresa
, Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
, Carara National Park
and the famous surf spot of Boca Barranca
An Ideal Setting
One thing that is apparent right away in Puntarenas is that this isn’t a place that you want to overlook as just a port or a stop to a better place. While many people are just traveling through Puntarenas, there is plenty to explore and appreciate in the city during a stay there. Check out the cafes that are lined up along the beach along Paseo de los Turistas walkway. You’ll find insanely fresh seafood in these places, sure to satisfy your cravings. You can also find something for your sweet tooth, with ice cream and batidos (real fruit smoothies) on many of the menus.
Once you have a full belly, you can walk it off by shopping the street vendors that you’ll find along the sidewalks. These sidewalk shops are a great place for a tourist to find authentic Costa Rica souvenirs to take home to friends and family.
Whether you are staying in the city of Puntarenas is part of your vacation, or just passing through on your way to another place, there are plenty of local activities that will keep you active on your vacation. Like most coastal cities in Costa Rica, you can treat yourself to water sports like fishing, kayaking, and nearby surfing. There are great spots to take a hike or a just a stroll, where you can visit bridges and see waterfalls. There is also the tree-lined promenade adjacent to the beach called Paseo de los Turistas. There is plenty of nightlife, accommodations, and dining in this area.
There are also some great plays and concerts that you can see in Puntarenas. There is a cultural center that caters to the tourist season by amping up its schedule. You can also get a taste of the local culture by attending the many festivals and carnivals that the city hosts, including Festejos Populares in November, and the Fiesta del Virgin del Mar in July. February and March is also a great time to visit, as the city really comes to life for the Puntarenas Carnival
If you are staying in Puntarenas for a few days, you may want to explore other close by areas. Jaco is just south of the city, and this beach town is one of the most popular destination for tourists in Costa Rica. There is great surfing that brings in many tourists, and allows the local dining and shopping options to flourish, which means there is lots of variety in the choices that visitors have.
If you need a break from the water, there is plenty to see inland in the city of Puntarenas. All around the area there is interesting architecture, from restaurants to churches. You can explore the city and look for the most unusual buildings you can find, and then you can discuss them with your travel mates at one of the many restaurants in the city.