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Puntarenas Cruises

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

About Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Situated on the scenic Gulf of Nicoya, a shimmering expanse of water dotted with pristine islands and surrounded by Costa Rica’s tropical splendor, the former fishing village of Puntarenas is a gateway to magnificent beaches and rich wildlife. In 1519, Hernán Ponce de León was the first European to arrive here. Three centuries passed before the town was developed as an export center for the coffee beans that were being harvested in the highlands. Soon, the port prospered on the shoulders of coffee barons as oxcarts delivered satchels of beans to the docks from the mountains. With the opening of a railroad in 1879, the oxcarts disappeared, but coffee remains Costa Rica’s major export.

Today, Puntarenas retains its fishing heritage, as colorful boats in the harbor attest. Lush rainforests nearby offer endless walking trails under a dense canopy rich in vegetation and echoing with the screeches of howler monkeys.

Puntarenas Lifestyle and Culture

The local ticos, as Costa Ricans are known, embrace a spirit of pura vida. This relaxed attitude toward daily living literally translates into “pure life,” a sentiment used in both greetings and farewells. Pura vida has come to convey a carefree approach to all things and is typically used to express thanks or appreciation.

Indeed, ticos have much to be thankful for. Celebrated as one of the world’s most picturesque countries, Costa Rica is home to an astonishing diversity of landscapes and climate zones. About five percent of the world’s species of flora and fauna thrive in this tiny country, and locals vigorously protect them by preserving much of their land against development. Few countries are so intimately connected to the natural world, and you’ll witness that deep respect and love for the outdoors wherever you go.

So dedicated are Costa Ricans to peace, tranquility and a positive lifestyle that the country has no standing army. About 96% of the population is literate. Spanish is the primary language throughout the nation, yet locals passionately embrace the traditions of its Mayan and Afro-Caribbean heritage.

Puntarenas Sights and Landmarks

Once an affluent port town and favored vacation spot for ticos, Puntarenas retains some of its old character. One of its most stunning qualities is its setting: The town sits upon the narrow spit of sand on the Gulf of Nicoya for which it was named (“punta de arenas” means “point of sand”). Its wide, immaculate beach offers views of the Nicoya Peninsula and magnificent sunsets. The city also hosts the uniquely designed Municipal Palace and the Casa Fait, a playful and fascinating blend of Victorian and Art Nouveau styles.

Puntarenas province is a popular coastal destination for locals and visitors alike. From the mystical Isla de Coco (Cocos Island) to the nation’s southern reaches, the region’s natural treasures are endless. Pacific moisture feeds the area’s lush rainforests, home to towering palms, giant ferns and all manner of jungle creatures. Invigorating walks under these dense canopies are a short drive away from the coast.

Puntarenas Entertainment and Activities

The oceanfront promenade, known as the Paseo de los Turistas, offers the ideal way to take in the essence of Puntarenas and its relaxed people. Beachside sodas, the simple and inexpensive eateries found throughout Costa Rica, provide the perfect perch to watch locals go about their daily lives. And the town’s busy market gives a glimpse of Costa Rica’s fishing culture and its rich arts and crafts scene. For more art, head to the Casa de la Cultura, the city’s indoor/outdoor gallery. Or visit the sea creatures at the Parque Marino del Pacífico (Pacific Marine Park).

Puntarenas is also the gateway to countless outdoor activities. Ride a horse through the sweeping countryside. Walk above the treetops on a canopy walkway. Embark a river safari for up-close views of birdlife, caimans, monkeys and other jungle wildlife.

Puntarenas Restaurants and Shopping

The national dish of Costa Rica is gallo pinto, a mixture of fried rice and black beans. You’ll find it served everywhere, but for an authentic experience with locals, drop by a soda, a small restaurant specializing in traditional food. You may also see casado on the menu, a dish of rice, beans and meat.

Any soda on the beach or along the promenade will give you a true flavor of local cuisine. For a more upscale experience, head to El Shrimp Shack, whose name betrays its elegant interior of wood, marble and antique fixtures overseen by a stunning stained-glass ceiling. Shrimp, ceviche and other seafood are the standouts here. For lunch, follow the locals to La Casona, set on a shaded deck and serving hearty portions of grilled fish.

The beachfront promenade, the Paseo de los Turistas, is lined with craft shops and souvenir stalls. You’re sure to find local keepsakes, some of the area’s renowned coffee beans, and miniature painted oxcarts that recall the early days of coffee transport. For a more local experience, head to the Central Market, where clothing and other everyday items can be found.