Puntarenas, Beaches, and Islands of the Gulf
Boasting azure blue waters, tropical islands, and scenic coastal landscapes, the Gulf of Nicoya is one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations. The region extends from Punta Conejo south to Puerto Caldera and includes Puntarenas, the area’s largest urban center.
Scattered along the gulf are a number of picturesque islands that if properly developed have the potential to become primary tourist attractions. Among these islands, gems are San Lucas Island, a formal penal colony; Chira, which boasts a small community, and Tortuga Island, a lush tropical oasis and the most visited of the group.
A wet and rainy climate allows for greater biodiversity in the beaches and hills next to the coast, providing visitors with the opportunity to observe the transition from tropical wet forest to the tropical forest to tropical dry forest. These various ecosystems are home to numerous plant and animal species that are protected in several wilderness areas. Also included within this zone is Cocos Island, which, though almost 600 kilometers from the port of Puntarenas, falls under this province’s jurisdiction.
Depending on your location, accommodation options include all-inclusive resorts, luxury hotels, B& B’s, budget hostels and more. The region’s relative proximity to the Central Valley makes it quite popular among both local and foreign visitors.
Puntarenas, Beaches, and Islands of the Gulf
A wide range of tourist activities is available including sport fishing, kayaking, boating excursions, nature hikes and more. Many of these activities allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world, as well as insight into the colorful local culture.
The region features rural roads and adventure or relaxation sites that are ideal for touring on regular or mountain bikes. Several of the area’s beaches and mountains also make for interesting rides.
Architectural and Historical Sites
Visitors to the city of Puntarenas can enjoy the town’s old-world charm while visiting several sites of architectural and historical interest. Of note are several National Monuments, the old Port Military Headquarters, the Mora and Cañas Parks and the Central Church. The San Lucas Island and the old San Lucas Penitentiary are only a short boat ride away.
It’s Party Time at the Puntarenas Carnival
Parades, seaside concerts, and many other recreational activities allow visitors to acquaint themselves with the culture and vibrant people of Puntarenas. The main carnival takes place in February during the dry season—perfect weather for enjoying the beach and all the carnival’s events.
Stroll Along the Paseo de Los Turistas
Running parallel to Puntarenas’ main beach, the “Tourist Strip” is highly frequented for its variety of quality tourist services and seaside activities. It stretches from the Pacific Marine Park (in the old train station) to La Punta (The Point). Next, to the cruise ship terminal, there are handicraft shops and stands where visitors can enjoy traditional fruit salads and traditional crushed-ice drinks called “Churchills.” Along the strip, tourists can make use of other facilities such as sports installations, green areas, showers, restrooms and all the necessities for beach enjoyment.
Isla del Coco National Park
Owing to is the unparalleled natural beauty and biological wealth, Cocos Island National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. At 24 square kilometers and located almost 600 kilometers south of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, the island features soaring cliffs reaching 183 meters high and an infinite number of underwater caves. Created in 1978, the park has two main bays, Wafer and Chatham, at its north end, which feature the only two sandy beaches on the island. The extraordinarily clear turquoise waters, a large number of rock formations and abundant marine life make this island one of the world’s most spectacular dive sites. Colorful residents include sharks (hammerhead and white-fin), dolphins, rayfish, mollusks, and many other marine species.
Thanks to abundant rainfall, the island also boasts beautiful, verdant forests, clear streams and spectacular waterfalls. Legendary tales of hidden pirate treasures and treasure seekers make Cocos Island an ecologically and historically priceless place to visit.
Several outfits offer diving expeditions to the island. Travel time is about thirty-six hours one-way. Visitor services include information, a park ranger station, trails, restrooms, drinking water, and several panoramic lookout points.
La Alcatraz (Tortuga) Biological Preserve
Popularly known as Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island), Isla Alcatraz is an emerald of green amid the blue waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. No hotels or tourism services are available, allowing visitors to enjoy its lovely views amid the peace and tranquility that only nature can afford.
Visitors may rest in the shade of the island’s palms, sunbathe on its sugar-white sands or enjoy activities such as touring its forest canopies or kayaking and diving in its crystalline waters. Several tour operators and water transportation companies visit the island, departing from Puntarenas, Montezuma, and Herradura.
San Lucas Wildlife Refuge
With an area of approximately 1,200 acres, San Lucas Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a fascinating look at a former Costa Rican penal colony. Crumbling buildings and tunnels provide a glimpse at what life was like for prisoners of the island before the colony was shut down in 1991. The island is lined with beaches and cliffs and includes several paths which offer views of the surrounding gulf. San Lucas is a great place to relax, to meditate, take walks and learn about the history of what was once the country’s best-known penitentiary. Scheduled trips are offered by a handful of companies.