Puntarenas Area Information
Puntarenas, or Puerto Puntarenas, is located in the province of Puntarenas; this long thin province stretches along the Pacific coast, from the southern tip of The Nicoya Peninsula all the way down to Panama. It is about 1 and half hours away from San Jose, some 120kms, and even though it is now somewhat abandoned looking, it used to play a major role in the history of the country, as it was its major seaport for years.
Puntarenas means “sandy point” in Spanish. The town consists of a long and narrow sand spit that is like the continuation of The Nicoya Peninsula, which stretches out into the Gulf of Nicoya. The Gulf is only a couple hundred meters wide at its narrowest. On the north is an estuary with mangrove swaps and an impressive amount of wildlife. The town itself is hot, and its presence next to the polluted ocean can play as quite a tease if you aren’t in proximity to the cool ocean breezes.
Cruisers arrive frequently, and there is a special port for them, complete with shops and a small market. Tourists usually go on tours rather than stay in the town of Puntarenas. Despite this, Puntarenas always seems busy as it is the crossing point for those going to Guanacaste. This is where the ferry leaves if you’re heading to beaches and small islands like Playa Naranjo, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Montezuma, San Lucas, Cedros, and Jesuita. Other destinations such as Cabo Blanco, Corcovado, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio are all reasonably close to the centrally located city.
Puntarenas livens up during the weekend; it is a Costa Rican tradition to stroll along the promenade adjacent to the beach, known as the Paseo de Los Turistas, on Sundays, where many restaurants serve delicious seafood. Puntarenas, however, is not a beach town. The water there is highly contaminated and dirty, and the beach itself has really nothing much to offer. The city, however, is surprisingly interesting; there are some old buildings worth a look, as well as a very nice colonial church. The city somehow always seems to have some kind of lively and friendly atmosphere.
During the high season, the Casa de la Cultura always has some concerts and shows on, the highlight of the place, however, takes place during February and March, with the annual carnival. Thousands travel to Puntarenas during this period just for the carnival, which may not be on the scale of Rio, but it is good! See also the Festejos Populares (popular fair) in November, and the Fiesta del Virgin del Mar (fair of the sea virgin) in July.
Puntarenas shows its years of struggle, however, it seems that there are signs of recovery at the moment, due mostly to the cruisers and the ferries taking people across the bay. Apart from its numerous restaurants specializing in seafood, Puntarenas has various good hotels to choose from as well as a couple of resorts. It is a fun place, not a beach place, and it is well worth a visit!