Anyone who’s ever had sea legs will appreciate, and every now and then feel a bit nostalgic for the somewhat shabby-looking port city of Puntarenas. Apart from the yearly carnival held in February, most travelers would not even think of coming to this town, except to take the ferry to Nicoya, get on a boat, or make a rest stop on their way to Guanacaste.
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However, due to its closeness to San Jose, particularly after Autopista del Sol (the Caldera Highway) was constructed, Puntarenas has always been a day trip destination and a favorite vacation spot among Ticos.
Puntarenas, which means “Sandy Point,” is located on a narrow strip of land that juts out into the water, with an estuary to one side where you’ll find the Costa Rica Yacht Club and Marina.
There are several sights worth looking at if you decide to spend some time here. Take a stroll down Paseo de los Turistas, a boulevard that stretches along the coast, lined with street vendors, restaurants, bars and shops. Paseo de los Turistas is the birthplace of the famous “Churchill,” an iconic Puntarenas dessert made of shaved ice infused with syrup, condensed milk and powdered milk. This delightful sugar bomb is well worth the tummy ache.
You may also want to try ceviche, a dish made from raw fish marinated in lemon juice, accompanied by a cold Imperial beer at one of the local bars.
Puntarenas is also home to several museums, including Parque Marino del Pacífico, a marine park located at the former railway station with three hectares of aquariums. Casa de la Cultura is a small, lovely art gallery that also hosts literary and musical events. Afterwards you can head to the nearby Catedral de Puntarenas, a historical landmark built in 1902.
If you wish to spend the night in town there are a couple of hotels to choose from. Tioga is a Tico favorite, where you can sit and enjoy a fruit salad at its ocean-view restaurant. The Hilton Puntarenas Resort is an all-inclusive hotel that offers reasonable rates.
Reasons to go visit
- It offers the closest all inclusive resort to San Jose
- Fresh seafood at local restaurants
Reasons NOT to visit
- The waters near the mouth of the Rio Barranca are not safe for swimming
- It is a high crime (petty theft) area
- There are not many options for tourist activities
- There is not a good selection of hotels
How to get there
From San Jose: The smooth drive to Puntarenas on Autopista del Sol (the Caldera Highway) takes about an hour and a half, making this destination great for a day trip. Just head straight to Caldera and then follow the signs to Puntarenas.
Weather and packing list
Surrounded by water to almost all sides, Puntarenas can get hot and muggy. Like most of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region, this port city is known for relatively stable year round temperatures that hover in the upper 80s to low 90s, dropping to the upper 70s at night. The driest period here extends from December to April, and precipitation generally varies by month.
Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit, flip flops, beach towel, a hat, shorts, t-shirts and rain gear. Throw in some insect repellent and lots of sunblock. Make sure to lather up every few hours, the sun is strong here!
Fun Fact: At one time Puntarenas was one of the largest coffee export ports in the world.