Puntarenas

normal imageThis is one of the regions that benefits most from the new San José-Caldera highway (80 kilometers, or almost 50 miles): the trip between the capital and the port of Puntarenas, the largest city on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, can now be made in less than an hour.

This region of Puntarenas and Costa Rica’s Gulf Islands spans all the districts of the Montes de Oro canton (similar to a county), with the exception of Monteverde, Esparza and Puntarenas. It also covers two coastal sections of the Gulf of Nicoya as well as the islands of Chira, San Lucas, Bejuco, Venado, Caballo, Muertos, Cedros, Negritos, Zopilote, Tolinga, and Jesusita.

The region’s main urban center is the city of Puntarenas, which functions as a place for lodging, base of operations, stopover, and starting point for many area excursions.

The Nicoya Peninsula zone combines natural beauty with unbelievable settings, especially the area’s beaches, which are bathed in sunlight and visited by tourists from around the world.

Activities

Virgin of the Sea Festival
Every year on July 16, boats adorned with flowers and colorful paper ribbons commemorate the date on which, many years ago, a group of fishermen, shipwrecked and in danger for their lives, were rescued just after having asked for help from the Virgin Mary. During these lively festivities, visitors will enjoy several aquatic competitions and marine sports, as well as many types of recreational activities aimed at both adults and children.
Puntarenas Carnival
Group parades, oceanside concerts, and many other recreational activities create the ideal atmosphere for sharing in the culture and traditions of Puntarenas. This carnival is scheduled for the month of February, a dry month ideal for enjoying the beach and all the events scheduled during the festival.

Protected Areas

Biological Reserves: The Islands of Guayabo, Negritos and Los Pájaros
The islands have restricted access due to their unique ecological conditions. The Gulf of Nicoya separates the islands from each other.

Guayabo

A solid, sedimentary rock of approximately 7 hectares (17 acres), this island’s maximum elevation is 50 meters (164 feet) above sea level. It is covered in trees, thorny plants, and coyol palms. One of its principal characteristics is that Guayabo is a nesting ground for black-headed gulls, brown boobies, and magnificent frigate birds. The island’s population of resident brown pelicans is the largest in Costa Rica.

Negritos Islands

In reality these are two volcanic rocks that feature high cliffs. Measuring 80 surface hectares (198 acres), the islands are home to a deciduous forest that loses its foliage during part of the year. The forest serves as a refuge for a wide variety of marine birds. Due to their location in the middle of the Gulf of Nicoya, these islands, along with Guayabo Island, are often visited on one-day recreational boat trips that depart from Paquera and Tortuga Island.

Los Pájaros Island

Featuring a circular, domed shape, this island measures just 4 hectares (10 acres) and consists of sedimentary rocks. The island is home to tropical dry forest in transition to tropical wet forest and serves as an important habitat for pelicans, frigate birds, and brown boobies.

Alcatraz (Tortuga) Island Biological Reserve
Although it is better known as Tortuga Island, its true name is Alcatraz. This island, located in the Gulf of Nicoya, does not have any hotels or complementary hospitality services: the main idea is for visitors to enjoy the island in its most natural state. Tourists on Tortuga Island are welcome to spend the day relaxing under the shade of palm trees or sunbathing on the island’s white sand beaches. This is an ideal destination for ocean kayaking, scuba diving, or snorkeling in the island’s crystal-clear waters. An exciting canopy tour is offered through the island’s treetops. Visits to Tortuga Island may be arranged through several tour operators, and include marine transportation from Puntarenas, Montezuma, or Herradura.
Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve
Located on the extreme southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Montezuma, this nature reserve covers 1,272 hectares (3,145 acres) of protected land and 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) of protected ocean.

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve boasts a wide variety of natural attractions. Its flora includes virgin forest as well as secondary forest in recovery. Approximately 140 species of trees populate the reserve’s forests, which are home to many mammal species including deer, howler monkeys, coyotes, white-faced monkeys, and squirrels. The reserve is also home to a large number of marine birds.

Due to its isolation, one of Cabo Blanco’s main attractions is that its beaches are nearly untouched; the sandy stretches can only be reached via hiking trails. The area’s coastal landscape is made even more spectacular by the presence of Cabo Blanco Island, which is located less than two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the shore. The island is a large, white rock that serves as an important habitat for frigate birds and brown boobies.

San Lucas Wildlife Refuge
Beautiful beaches and steep cliffs surround the island of San Lucas, which measures approximately 500 hectares (1,235 acres).

Several local tour operators offer aquatic transportation to the island. Tours leave daily from Playas del Coco, a hotspot for regional tourism. The island’s gray sand beach, located between two points, offers many attractions, among them a fantastic view of the city of Puntarenas.

San Lucas is an ideal destination for relaxation, contemplation, hiking and historical tourism – the island is home to a rich history, including old buildings that once belonged to Costa Rica’s most famous prison.

Curú National Wildlife Refuge
In 1983, this private property was declared a national wildlife refuge. The reserve boasts beaches, mangrove swamps, and deciduous forests that lose their foliage during half of the year. Sedimentary rocks, sheer cliffs, and inlets flank the refuge.
Cocos Island National Park
Cocos Island National Park was created in 1978. Due to its invaluable natural beauty and enormous biological diversity, this national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Additionally, the island was nominated as one of the natural wonders of the world.

Cocos Island measures 24 square kilometers (9.25 square miles). Its cliffs reach as high as 183 meters (600 feet) above sea level; echoing its heights, the island is also home to countless underwater caves. The bays at Cocos Island boast the park’s only two beaches.

The turquoise Pacific Ocean waters are exceptionally clear; combined with the park’s variety of rocky underwater formations, Cocos Island is home to an incredibly unique habitat for fish, sharks (hammerhead and white-tipped reef), dolphins, manta rays, mollusks, and many other marine species that live here, making the park one of the most extraordinary and sought-after places in the world to practice scuba diving.

Thanks to its climate conditions, Cocos Island is also home to evergreen forests and unparalleled natural beauty. The park’s numerous and impressive waterfalls, as well as famous legends of pirates and hidden treasure, make Cocos Island a place of incalculable historical and ecological value.

Services for tourists include information, a ranger station, trails, signage, restrooms, potable water, and several scenic lookout points.

Carara National Park
Originally created in 1978 as a biological reserve, Carara was later upgraded to national park. Its importance lies in being a transitional forest, home to both tropical dry and tropical wet forest habitats. The park spans 5,242 hectares (almost 13,000 acres) and three distinct habitats, which are home to many species of wildlife and precious trees. Carara is an important habitat for scarlet macaws.

The park offers amenities such as parking, potable water, restrooms, picnic areas, scenic lookout points, trails, and signage. Additionally, there is an information area and ranger station.

Rural Community Tourism
A wide range of exciting activities are offered at the Orquideas (Orchids) Eco-Tourism lodge located in Miramar de Puntarenas. Here, tourists are invited to take hikes along natural trails, especially during the months of March and April, when the resplendent quetzal is commonly spotted.

Attractions

City of Puntarenas
The city or port of Puntarenas is located four meters (13 feet) above sea level. The city is home to extensive beaches perfect for enjoying the sun and sand. Historically, this has been a hotspot for national tourism, and Puntarenas therefore offers a wide range of quality services for tourists.

Currently, the city’s Puntarenas Pier is a popular port of call for cruise ships. The pier offers a series of docks and wharfs, which are the point of exit for the local ferry service leaving for Paquera and Cóbano, as well as smaller ships setting out for nearby islands and the Puntarenas mangrove forests and estuaries.

Puntarenas is an important hub for public transportation to nearby towns including Montes de Oro and Santa Elena de Monteverde. The city also serves as a central point for tours departing to the region’s most popular attractions.

While in the city, tourists are encouraged to sample some of the province’s most traditional foods, especially fresh seafood, for which Puntarenas is famous. Of special interest is the local ceviche, a fish dish marinated in lime juice, which is served at almost every local restaurant, food stand, and hotel.

Local historical sites and beautiful buildings are other points of interest for tourists visiting the area.

Paseo de los Turistas, the Tourist Boardwalk
This seafront walkway runs parallel to main beach in Puntarenas. The boardwalk was original built in 1928 and is traditionally one of the most visited destinations in Costa Rica, thanks to the diversity and quality of service offered to tourists visiting the city. The boardwalk extends from the Pacific Marine Park (the old train station) to the area known locally as The Point.

The area immediately surrounding the cruise ship dock is filled with kiosks and stands selling artisan goods. Here, tourists are invited to purchase traditional foods like fresh fruit salads and delicious snow cones called Churchills.

Along the boardwalk, visitors are treated to a variety of facilities including sports fields, green areas, showers, restrooms, and everything necessary to enjoy a day at the beach.

Museum of Marine History
This museum is located in the former Puntarenas Military Headquarters. The building was restored to house the museum, the House of Culture, an amphitheater, and the Public Library.

Information known about local architectures has uncovered many facts regarding the indigenous groups that once lived in the region: how they found food, how they utilized the region’s diverse resources, the types of burials rites they practiced, and commerce and trade practices that they had established.

The museum honors the port’s history and how it became one of the most important cities in Costa Rica. The exhibitions also seek to revive many Puntarenas traditions and religious celebrations, which are characterized by their diverse geographical and cultural origins.

The museum also details the region’s diverse natural resources, such as local wetlands, forests, marine wildlife species, land fauna, and avian populations.

The Museum of Marine History is open from Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. The town’s Central Park and Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral of Puntarenas, built in 1902, is located on the same block.

Pacific Marine Park
The Pacific Marine Park is meant for both learning and relaxation. It is located in the city of Puntarenas, along the Tourist Boardwalk just 500 meters (1/3 of a mile) east of the cruise ship docking area. The marine park is housed on the former train station grounds, located two hours from Costa Rica’s capital city of San José.

The Pacific Marine Park is home to an animal exhibition run by the Center for Rescue and Rehabilitation. Here, crocodiles, land turtles, sea turtles, pelicans and other animals find shelter and receive medical treatment.

Additionally, the park’s aquarium features a series of fish tanks, where different species of marine animal live. Among the species represented are botete, sea anemones, crabs, clown fish, nurse sharks, and many others. On weekends, tourists have the chance to complement their visit to the aquarium with:

  • Please-touch time, when visitors are invited to share in the unique experience of holding a marine animal in their hands.
  • On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the children’s pool and water games are open to the public.

The rate for adults (over 12-years old) is $7; children from 4-11 are $4. Costa Rican adults are charges ¢2,000; the rate for Costa Rican children between 4 and 11 is ¢1,500.

The Pacific Marine Park is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, the park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, please visit the park’s official website at http://www.parquemarino.org/index.htm.

Other Attractions
This region presents many other points of interest including the Pura Vida Waterfalls and Botanical Garden, located in Bijagual de Turrubares; and the Puntarenas Estuary, a wildlife refuge that stretches for eight kilometers (almost five miles) and is characterized by its mangrove forests and Mata de Limón Estuary, which is a popular destination for water skiing.

The region is also home to the Barranca and Tárcoles Rivers. In addition to Puntarenas, the area’s primary cities are Orotina, Esparza, and Cóbano, which is the departure point for ferries and boats heading to popular destinations such as Montezuma, Cabo Blanco, Malpais, and Miramar.

Beaches

Tambor Beach
This beach, which is located at Ballena Bay, is not only long but also ideal for swimming and enjoying long hikes by the ocean. Horseback riding and aquatic sports are also popular. Tambor features lush coastal vegetation and a wide variety of tourist services aimed at helping visitors enjoy the area, including everything from economical lodging to all-inclusive luxury resorts. Many recreational tours are offered here including golf, sport fishing, scuba and snorkeling excursions, aquatic sports, horseback riding, and mountain biking, among others.
The Beaches of Puntarenas
These beaches run the entire length of coastline parallel to the city of Puntarenas, from the Barranca River outlet to the area known as The Point, where this long stretch of sand ends. The area includes the pier (the cruise ship docking area) and The Point, which is the area preferred by many swimmers and beachgoers. The Tourist Boardwalk runs parallel to the beach; dotting the oceanfront walkway are hotels, restaurants, bars, and other services. In addition to swimming, other sports and aquatic activities, including boating, are popular.
Caldera and Mata de Limón Beaches
This beach reaches from the Mata de Limón Estuary to the promontory known Carballo Rock. It is a popular destination, especially for Costa Rican tourists who enjoy the setting and proximity to the Port of Caldera, where large boats drop anchor. The estuary is navigable via small boat, allowing visitors to enjoy bird and wildlife watching in the mangrove swamp.
Doña Ana Beach
This beach, as well as the beach closest to the Barranca River mouth, is a sought-after location for surfing. Due to its small size, coastal vegetation, and beautiful scenery, Doña Ana is an excellent beach for relaxing and enjoying the Pacific Ocean. The beach has earned the prestigious Ecological Blue Flag, which identifies it as a safe and clean beach.
Naranjo Beach
This long beach, located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the Santa Rosa National Park administrative area, offers black sands surrounded by blue ocean waters and crystal-clear rivers. A river estuary and mangrove swamp are rich in flora and fauna, and are ideal destinations for bird and wildlife watching. Naranjo Beach is a prime place for hiking, nature photography, and enjoying the great outdoors, including Witch’s Rock, a rocky island famous in the surfing community. Camping is permitted at Naranjo Beach.
Montezuma Beach
This coast is incredibly beautiful, combining rocky areas with pristine, golden beaches. Abundant vegetation provides important habitats for numerous animal species such as howler monkeys and many types of birds that are commonly spotted. Montezuma’s central beach is located in a picturesque and small inlet. Toward the north of the central beach is the main recreation area, which reaches several hundred meters further north to a rocky area where trails lead to other area beaches including Cocal. Montezuma is an ideal destination for many recreational pursuits including horseback riding, mountain biking, sport fishing tours, snorkeling, scuba diving, and even night tours.
Malpaís Beach
This beach boasts a rocky and irregular coastline. The beach is home to several distinct sections, each incredibly beautiful – the coastline is decorated with both lush vegetation and a ribbon of forested area running parallel to the picturesque beach. In the central section of Malpaís Beach, Barrigona Point is a popular destination for hiking and nature watching. At the southern end of the beach sits the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve. The beach is ideal for many recreational activities including surfing, horseback riding, snorkeling, scuba diving, sport fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, and watching brilliant Pacific sunsets.

Schedule of Cultural Events

Throughout the year, several events, most linked to certain communities, celebrate the historical, religious, sport, civic, and artistic aspects of life in Puntarenas. Some events are staged to collect funds for community development.

February
Last week. Puntarenas Festival.
April
After Holy Week. National Fair of Fruits. Orotina.
May
1. Labor Day
July
3-16. Fiestas Honoring the Virgin of the Sea (Virgin of Carmen)
August
24. National Parks Day
September
14. Lanterns Parade

15. Costa Rican Independence Day

30. Commemoration of the deaths of Mora and Cañas. Elementary and high school parades. City of Puntarenas.

December
8. Festival of the Immaculate Conception. Quepos.

25. Christmas