This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
15. Costa Rican Independence Day
30. Commemoration of the deaths of Mora and Cañas. Elementary and high school parades. City of Puntarenas.