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Puntarenas is a coastal town located close to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, and was a popular get away for locals in the past. These days, Puntarenas is known more as a ferry terminal gateway to the stunning Southern beaches of Nicoya and the Isla del Coco. That said, this vibrant and bustling market town still has a lot to offer a curious traveller, particularly if you want to see what life is like for Ticos (slang for Costa Ricans) who live in the city.
Why not stay for a night or two and see what Puntarenas has to offer? You just might find a few treasures.
Puntarenas is the capital of the Province of Puntarenas, located on the country’s Pacific coast. Historically this was the most popular place for domestic tourists, as it is just an hour by car from the capital. Today the beach simply isn’t what it used to be, but there is still a nice stretch of sand, and some delicious culinary tourism.
The city’s name combined Punta – point - and Arenas – sands. While it is the capital of Puntarenas Province, it isn’t its largest city. That designation goes to Barranca, at 32,000 residents, while Puntarenas city comes in at 31,000. Its port, Caldera, is the oldest in Costa Rica, and ferries eager travellers to the white sands of the Nicoya Peninsula and nearby islands.
December is one of the best months to visit Puntarenas, as the weather is warm but accommodation prices tend to be lower than average (that is, until the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve). The tourist high season runs from January through to March, when the weather is reliably warm and dry. Avoid the Easter week if you don’t like crowds, as this week can be very busy with international and domestic tourists alike.
The rains start to fall heavily between May and October, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. That said, you can snag some great prices during this season – if you don’t mind getting a little (or a lot) wet!
Seeing as Puntarenas is situated right on the water, it makes sense that its biggest attraction is a marine park. Parque Marino del Pacifico is committed to biodiversity and eco-tourism, and is home to an aquarium filled with manta rays, tropical fish, and nurse sharks, and is very popular for families. Kids love the splash pool and open air exhibits housing turtles, crocs, and caimans.
People tend to use Puntarenas as a jumping off point for trips to the Nicoya Peninsula and nearby islands, so a day trip to Tortuga Island can be a good way to get started on your own island-hopping experience. Many companies offer this daytrip on luxury catamarans, with plenty of time for snorkelling and sunbathing along the way.
If you were visiting Puntarenas a few decades ago, you would certainly want to steer clear of Casa San Lucas Island. It was home to the most notorious prison in Costa Rica! Today, the island is a national wildlife refuge, and it is possible to take daytrips to explore. The delicate ecosystem combined with the historic architecture of the prison is really a sight that any ‘off the beaten track’ traveller should not miss.
Casa Fait is known as one of the most unique and interesting pieces of architecture in all of Costa Rica. This was the home of a 1920s Italian immigrant called Alberto Fait Rocchi, and combines a bizarre mix of Victorian and art deco design, with local indigenous influences.
Puntarenas’ Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) is home to a vibrant and dynamic local arts scene, including an art gallery and events space. Check the local listings to see if you can attend one of their many seasonal cultural events, and take a stroll through the contemporary sculpture garden.
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