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  • squirrel-monkey-Costa-Rica - A Central American Squirrel Monkey near Quepos, Costa Rica.
  • green-heron-costa-rica - Green heron near Quepos, Costa Rica.
  • blue-tanager-Costa-Rica - Blue-grey Tanager near Quepos, Costa Rica
  • iguana-Costa-Rica - Large iguana near the pool at Buena Vista, Quepos, Costa Rica.
  • cherrie-tanager-Costa-Rica - A Cherrie's Tanager having a chat with a neighbor near Quepos in Costa Rica.
  • capuchin-family-Costa-Rica - A gathering of white-headed capuchin monkeys near Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica.
  • sunset-quepos-costa-rica - Sunset near Quepos, Puntarenas, Costa Rica in this HDR shot.
  • Puntarenas-Costa-Rica - The shoreline of Puntarenas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica at sunset.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Top things to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Simply put, Puntarenas is an eco-tourist’s paradise. The capital and largest city in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica, Puntarenas sits on a long, narrow peninsula that juts out into the Nicoya Gulf, only about four blocks at its widest. Most travelers use Puntarenas as a steppingstone, riding the ferries from San José and the mainland to the Nicoya Peninsula and back. Still, the city is a popular destination for Costa Ricans during holidays and the dry season as well as cruise-ship day-trippers.

A multitude of islands in the Nicoya Gulf offer pristine beaches for swimming, snorkeling and surfing. The lush rainforest can be experienced in protected nature reserves. In fact, there are 14 national parks and wildlife reserves in the province. You can explore its many rainforests on horseback through the enchanting Valley of the Monkeys dotted with 100-year-old trees or take a breathtaking tour of the largest volcanic crater at Poas Volcano National Park.

Go canoeing on the Corobici River while marveling at Costa Rica’s lush tropical jungles and rare birds. In Puntarenas, itself, you can visit the Historic Marine Museum, where sculptures and paintings are exhibited, and the Puntarenas Cathedral. For coffee enthusiasts, an excursion to the coffee plantations might be the final kick.

By the way, Puntarenas (which means "sand point") is not related to Punta Arenas on the southernmost tip of Chile.

Top reasons to go

  • Nature is all around you in Puntarenas. The city sits on a penisula making many beaches a short jaunt. Inland treks allow visitors to experience the nearby tropical forest.
  • Check out the crocodiles, herons and red snappers in the Mangrove Forest.
  • Taste some of the area's delicious coffee.
Sunset near Quepos, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
kansasphoto / Creative Commons BYSunset near Quepos, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

Top things to do & see in Puntarenas

Visit the Mangrove Forest in the estuary above the north side of the peninsula. Crocodiles, herons and red snappers can be found in and around the mangrove forest that grows here. The forest can be seen from any pier on the north side of the city, and some fishermen with small boats on these piers may be able to take you for a small tour if asked and offered compensation.

The port of Puntarenas once served as the main port for coffee exports to Europe. Today, coffee still defines Costa Rica’s reputation, and most tourists will not want to end their vacation without bringing home Costa Rican coffee. Walk out onto the main waterfront pier, where many locals come to drink, fish and hangout, and where an arts and crafts souvenir shopping area sells some of the local coffee that tourists will not want to miss.

Take a ride on one of the inflatable banana rafts being towed by boats on the south beach. On busier beach days (holidays, cruise days and weekends), men will offer rides on these tubes for about 1,000 colones (or $2). Life jackets are provided.

Some dining choices

Located along the Paseo de Turistas across from Parque Jurassico, Matobes features tables located on a lovely wooden patio. The restaurant serves up excellent pizzas and pastas as well as delicious, giant calzones. Drinks include red and white wine and Tona (Nicaraguan beer). Prices are reasonably cheap, and service is strangely quick for Costa Rica, but just as friendly.

Apretado is a delicious ice cream snack that comes in a variety of different flavors. You won't find these sold in any store, but you can find them being sold out of the front of residents' houses for about 250 colones (50 cents). Holding the snack's plastic bag in your hand, tear off a small corner with your teeth and suck out the melting apretado.

A gathering of white-headed capuchin monkeys near Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica.
kansasphoto / Creative Commons BY 2.0 A gathering of white-headed capuchin monkeys near Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica.

When you arrive

Docking information

Ships dock on a long pier, which ends in the town center of Puntarenas. While a longer walk, it’s easy to get straight into town.

Getting around

Taxis are plentiful in the city. We recommend that you only take the official red taxis with the yellow sign on the roof. Taxi rates are regulated by the government, and to use a meter is mandatory. Ask the driver to switch it on when you get in the car. It’s called “La Maria” in Costa Rica.

Need to know

Language: Spanish

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.

Store hours:  Stores are open from Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. As Costa Rica is a Catholic country, businesses are generally closed on Sundays.

Tipping:  Tipping is an important part of the culture in Costa Rica. It is usually expected to leave a 10 to 15% tip to the check at a restaurant. Taxi drivers also should receive a couple of dollars for their service.

Safety:  Generally, Puntarenas is a safe place. Just take additional caution as theft against tourists is an issue in the town. Keep your valuables locked up on board and only carry what you need.

Currency: The colon

Your take

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