If you’re visiting any of these places in Costa Rica: Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, Jaco or Montezuma, you’ll be visiting the Puntarenas province. The town, with the same name, is another popular place for tourists since this is where the ferry is.
Many Costa Ricans, including Yeison have a strong tie to the town since it used to be the largest fishing port and is a popular coastal escape for city locals. Yeison’s father was a fishing boat captain and he spent most of his childhood in Puntarenas so he has seen this small town go through many changes over the past few decades.
In this article, you’ll learn some important facts about the province and city including some useful travel tips.
This post has been updated February 2018.
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Puntarenas Province Facts
- The biggest province in Costa Rica, it is 22% of the country.
- Density: 83 per square mile.
- Capital city is Puntarenas.
The province has several natural reserves and national parks. One of the most important is Coco Island which is a World Heritage Site located 532 kilometers from the coastline.
The province is so large that it is home to the majority of popular tourists destinations such as Manuel Antonio, Osa Peninsula, Jaco, Nicoya Peninsula (Santa Teresa, Mal Pais and Montezuma) and Monteverde.
Puntarenas Costa Rica map
Puntarenas is about a 1.5 hour drive from San Jose. As the biggest beach town near the capital city, it’s a popular place for city locals to go for the weekend to escape the city life and get some fresh ocean air.
Puntarenas, the capital city of the province is a very local, simple and humble town. It’s nickname is El Puerto since it used to be the largest fishing port in the country.
The town comprises of the entire peninsula and has one road going through the middle, called the Paseo de los Turistas. They have a nice boardwalk running parallel to the shore and there are restaurants, hotels, shops and food stands up and down this road.
To see what the town is like, we have a video driving through The Paseo de los Turistas you can watch below.
Puntarenas Costa Rica Beaches
The main beach is Playa Puntarenas. It’s not the prettiest beach and most people don’t swim in the ocean since it’s a fishing port so the water isn’t the nicest to swim in.
But sunsets here are really nice and you can walk along the shore to see birds and little fish.
People and Local Life
The “Puntarenense” or “Porteños” are very happy people and you will notice it as soon as you arrive. At night, you will see them sitting outside their homes in rocking chairs, talking to family and neighbors all night long. They like to party, are super proud of their town and love their local team.
Unfortunately Puntarenas is not the prosperous fishing town it used to be back in the 70’s and 80’s. Yeison’s father used to be the capitan of a tuna fishing boat for many years and the fishing industry was excellent before Costa Rica allowed the Chinese to fish in their waters. As soon as that happened, all the locals went out of work and many of them hit hard times, like Yeison’s father.
You will still see today lots of boats at the port but many are in bad shape, having been unused for so long.
Luckily tourism is growing little by little, helping the locals find work other than fishing but it’s still tough. Fishermen constantly go on strike, protesting the government’s new laws since many of them work for the Chinese and the government has enacted many regulations and laws against shark fishing, overfishing and any practices harmful to the environment.
Things to Do in Puntarenas Costa Rica
When it comes to tourism in Puntarenas and things to do, the main attraction is the Puntarenas ferry to Paquera or Naranjo. Tourists pass through the town to take the ferry, most of them don’t stay a night or two.
There aren’t a ton of things to do in Puntarenas itself but it is a really nice little town to experience local life because it is not super touristy. Most tourists just spend a couple hours in the town waiting for the ferry and don’t stay overnight. This area is highly overlooked since at first glance, it seems like there’s not much there.
But for Costa Ricans, El Puerto is one of the favorite destinations because it’s not very far from San Jose, lots of families have strong ties to the town and there aren’t many foreigners.
So if you want to experience an authentic, non touristy Costa Rican town, I recommend staying in Puntarenas for at least one night so you can walk on the Paseo de los Turistas, eat some delicious local seafood and observe local life. Yeison says that this is one of the very few beach towns in the country that is 100% Costa Rican.
If you go in February, Puntarenas becomes the party town in the country and it’s a great time to visit. They host famous carnivals, there are concerts with international artists and thousands of Costa Ricans go. It’s an excellent place to take your family since there are little kid rides and games.
Here are some more ideas of things to do.
Isla Tortuga Cruise
Several companies depart from Puntarenas to do the one day Tortuga Island cruise. It’s a nice day tour that cruises through the Gulf of Nicoya for 1.5 hours to Isla Tortuga which has a beautiful white sand beach. You can read our experience on the Tortuga Island cruise and get $10 off the tour!
This town is famuos for churchhills, a shaved ice/ice cream dessert in Costa Rica. In many beach towns, you will find vendors selling Costa Rican copos but chuchills were created in Puntarenas and it’s a more intense version of the copo.
You will find several restaurants and shops selling churchills on Paseo de los Turistas.
Watch a futbol match
There is the local futbol club and if you’re here during the season, you can watch a futbol match. he locals call the stadium La olla mágina (the magic pot) because it gets super crazy hot but the real name is Estadio Migue “Lito” Pérez. If you’re in town at the right time, you can watch a futbol match.
This stadium is very famous because when Costa Rica played in the snow against the US a couple years ago, the Costa Ricans wanted to change the stadium to the Puntarenas one when the US came to play in CR because it is so hot. It didn’t happen though!
Walk Paseo de los Turistas
The best thing to do is to walk the whole Paseo de los Turistas. You’ll see lots of Costa Rican families, get nice views of the ocean and try local food.
Like I mentioned earlier, this area is very hot. It experiences typical tropical weather with a dry and rainy season. Dry season is from mid December to end of April and rainy is from beginning of May to beginning of December. In dry season, it can get up to 90-100 degrees F (32-37) every day for months. In rainy season, it normally rains at night and is sunny in the mornings.
Puntarenas Costa Rica Hotels and Restaurants
There aren’t any fancy hotels or resorts in town but you will find small cabinas and standard hotels.
We stayed at Puerto Azul Marino and Resort, a couple kilometers out of downtown and it was a nice hotel with clean rooms, a pool and private parking lot. Michael’s Surfside Hotel, Cabinas Madeleine and Hotel Praiamar are other good hotels in Puntarenas.
When it comes to food, you can find great seafood in town. For Costa Rican seafood, check out Caite Negro. This is the local favorite and there’s a funny story for this restaurant because right next door, you will see Caite Blanco. This one used to be the super good one and local favorite but in the past few years, Caite Negro became the favorite. Yeison and I had three ceviches, two plates of grilled fish and two drinks for only $40 and you won’t see many tourists there since it’s located in the back of town off the strip in the neighborhood.
Other good ones near the main road are Shrimp Shack, Isla Coco’s Bar & Grill, Soda El Buen Sabor and Restaurante Mar Abierto.
Why You Should Visit
Puntarenas is not as touristy as some towns in Costa Rica but you can tell that it is a tourist town designed for locals. There may not be a ton of things to do and see but it’s perfect for one or two nights to experience a local coastal town. This is one of the few beach towns where you will see more Costa Ricans than anybody else. All the workers speak Spanish to you, all the prices are in colones and you will receive the El Puerto hospitality.
This was the first town Yeison took me to when I visited Costa Rica for the first time by myself in 2010 and I loved it. And since 2010, it hasn’t changed one bit!
So if you’re planning on visiting the Nicoya Peninsula by taking the ferry, I recommend staying a night in Puntarenas before going to the Nicoya Peninsula. You’ll get to experience an authentic Costa Rican town before heading to the touristy beaches of Montezuma and Santa Teresa. You can also stay one or two nights in Paquera where the ferry arrives to experience another local Costa Rican town.
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