160km (99 miles) E of San José; 55km (34 miles) N of Puerto Viejo
It was just offshore from present-day Limón, in the lee of Isla Uvita, that Christopher Columbus is said to have anchored in 1502, on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. Believing that this was potentially a very rich land, he christened it Costa Rica (“Rich Coast”). While never supplying the Spanish crown with much in the way of gold or jewels, the spot where he anchored has proved over the centuries to be the best port on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast—so his judgment wasn’t all bad. Today Limón is a rough-around-the-edges port city that ships millions of pounds of bananas northward every year. It also receives a fair share of the country’s ocean-borne imports and a modest number of cruise ship callings. On days when a cruise ship is in port, you’ll find the city bustling far beyond the norm.
Limón is not generally considered a tourist destination, and few tourists take the time to tour the city, except those stopping here on cruise ships. Very few choose to stay here, and I don’t recommend it except during Carnaval (see below)—and even then you’re better off in Cahuita or Puerto Viejo.
If you want to get in some beach time while you’re in Limón, hop in a taxi or a local bus and head north a few kilometers to Playa Bonita, a small public beach. Although the water isn’t very clean and is usually too rough for swimming, the setting is much more attractive than downtown. This beach is popular with surfers.
Along the Way
If you’re driving to the Caribbean coast, you should consider combining the trip with a stop at the Rain Forest Aerial Tram, or the Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí area.
A Fall Festival
Limón’s biggest yearly event, and one of the liveliest festivals in Costa Rica, is Carnaval, around Columbus Day (Oct 12). For a week, languid Limón shifts into high gear for a nonstop bacchanal orchestrated to the beat of reggae, soca, and calypso music. During the revelries, residents don costumes and take to the streets in a dazzling parade of color. Festivities include marching bands, dancers, and parade floats. If you want to experience Carnaval, make your reservations early because hotels fill up fast. (This advice goes for the entire coast.)