115km (71 miles) W of San José; 191km (118 miles) S of Liberia; 75km (47 miles) N of Playa de Jacó
They say you can’t put lipstick on a pig, and this has proven true for Puntarenas. Despite serious investment and the steady influx of cruise ship passengers, Puntarenas can’t seem to shed its image as a rough-and-tumble, perennially run-down port town. While the seafront Paseo de los Turistas (Tourist Walk) has a string of restaurants and souvenir stands, this town has little to interest visitors, and the beach here pales in comparison to almost any other beach destination in the country.
A 16km (10-mile) spit of land jutting into the Gulf of Nicoya, Puntarenas was once Costa Rica’s busiest port, but that changed drastically when the government inaugurated nearby Puerto Caldera, a modern container port facility. After losing its shipping business, the city has survived primarily on commercial fishing.
You can reach Puntarenas (on a good day, with little traffic) in little more than an hour by car from San José, which makes it one of the closest beaches to the capital. A long, straight stretch of sand with gentle surf, the beach is backed for most of its length by the Paseo de los Turistas. Across a wide boulevard from the Paseo de los Turistas are hotels, restaurants, bars, discos, and shops. The sunsets and the views across the Gulf of Nicoya are quite beautiful, and a cooling breeze usually blows in off the water. All around town, you’ll find unusual old buildings, reminders of the important role that Puntarenas once played in Costa Rican history. It was from here that much of the Central Valley’s coffee crop was once shipped, and while the coffee barons in the highlands were getting rich, so were the merchants of Puntarenas.
Puntarenas is primarily popular as a weekend holiday spot for Ticos from San José and is liveliest on weekends. Puntarenas is also where you must pick up the ferries to the southern Nicoya Peninsula, and some folks like to arrive the night before and get an early start.