Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama is beautiful Costa Rica, and where you’ll find the port town of Puntarenas along the Port of Nicoya. Downtown is a quick, walkable jaunt, perfect for a day’s worth of time on your cruise to Puntarenas, Costa Rica. In many ways, Puntarenas is ideal for just passing through on a Panama Canal cruise.
Puntarenas is smaller and less expensive than nearby capital city of San Jose, and provides travelers with easy access to ecological attractions like the Monteverde Cloud Forest or Poas Volcano National Park. Take a boat to the mysterious Isla San Lucas, a former prison turned wildlife refuge where dolphin sightings are common. The outdoor attractions are completely worth the stop in Puntarenas. Though the beaches here aren’t Costa Rica’s most famous, you’ll still catch the contagious “pura vida” lifestyle no matter how short or extended your stay.
Head two and a half hours South, whether on a tour or via car, to Manuel Antonio National Park, for an unbeatable experience of Costa Rica’s unaltered, pure beauty. There are three beaches at the park as well as dense tropical rainforest to explore via hiking trails of various difficulty levels. You’ll probably spot iguanas, squirrel monkeys, and sloths during your day at the park.
Discover the rich past of Puntarenas, including its first settlers and its indigenous populations at the Historical Maritime Museum. The history of the province of Puntarenas is fascinating and helped shape Costa Rica into what it is today. Don’t miss cultural events here—they hold plays and music regularly. Note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
Stop for a quick tour of this Roman-Catholic cathedral while on your cruise to Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Built in 1902, the church is still active. Outdoor benches provide a little relief for tired feet, and the indoor of the church is peaceful. Afterward, walk a few blocks to the waterfront to continue a period of quiet.
Bring the kids to Pacific Marine Park for their aquarium and animal exhibits, like turtles, crocodiles, and plenty of colorful fish to catch your eye. There’s a splash pool for children to play in and a gift shop with aquatic souvenirs so you’ll always remember the Pacific creatures you meet.
At the edge of Puntarenas is the Paseo de Los Turistas, a stretch of foot-friendly streets where tourists can stop in for souvenirs or a casual, unhurried meal. A perfect way to leisurely experience Puntarenas, particularly if you’re not doing a shore excursion.
Experience the famous “cloud forests” of Monteverde, which are local rainforests maintained by a careful balance of cloud cover and moisture known only in this area. Species like jaguars, monkeys, and pumas live within the reserve and rely on this environment to survive. It’s cooler here than by the coast, so bring a few layers to explore this impossibly green, moist area. Take a guided hike or zipline through the cloud forest for an unforgettable day in Costa Rica.
If you have a little extra time to explore while on your cruise to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, head three hours north to Arenal Volcano, which was dormant for centuries until an unexpected eruption in 1968. Explore La Fortuna village at the base of the volcano, where the looming volcano over this peaceful town will amaze you. There are a number of hot springs in the area because of the volcanic activity such as the Heliconias Nature Lodge or the Casa Luna Hotel and Spa.
Coffee lovers will find high-quality brews at a detailed tour of a Costa Rican coffee farm, which is one of the country’s biggest exports. A tour will make multiple cool stops, including a botanical garden and church along the way. You’ll learn how coffee is grown and roasted, plus plenty of samples will keep you caffeinated.
Hop on a boat for a guided tour of Isla San Lucas, a former prison site that wasn’t much of an attraction until recently. The area was converted into a wildlife refuge to bring greenery and light to its previously dark past. The prison closed in 1991 and was declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 2011. The prison site is harrowing piece of Costa Rica’s past, but now sharks, dolphins, deer, and sea turtles roam the area and its waters completely protected.
The Port of Nicayo offers a lot in the way of fresh seafood, and simple Costa Rican dishes are done extra well in Puntarenas.
Isla Coco’s Bar & Grill
Address: Mts Este del Faro 150 | 150 Mts Este del Faro, Barrio El Carmen, Puntarenas 60101
The tiki bar features live music and serves sushi and Japanese food on the weekends, making it a fun fusion place unlike anywhere in Puntarenas. Don’t miss live jazz on Thursday nights. They offer several varieties of ceviche, seafood stews, and handmade pastas with fresh shrimp or clams.
El Shrimp Shack
Address: Del Mercado Central 350 al Oeste, Avenida 3, Puntarenas 60101
Stop in El Shrimp Shack not only for icy air conditioning for a break from the heat and humidity, but also for a truly Costa Rican meal. It’s typically open from 11am to 3pm. Try the shrimp burger, shrimp tacos, a fresh pineapple smoothie, or delicious caramelized plantains.
Address: Av. 1, Provincia de Puntarenas, Puntarenas
You’ll know you’re there when you stumble upon a lemon yellow house with a Coca-Cola sign out front. Take a seat in one of the wooden benches and chow down on their fresh, authentic Costa Rican eats like fried plantains or chifrijo, crispy pork with rice and beans.
Matobes Pizza & Pasta
Address: Av 4 León Cortés Castro, Provincia de Puntarenas, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
If, for any reason, you’re hungering for pizza and pasta instead of traditional foods in Costa Rica, head over to Matobes. By-the slice pizzas, caprese salad, handmade ravioli, and calzones rule the menu here.
Puntarenas was discovered in the early 1600s by the Spanish, and native peoples called the area home for centuries before then. By the 1840s, coffee became Puntarenas’ biggest export. Puntarenas was once the premier port in Costa Rica before more accessible routes to Europe changed the landscape of its shipping and trade economy, particularly the cross-continental coffee trade.
While the city became less important in some ways, it by no means faded quietly. Today, Puntarenas wears its heritage as a port city proudly, a place where cruise lines and their passengers pass through on the way to other ports of call in Panama, Mexico, and beyond. Puntarenas was also Costa Rica’s primary port for a robust fishing trade, meaning its seafood is top-notch. Now the Port of Puntarenas and the Port of Caldera help accommodate the area’s shipping and cruising businesses.
While you’re in the cruise port, purchase a drink or snack to get access to the WiFi, or stay unplugged if you can. You’ll be welcomed to Costa Rica by a long walk along the pier. As you exit the pier where ships on your Puntarenas cruise will dock, you’ll see a black sand beach surrounding you and a craft market set up most days along the beachfront. You’ll probably see signature red taxis ready to scoop you up for a day’s adventure in Puntarenas.
It’s not hard to find a taxi in Puntarenas. They proliferate the city and are instantly recognizable by their red color. Try to use taxis with a yellow sign on their roofs. While on your cruise to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, you should know taxis here must always turn on the meter. If you notice yours is not running, be sure to tell your driver to turn it on. Public transportation in Puntarenas is characterized by their intercity bus service. You can also take an hour-long ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula. Note that Sundays are the busiest days.
On your Puntarenas cruise, stop in at the craft market on the beach as you exit the pier where your cruise ship is docked. You can pick up a handmade gifts, local art from a Costa Rican vendor, or a souvenir of Puntarenas to bring home with you. Buy some Costa Rican coffee beans while you’re there. Full beans will keep their freshness longer than pre-ground, so you can bring them back home and they’ll taste just as good as when you are in Costa Rica. Other shopping can be found downtown.
The official currency of Costa Rica is called the colón. Colones are preferred as a method of payment, but many places will also accept US dollars (USD) and then give your change in colones. USD is generally acceptable to hotels, flights, and higher-end restaurants, however. Credit cards are typically accepted by merchants, but it’s recommended to carry enough colones with you to cover a coffee, purchase a meal, or tip a tour guide. Tipping at restaurants is usually included—10% is the norm—but if not, a tip of 10% or greater is encouraged.