Puntarenas is one of the most important tourist regions of Costa Rica. Its coasts are decked by plenty of islands, inlets, beaches and beautiful natural treasures, which makes Puntarenas a tourist destiny by excellence. Its territory offers a wide range of attractions supported by the sun and the beach, which are complemented with protected zones, continental and insular areas.
This spectacular area very close to the Central Valley, a two-hours drive, 120 kms away from the capital. Puntarenas City is its principal center, nice for stopovers, distribution, scale and excursion. Hotels and cabins near the sea, and the well known all-included packages prevail in itâ€™s touristical development.
Other tourist center is Tambor, and potentially, Cóbano. Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Preserve, and San Lucas, Chira, Tortuga and Cocoâ€™s Islands stand out.
Although is geographically out of the Gulf, the Isla del Coco high-hierarchy attraction of the Costa Rican tourist product.
Tourist activities allow deeper understanding of natural and cultural tourist attractions, as well as a close relationship with nature, adventure and sports and recreation.
This activity may be enjoyed on the coast, in the communities or in the mountains of this region. Horseback tours are offered by tourism companies, landowning associations or families that rent horses.
Hiking is a good way to take in various tourist attractions: natural parks, beaches, ecotourism trails, historical buildings, architectural monuments or cultural tours around various communities of interest.
The region features picturesque roads and adventure or relaxation sites for touring on regular or mountain bikes. Beaches and mountains also make for interesting rides.
Well developed for tourism, the Queposâ€“Manual Antonio area is very attractive to tourists, offering mountains and high places as well as quadricycle or all-terrain-vehicle tours. Tourists can walk over suspension bridges, tour mangrove swamps by boat, visit butterfly gardens, go horseback riding, dolphin- or bird-watch, go sport-fishing or enjoy an ultralight flight.
ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORICAL SITES
The city of Puntarenas features a small old town with the characteristics of a historical center. There are buildings of architectural and historical interest as well as National Monuments, such as the old Port Military Headquarters facilities, Parque Mora y Cañas and the Central Church. San Lucas Island and the old San Lucas Penitentiary may also be visited.
Bird-watching can be enjoyed in various public and private protected areas, including Negritos, Pájaros, Cabo Blanco, Carara and Curú, as well as other fine spots.
Diverse flora and fauna in natural areas, stunning coastal landscapes and cultural interest make taking photos and video a highly popular tourist activity.
Sport-fishing is one of the Central Pacificâ€™s main attractions. Artisan, recreational or challenging sport-fishing may all be enjoyed in the Quepos area.
Throughout the year, community activities are held celebrating historical, religious, sporting, civic or artistic events. Fairs are also held to raise funds for community development.
22-26. Buenos Vecinos International Jazz Festival, Quepos.
Last week of February. Puntarenas Carnival.
After Holy Week. National Fruit Fair, Orotina.
3-16. Virgin of the Sea (Virgen del Carmen) Festival.
24. National Parks Day.
14. Lantern parade.
15. Costa Rican Independence Day.
30. Commemoration of Mora y Cañasâ€™ death, school parades, city of Puntarenas.
8. Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Quepos.
RURAL TOURISM ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES
Rural tourism activities and services offered in the Central Pacific and their corresponding locations within the region are as follows:
A wide variety of attractions and activities revolve around Las Orquídeas Ecotourist Lodge. Access is by Miramar to Palmital and from there to Zapotal; go two kilometers further to arrive at the lodge.
Activities: Hiking on natural trails. Quetzals may be spotted from March to April.
At just four meters above sea level, the city or port of Puntarenas features extensive beaches for enjoying sea and sun. Historically the place for national tourism and recreation, it offers a variety of quality tourist services appealing to international visitors as well.
Puntarenas now boasts a cruise ship terminal at the remodeled Puntarenas Wharf, which has a series of piers and docking areas from which ferries depart for established tourist destinations such as Paquera and Cóbano, as well as tours around the islands and mangrove swamps in the Puntarenas estuary.
Overland transportation services to Miramar and the nearby communities of Montes de Oro and Santa Elena de Monteverde depart from the city.
As a place of relaxation and leisure, Puntarenas offers food and drink typical of the area, especially delicacies from the sea. The ceviche from the local market and available in restaurants and hotels is famous.
Tourists may also visit several interesting buildings and historical sites.
These beaches stretch along Puntarenasâ€™ entire coast between the mouth of the Río Barranca and the place known as La Punta (â€śThe Pointâ€ť), where this extensive length of shoreline ends. The area between the wharf (Cruise Ship Terminal) and La Punta is the preferred place for swimmers; running parallel to this stretch is the Paseo de los Turistas (â€śTourist Stripâ€ť), with its numerous hotels, restaurants, bars and other services. Besides swimming, visitors can enjoy other water sports and activities, such as boat tours.
This island is located very close to and northeast of Isla Cedros. Its 30-hectare area shelters a tropical dry forest, transitioning to wet forest. On the northeast part of the island is a rocky coast and lovely beach. Another beach may be found on the south side of the island.
With an area of under 200 hectares, this islandâ€™s irregular coastline makes for very attractive scenery. It has two main beaches: Langosta and Gringo. Its forests are of fine wood, coconut palms and shrub. Organized tours to the island are available.
ISLA MUERTOS (GITANA)
Many years ago this island housed a cemetery, which is why it is called Isla Muertos (â€śIsland of the Deadâ€ť). It is also known as Isla Gitana (â€śGypsy Islandâ€ť). Most of its small territory (some 30 hectares) is covered by tropical dry forest, transitioning to wet forest. Many seabirds visit the island, and the surrounding scenery is quite pleasant.
ISLA PAN DE AZÚCAR
This islet is located southwest of Isla San Lucas. The beauty of its marine landscape is centered on the shape of the rocks that give it its unique form, and its name: â€śSugarloaf Island.â€ť The island has a large population of seabirds, particularly brown pelicans.
Just under four square kilometers, this island is long and narrow. Separated from Isla Bejuco by the Peter Harley Canal, Isla Caballo has many trees and is surrounded by reefs and cliffs. The islandâ€™s highest elevation, less than 200 meters above sea level, is found towards its center.
Also long and narrow, this island is smaller than Isla Caballo and has a maximum altitude of 118 meters above sea level. Its irregular terrain hosts many different tree species.
This 440-hectare island stands out among the other islands in the Gulf of Nicoya because of its sea-green color. The islandâ€™s inhabitants live off agriculture and fishing. Abundant seabirds nest on the island and in the mangrove swamps near the Jicaral estuary.
The largest (43 km2) and most populous island in the Gulf of Nicoya, Isla Chira offers more services than the others, including schools and a college. There is a large mangrove swamp on the northeast part of the island. An ecotourism association made up of women from the island offers basic accommodations, food, and fishing and mangrove-swamp tours.
Forming part of the inner Gulf of Nicoya, this estuary stretches eight kilometers. Its irregular coastline features a beautiful mangrove swamp, a wildlife refuge that serves as a nesting ground for different birds. The estuaryâ€™s calm waters also give anchorage to all kinds of fishing boats, sailboats and tourist yachts that lend the maritime scenery special interest and appeal. This is a good place for waterskiing.
VIRGIN OF THE SEA FESTIVAL
Each year on July 16, boats adorned with flowers and colorful streamers commemorate the long-ago day when a group of fishermen, castaways at deathâ€™s door, were rescued just after calling upon the Virgin for help. The festival features various aquatic and sporting competitions, as well as all kinds of recreational activities for kids and grownups alike. The event is also celebrated in Quepos.
Parades, seaside concerts and many other recreational activities create an ideal environment for sharing culture with the people of Puntarenas. The carnival takes place in February, during the dry seasonâ€”perfect weather for enjoying the beach and all the carnivalâ€™s events.
PASEO DE LOS TURISTAS
Running parallel to Puntarenasâ€™ main beach, the â€śTourist Stripâ€ť is highly frequented for its variety of quality tourist services. It stretches from the Parque Marino del Pacífico (the old train station) to La Punta. Next to the cruise ship terminal there are handicraft shops and stands where visitors can enjoy traditional fruit salads and crushed-ice drinks called â€śChurchills.â€ť Along the strip, tourists can make use of other facilities such as fields for playing sports, green areas, showers, restrooms and all the necessities for beach enjoyment.
HISTORICAL MARITIME MUSEUM
Located in Puntarenasâ€™ old quarter, this museum was restored to also accommodate the House of Culture, an amphitheater and the public library. The House of Culture features month-long painting and sculpture exhibitions, while the amphitheater offers monthly plays, dance and music.
Archeological information displayed allows visitors to learn about the first settlements of the regionâ€™s indigenous groups: how they obtained food by making use of the areaâ€™s various resources, their burial practices, and the interchange and trade relationships they established.
The historical information provided centers around the city of Puntarenas; though the Puntarenas province comprises parts of Costa Ricaâ€™s Northern, Central and Southern Pacific zones, the city of Puntarenas has experienced a distinct and more independent growth than the rest of the province.
The exhibition explains how this port came to be one of the most important in the country, and preserves some of the traditions and religious celebrations of its people, who are of diverse geographical and cultural origins.
The museum also displays information on the regionâ€™s various natural resources, such as its wetlands, forests, marine species, land animals and birds. It explains the importance of the Gulf of Nicoya and its islands, and tells of the natural wealth of Isla del Coco, including tales of the islandâ€™s treasures and pirates. The museumâ€™s hours of operation are Tuesday to Sunday from 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
The Sagrado Corazón de Jesús urban park and the Puntarenas Cathedral, built in 1902, are located in the same area.
PARQUE MARINO DEL PACÍFICO
Inaugurated in 2002, this park is located at the site of the old train station and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its main attraction is its fish tanks, which exhibit typical species from the Pacific, including from around Isla del Coco. The park also has a restaurant and souvenir shop.
MIRAMAR, MONTES DE ORO
A historic city, Miramar is known mainly as a gold-mining town. Development currently centers around agriculture and is very slowly venturing into tourism, mainly in the mountain areas that are home to typical towns such as Cedral and Zapotal. The area offers sweeping views of the Gulf.
RÍO BARRANCA MOUTH
This spot is very popular with surfers wanting to conquer its long left waveâ€”one of the most famous in the world. Itâ€™s also a great place for walking and observing the seascape.
PLAYAS DE DOÑA ANA
This beach and the one near the mouth of the Río Barranca are popular with surfers. Its small size, vegetation, scenery and tourist facilities make Doña Ana an ideal place to enjoy the ocean.
A historic city, Esparza was sacked several times by English pirates, and is the oldest city in the country to remain in the spot where it was founded. Among its historical buildings are the Esparza Church and the Torres School. Offering various services, the city is a must-stop for travelers to enjoy refreshments.
PLAYAS CALDERA AND MATA DE LIMÓN
This beach stretches from the Mata de Limón estuary to the promontory known as Roca Carballo. It is quite popular, especially with national tourists enjoying the surroundings and proximity to the port of Caldera, a docking site for large ships. The estuary may be toured by boat to observe the vegetation and wildlife of the mangrove swamp
MATA DE LIMÓN ESTUARY
Very close to the port of Caldera, these waters offer good jet-skiing and waterskiing, as well as excellent fishing spots.
JESÚS MARÍA ESTUARY
Suitable for fishing, this estuary is home to an impressive variety of flora and fauna. The regionâ€™s colorful birds are easily spotted here.
Located eight kilometers after Puerto Caldera by a gravel road, this beach features big waves and is very popular with surfers. It has a large mangrove swamp, and the long beach is ideal for walking and horseback ridingâ€”not to mention sunbathing.
COMMUNITY OF COBANO
Cobano is located at 158 m. of altitude. It features a good development of services and commercial, with diverse tourist businesses that offer their packages in lodging and food and tours, among others. Is the starting point for visiting places of great tourist interest such as Montezuma, Preserve of Cabo Blanco and Malpaís.
The city of Orotina features well-defined sectors: the park, the Catholic church and a variety of shops including the local market, where typical food and drink are sold. At 229 meters above sea level, Orotina has a warm, dry climate ideal for growing fruit, much of which is exported to European and U.S. markets.
Recent years have seen increased urban development and the establishment of picturesque fruit stands along the highway to the beaches of Jacó and Manuel Antonio.
The lower basin of this 118-kilometer-long river, particularly around the bridge on the coastal highway, offers a special attraction: crocodile-watching. Several river tours are available to observe these large reptiles.
PURA VIDA GARDEN AND WATERFALL
Located in Bijagual de Turrubares, this spot is stunningly beautiful. To get there, take the turnoff on the left after entering Carara National Park. The 200-meter waterfall here is one of the tallest in the country. Colorful gardens, trails and swimming holes may also be enjoyed.
To arrive, you must get away from the the center, walking approximately 20 min. The waterfall, 20 meters height, forms a refreshing natural pool surrounded by an exuberant vegetation.
This beach forms a small, lovely cove ideal for swimming and enjoying the surrounding seascape. Numerous artisan-fishing boats can normally be seen anchored here.
A beautiful protected cove featuring diverse coastal vegetation, this beach is great for swimming, relaxing and sea-gazing.
This refreshing waterfall is located in the northeastern extreme of Cocalito Beach. With itâ€™s 12-meter height, forms a pond where you can swim contemplating the marvelous natural environment, with the leafy vegetation and the blue sea. Itâ€™s an attractive landmark and a relaxing place.
This beach is located inside the Bahía Ballena, which at the same time has Playa Pochote in its northeastern extreme. It is a beautiful and extense beach, excelent for bathing and enjoying walks, horse ridings and aquatic sports. This bay has the particularity of having two alligator-shaped points. Tambor has leafy coastal vegetation, and a wide range of touristic services wich allow tourists to enjoy from cheap lodging to all-included luxury hotels. Therefore, there are many recreative facilities such as golf, sport fishing, aquatic sports and mountain biking among others.
Great scenic beauty, also has a cliff in itâ€™s northeastern extreme from wich one has a wonderful view of all the coast sector.
PLAYAS COCAL, COCALITO Y QUIZALES
These beaches are located in a coastal sector of great scenic beauty, where it combines sandy beaches with rocky platforms and cliffs, surrounded by exuberant tropical vegetation. Playa Cocal is very extensive and appropriate for bathing, sunbathing and hiking or horseback riding. Toward the north of Cocal there is Balvina Point, which once flanked communicates with Cocalito beach. This beach is narrow and occupies a rocky seaboard, delimited by high slopes that form a cliff.
PLAYA SANTA TERESA
This beach is very extense, with surfing-appropiateâ€™s swell. It has a wide coverage of coastal vegetatio and beautiful rocky sectors such as Peñón de Arío, located in the north. Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Preserve can be watched toward south of Santa Teresa beach. Besides bathing and taking the sun, this beach is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and camping.
Pochote is located towards the south of Manzanillo Point. It presents a small rocky inlet, plenty of vegetation and great scenic beauty. The place is great for hiking, enjoying the sea and taking the sun among others activities.
This beach is located four kilometers from Paquera. It presents a length of little less than two kilometers and has an estuary (Organos) and a mangrove swamp located in the north sector. The beach is very popular among the residents of the nearby towns. It possesses great scenic and natural beauty, Tortugas and Negritos Island can be seen from it coast.
This long beach is located 12 kilometers from administrative area of the Santa Rosa National Park. In its north sector it has a dark sand strip surrounded by the seawater and the rivers mouthâ€™s form an extensive estuary and mangrove swamp rich flora and fauna. It is ideal for hiking, and to observe the magnificent surrounding landscape that includes the Peña de la Bruja, a popular small rocky island among the surfers. Also it is permitted to camp in this beach.
The rocky sectors and clear sandy beaches make this coast extremely beautiful. Plentiful vegetation is the habitat of numerous animal species, congos and many birds may be observed. The central beach of Montezuma is a beautiful and small inlet, the main beach is found towards the north of the central one, and is prolonged for hundreds of meters unitl it gets to a rocky sector, where a road communicates with other beaches such as Cocal. In Montezuma one can enjoy horseback rides, mountain bike, diving and sport fishing tours and other night time activities.
This beach has a very irregular rocky seaboard. It has great natural and scenic beauty, due to their coastal vegetation and itâ€™s very pleasant wooded zones. Barrigona point can be found in the central part of this beach, and itâ€™s nice for hiking and the observation of the beautiful surrounding maritime landscape. Toward the south extreme of Malpaís, Punta Cuevas can be found, an extremely beautiful place wich border the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Preserve. In this beach other activities can be practiced: surf, horseback rides, dive, sport fishing, mountain bike, kayakâ€™s rides, watch the dusk, etc.
This small beach, surrounded by abundantly vegetated mountainous slopes. It has a quiet swell and from its coast, Isla Muertos can be seen at south. Very pleasant conditions for rest, hike or horseback ride to nearby places for characteristics flora and fauna observation can be found here. From the nearby hillsâ€™, a magnificent landscape of the Gulf of Nicoya can be admired.
It is located inside the Curu National Wildlife Refuge and is a beautiful little inlet, with smooth swelling. It has coastal vegetation and a mangrove swamp, congos and carablancaâ€™s monkeys as well as racoons, iguanas and many other animals can be found on itâ€™s different types of forests. It possesses a very pleasant coastal landscape from where you can see the Tortuga Islands, two kilometers away. Is an ideal place for bathing, flora and fauna observation and resting in full contact with this beautiful refuge.
This beach is located in an intermediate point between Santa Teresa and Malpaís, exactly in the sector where the access road to this coastal sector forks: north to Santa Teresa and south to Malpaís. Besides enjoying the sun and the beach, this seaboard is great for hiking and horseback riding, as well as mountain biking and admiring the varied and rich coastal vegetation. Also very visited by the surfers.
It is located seven kilometers south of Montezuma and two kilometers north of the Absolute Nature Preserve of Cabo Blanco. Also communicates with Malpaís through a convenient, very picturesque road for double-tractioned cars. Is an open-sea and rocky beach. Has plenty coastal vegetation and strong swelling. It possesses a beautiful coastal landscape, where Cabuya Island, which has the particularity to be a pre-Colombian native cemetery stands out. During the low tide you can get there by foot, since thereâ€™s a rocky platform that unites it with the coast. It is an ideal beach to carry out walks and to observe the nature, especially in Cabo Blanco.
This beach is inside Murciélago of Santa Rosa National Park sector. It is located in the Peninsula of Santa Elena, geologically ancient zone of Costa Rica. It is a beautiful bay delimited in its south part by the Fila Carrizal, which is prolonged to the Santa Elena cape. It has plentiful coastal vegetation and because of its width and tranquil water is ideal for the rest, the walks, to bath and to observe interesting flora and bird life. Other nearby beaches can be visited like Santa Elena and El Hachal bays. Camping is permitted 17 km away of this beach, in the administrative area.
SAN LUCAS WILDLIFE REFUGE
With an area of approximately 500 hectares, this island is lined with beaches and cliffs. Scheduled trips are offered by a handful of water transportation companies. Located between two points, the islandâ€™s main beach is called El Coco; the city of Puntarenas is visible from this gray-sand beach. San Lucas is a great place to relax, contemplate, take walks and learn about the history of the old facilities of what was once the countryâ€™s best-known penitentiary.
ISLA GUAYABO, ISLAS NEGRITOS AND ISLA DE LOS PÁJAROS BIOLOGICAL PRESERVES
Access is restricted to these islands in the Gulf of Nicoya due to their unique ecological conditions.
Guayabo is a solid sedimentary rock, seven hectares in area, with a maximum altitude of 50 meters. Covered with trees, thorny plants and coyol palms, the island is a nesting ground for the laughing seagull, the brown booby, the frigate bird and the largest brown pelican population in Costa Rica.
Islas Negritos are two volcanic rocks featuring tall headlands. Their 80 hectares shelter a semi-deciduous forest, refuge to frigate birds, laughing seagulls, brown boobies, parrots, white-tipped doves and brown pelicans. Because of their location in the Gulf of Nicoya, these islands and Guayabo may be seen from cabotage and tourist vessels on the way to Paquera and Islas Tortugas.
Isla de los Pájaros has a rounded dome shape. Only four hectares in area, the island is made up of sedimentary rock and features a tropical dry-to-wet forest where pelicans, frigate birds and brown boobies nest. It is a short distance from Costa de Pájaros.
CARARA NATIONAL PARK
Originally established as a biological preserve in 1978, this park changed management systems some years after. A transition point from dry forest to tropical wet forest, Carara consists of 5,242 hectares containing three different life zones and many tree species valued for their wood, such as ojoche, guanacaste, cristobal and purpleheart.
Standing out among the parkâ€™s wildlife are peccaries, ocelots, white-faced monkeys and, perhaps most representative, scarlet macaws, which can be seen with relative ease in this park as well as on the Osa Peninsula.
Visitor services offered in the park include parking, information, a park ranger station, drinking water, restrooms, picnic areas, viewpoints, signage and trails, such as Las Aráceas (1,200 meters) and Quebrada Bonita (1,500 meters).
ISLA DEL COCO NATIONAL PARK
This national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, owing to is unparalleled natural beauty and biological wealth. At 24 square kilometers, the island features cliffs reaching 183 meters tall and an infinite number of underwater caves. Created in 1978, the park has two main bays, Wafer and Chatham, at its north end, which feature the only two sandy beaches on the island. The extraordinarily clear turquoise waters, added to the large number of rock formations, make outstanding habitat for the abundance of fish, sharks (hammerhead and white-fin), dolphins, mantas, mollusks and the many other marine species that make this island one of the worldâ€™s most spectacular dive sites.
Thanks to its climatic patterns, the island also boasts beautiful, always green forests. Numerous impressive waterfalls and legendary tales of pirates and seekers of treasureâ€”reputedly hidden on the islandâ€”make Isla del Coco an ecologically and historically priceless place to visit.
Visitor services include information, a park ranger station, trails, signage, restrooms, drinking water and several natural viewpoints.
ISLA ALCATRAZ (TORTUGA) BIOLOGICAL PRESERVE
Known as Tortuga, Isla Alcatraz sits amid the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. No hotels or tourism services are available, so that visitors who come to the island for a few hours can enjoy it in a more natural state.
They may rest in the shade of the islandâ€™s palms, sunbathe on its ultra-white sands or enjoy activities such as kayaking or diving in its crystalline waters or touring its forest canopies. Several tour operators and water transportation companies visit the island, departing from Puntarenas, Montezuma and Herradura.
CABO BLANCO ABSOLUTE NATURE RESERVE
Located 10 kilometers from Montezuma on the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula, this preserve protects 1,272 hectares of land and 1,700 hectares of marine territory. Its primary and secondary (in natural regeneration) forests contain around 140 tree species, both evergreen and deciduous. Wildlife includes deer, Congo and white-faced monkeys, coyotes and squirrels. In terms of seabirds, there are brown pelicans, brown boobies, frigate birds and more.
Cabo Blanco is a lovely area with untouched beaches that can be reached via the existing trails. One of the beaches is called Balsitas, less than two kilometers offshore of which lies Isla de Cabo Blanco, a rocky, white island that is home to a great number of frigate birds and brown boobies.
PALO VERDE NATIONAL PARK
Located 15 kilometers south of the town of Bagaces, Palo Verde occupies an area made up of floodplains and saltwater and freshwater lagoons and marshes, habitat for the greatest concentration of aquatic birds in Costa Rica. Species that can be observed here include jabirus, black-bellied whistling ducks, Muscovy ducks, herons, blue-winged teals, ibises and great blue herons. Close to 300 bird species have been identified in this national park, which is thought to be one of the best bird-watching areas in Central America.
Other attractions include animals such as coatis, peccaries, coyotes, deer and monkeys. In addition, the Río Tempisque features 36 navigable kilometers that allow observation of Palo Verdeâ€™s various landscapes and habitats. The park offers drinking water, outhouses, researcher accommodations, trails and viewpoints.
CURU NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Curú is a private property declared National Wildlife Refuge. It is constituted by beaches, mangrove swamps and beautiful forested hills. The Refuge is flanked by sedimentary rockâ€™s hills wich form cliffs and inlets.
Some animals that one may observe in the refuge are: garrobos, iguanas, deer, congo and carablanca monkeys, raccoons, coyotes, pizotes, tepezcuintles and other. Likewise, more than 100 species of birds have been indentified there. Mollusks and crustaceans can be found in itâ€™s ponds and rocky areas.