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A gateway to Costa Rica's best natural forests and islands, Puntarenas is a run-down port city both faded as a commercial centre and developing as a new cruise and tourist destination. Your ticket to the beautiful Costa Rica is a stop in the gateway cruise port of Puntarenas. Oddly enough, despite the often tumultuous events that surround the country, Costa Rica thrives, yet has no army. The most peaceful country in the Western Hemishpere, unlike it's neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama. It is almost impossible for cruise passengers, who arrive here from other ports in Central or South America, to not see the refreshing difference.
During the early years of Costa Rican settlement, most arrivals choose the cooler interior areas to build their villages. As a result, cruise passengers will also want to visit the country's capital city (San Jose) and popular tourist stops (Sarchi, Heredia, and Central Valley sights).  But a country that straddles both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean — as Costa Rica does - is going to have commercial ports that convey goods to the more populated interior. This is where Puntarenas enters the picture. Like her nearby sister Puerto Caldera on the Pacific, and Puerto Limon on the Caribbean, this port also serves the growing cruise industry. Although Puntarenas offers some interesting attractions of its own, most cruise passengers are lured to the country's inland capital, parks, and preserves. So get out your maps, open your atlas, or go online and find out more about this gateway port of Puntarenas. It's your ticket to the rich coast of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica's major Pacific port on the Gulf of Nicoya provides visitors with the opportunity for trips into Costa Rica's interior, known for its unspoiled nature and beautiful scenery.
Costa Rica is Central America's most stable democracy. In 1949, the army was abolished, replaced by a very efficient-looking khaki-clad Civil Guard. The literacy rate is high; Ticos, as locals are popularly called, are known for their friendly and outgoing attitude.

The capital, San Jose, lies in the Central Valley at an altitude of 3,450 feet, about a 2-2.5-hour drive from Puntarenas. Its population is estimated at over one million. Most of the colonial buildings were destroyed by earthquakes; the modern replacements are not very inspiring. The most attractive buildings include the National Theater in the heart of the city and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The general sights can easily be viewed during a quick orientation drive. The real attraction lies in the countryside, which boasts sceneries of mountain ranges, lush valleys and quaint villages. Compared to the heat and humidity of the coastal area, the Central Valley is known for its pleasant, spring-like climate for most of the year.
 
Where You are Docked
If you are lucky, your ship will dock right in Puntarenas; other cruise ships may dock at Puerto Caldera, which is 20 minutes away from Puntarenas by taxi. In Puntarenas, you will arrive at the base of the Paseo de las Turistas, the main tourist drag.
 
Some cruise ships dock on a long pier which ends in the town center of Puntarenas. While a longer walk, it’s easy to get straight into town. Taxis are plentiful in the city. We recommend that you only take the official red taxis with the yellow sign on the roof. Taxi rates are regulated by the government and to use a meter is mandatory. Ask the driver to switch it on when you get in the car. It’s called “La Maria” in Costa Rica.

Puerto Caldera offers very few facilities for cruise passengers, and there's nothing within walking distance; again, the village of Puntarenas is a 20-minute cab ride from this port. Ships dock opposite a terminal building, at the far end of which are a few souvenir shops and a sitting area with restrooms. You'll be able to pick up gifts -- jewelry, wooden crafts, Costa Rican coffee -- from local vendors but no food or drinks; spring for the bottled water for sale onboard your ship if you'd like to carry something with you.
 
If your ship docks right in Puntarenas, however, you are steps away from the base of the main tourist drag -- Paseo de los Turistas, which is a wide walkway replete with shopping and dining options that runs parallel to the beach. There's also a cruise terminal across the street from the dock perimeter with restrooms and other facilities, including phone stations. The port offers complimentary shuttle service from the gangway to the main exit if you don't want to walk; it's about 250 yards.
 
If you aren't interested in going into town, we recommend booking a tour, either on the ship or from an independent operator. Tour operators also show up on the pier to sell to those folks who want to see Puntarenas with a guide or experience eco-tours -- zip-lining, rafting, etc. -- independently from their cruise line's shore excursions department. From Puntarenas: Ships deposit passengers onto the Paseo de los Turistas, where taxis line up.
 
Things To See and Do
Puntarenas is best described as a cruise passenger's gateway to Costa Rica, but not a destination itself. There are very few tourist attractions in Puntarenas but the city itself is very busy. There are a few local beaches that are conveniently just a short distance from the pier and there is some shopping available nearby. Puntarenas may be many things, but a “shopper’s paradise” it cannot claim to be. Because of the town’s size and its charming quaintness, there is not very much room for a large marketplace. While strolling down the street you will discover some shops, but most goods you’ll find are imported from inland Costa Rica or other ports.
 
If you are looking for a slightly more relaxing way to spend your day, you might try a visit to the town of Sarchi, about 40 minutes from Puntarenas. The drive itself is pleasant and the town offers a variety of unique souvenirs including colorful crafts and leather goods. Or, arrange an excursion to a local coffee plantation, where you can learn about the coffee-making process and sample some of Costa Rica’s best brews. For those who opt to hang around town, you can stroll along the Paseo de las Turistas, a beachfront walkway that is bursting with shops, open air food counters and restaurants.
 
.Take a walk along the Paseo de los Turistas, which feels a bit like a Florida beach town out of the 1950s. The hotels here range in style from converted old wooden homes with bright gingerbread trim to modern concrete monstrosities to tasteful Art Deco relics that need a new coat of paint.
 
If you venture into the center of the city, be sure to check out the central plaza around the Catholic church. The large, stone church itself is interesting because it has portholes for windows, reflecting the city’s maritime tradition. In addition, it’s one of the few churches in the country with a front entry facing east (most face west). Here you’ll also find the city’s cultural center, La Casa de la Cultura ((tel) 2661-1394). In addition to rotating exhibits and the occasional theater performance or poetry reading, this place houses the Museo Histórico ((tel) 2661-1394), a small museum on the city’s history, especially its maritime history, with exhibits in both English and Spanish. Admission is free, and it’s open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 4pm. If you’re looking for a shady spot to take a break, some inviting benches are in a little park off the north side of the church.
 
The largest attraction in town is the Parque Marino del Pacífico (Pacific Marine Park; (tel) 2661-5272; www.parquemarino.org), a collection of saltwater aquariums highlighting the sea life of Costa Rica. Of the 23 separate tanks, the largest re-creates the undersea environment of Isla del Coco. Still, this park has a neglected and run-down feel to it. It’s 2 blocks east of the main cruise ship terminal and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 11 and under.
 
If you want to go swimming, the gulf waters in front of Puntarenas are perfectly safe (pollution had been a problem for many years), although the beach is still not very attractive. Some folks choose to head a few kilometers south of town, to Playa Doña Aña, a popular local beach with picnic tables, roadside vendors, and a couple of sodas (diners). If you head a little farther south, you will come to Playa Tivives, which is virtually unvisited by tourists, but quite popular with Ticos, many of whom have beach houses up and down this long, brown-sand beach. Surfers can check out the beach break here or head to the mouth of the Barranca River, which boasts an amazingly long left break. Still, surfers and swimmers should be careful; crocodiles live in both the Barranca and Tivives river mouths, and I’d be wary of pollution in the waters emptying out of the rivers here.
 
If you don’t want to swim in the gulf and your hotel doesn’t have a pool, or you simply want to mix with some locals, head to the San Lucas Beach Club ((tel) 2661-3881; www.sanlucasbeachclub.com). This misleadingly named local attraction is actually a landlocked recreation complex with a large free-form pool, small snack bar, and some conference rooms used for corporate incentive activities. At the end of the peninsula, with a view of the gulf, it is open Thursday through Sunday from 9am until 5pm. Admission is C4,000.
 
Puntarenas isn’t known as one of Costa Rica’s prime sportfishing ports, but a few charter boats are usually available. Check at your hotel or head to the docks and ask around. Rates (for up to six people) are usually between $400 and $600 for a half-day and between $800 and $1,800 for a full day.
 
You can also take a yacht cruise through the tiny, uninhabited islands of the Guayabo, Negritos, and Pájaros Islands Biological Reserve. These cruises include a lunch buffet and a relaxing stop on beautiful and undeveloped Tortuga Island ?, where you can swim, snorkel, and sunbathe. The water is clear blue, and the sand is bright white. However, this trip has surged in popularity, and many of the tours have a cattle-car feel. Several San José–based companies offer these excursions, with round-trip transportation from San José, but if you’re already in Puntarenas, you might receive a slight discount by boarding here.
 
Calypso Tours ? ((tel) 855/855-1975 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2256-2727 in Costa Rica; www.calypsocruises.com) is the most reputable company that cruises out of Puntarenas. In addition to Tortuga Island trips, Calypso Tours takes folks to its own private nature reserve at Punta Coral and even on a sunset cruise that includes dinner and some guided stargazing. Either cruise will run you $139 per person. These prices are the same whether you join them in San José or Puntarenas. These folks provide daily pickups from San José, Manuel Antonio, Jacó, and Monteverde, and you can use the day trip on the boat as your transfer or transportation option between any of these towns and destinations. If you ask around at the docks, you might find some other boats that ply the waters of the Nicoya Gulf. Some of these companies also offer sunset cruises with live music, snacks, and a bar.
 
San Jose
Take a two-hour ride on the Pan American highway to the capital city of Costa Rica, home to 300,000 residents. Here you will find the National Theater, the Metallic Building, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Museum, the Serpentarium Exhibition, just a few of the attractions of this cosmopolitan city.
 
San Jose & National Theater
Costa Rica's vibrant capital city is home to the Gold Museum, the spectacular Metropolitan Cathedral, the historic National Museum (the scene of fighting during the 1948 civil war), and the National Theater, considered to be the country's most beautiful building.
River Cruise River Cruise
Costa Rica's river cruises glide through the tropical mangroves where crocodiles, lizards and waterfowl roam, but the Corobici River is a prime waterway for a laid-back river raft float.

Coffee Plantation
Coffee production has always played a key role in the country's history and is important for the economy. Tour a sprawling plantation to discover how coffee is produced, from bean to cup.

Poas Volcano
The Poás Volcano, Costa Rica's natural wonder, sits at 8,880 feet above sea level. It is one of the few active craters in the Americas, and is famed for its geyser-like eruptions of gas and ash.

Sarchi
Sarchi, a friendly rural village, is famous for its talented local artists who paint and decorate traditional oxcarts in intricate, vivid designs. It is also home to the largest oxcart in the world. The main street of this inland town is lined with workshops and handicraft stores. This is where you'll find expertly carved wood products (the miniature ox-carts rank as must-buys) and ceramics. Some shops offer junk, some offer exquisite works of art, some offer both.

Costa Rica Rainforest
From the misty treetops of the Monteverde Cloud Forest to the brilliantly-colored scarlet macaws who call Carara National Park their home, Costa Rica's lush rainforests are full of intrigue.

Thermal Springs
Set near a hidden canyon where a thermo-mineral river flows, the springs are also famous for their natural mineral hot pools and exuberant vegetation.

Rainforest Aerial Tram
Costa Rica's incredible Rainforest Aerial Tram offers an intimate ride above the treetops and past numerous waterfalls while a knowledgeable naturalist guide points out highlights along the way.
 
Coffee Plantations
Many insist that Costa Rican coffee is every bit as flavorful as Colombian coffee. Sip a sample and judge for yourself. You'll also learn about the lengthy process involved in the cultivation, harvesting, processing, and roasting of the treasured little coffee beans.

Carara Biological Reserve
The ride takes just over an hour, but it's well worth the wait - plus the drive itself is scenic. The climates of both the humid, coastal shores and the drier, northern Pacific areas are represented here, offering a fantastic variety of plants and animals. Knowledgeable, English-speaking guides make sure you get the most from your visit. This biological reserve sits between the dry forests to the north and the rainier ones to the south, bordering the crocodile-filled Tarcoles River. (Carara reportedly means river of crocodiles.) Carara is one of the most likely places in the country to spot scarlet macaws. Other inhabitants include monkeys, sloths and armadillos. The park is open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily, and there are marked walking trails for guests

Poas Volcano National Park
It's believed that sacrificial rites were performed at the edge of the Botos Lagoon within the park. Picture a young maiden being tossed to her death into a 900-foot deep abyss. Although the volcano is still active, its last eruption ended in 1954.The main crater is a 15-minute walk from the visitor's center and is almost a mile in diameter -- one of the world's largest active craters. The most recent eruption occurred in 2009. The park is open from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. daily, and there are marked hiking trails.

Jungle Cruise
The cruise takes place near the Carara Biological Reserve. It's an estuary filled with mangroves and tropical foliage where egrets, herons, hummingbirds, pelicans, storks, and scarlet macaws far outnumber their human visitors. Though most of the tour involves a leisurely float through the mangroves, there's a short, easy walking tour on terra firma and a refreshment stop, as well.

River Raft Expedition
This is not a white water rafting adventure, but still a rather active journey for active tourists. The expedition is fully narrated as you drift and paddle past some of Costa Rica's lush landscapes. Look for the monkeys, iguanas, and parakeets as you paddle your way through. The reward for your efforts is a delicious lunch at a riverside restaurant. It's an active journey for those active tourists in search of action!

Hiking
Costa Rica's middle name is Hiking. With so many parks and reserves and such a varied terrain, this is a hiker's paradise. Most trails are well marked and offer various degrees of difficulty. Tour operators are available at the pier to provide transportation to and from the trails.
 
Zip-lining
Canopy tours -- during which travelers glide among the treetops attached to a series of suspended cables -- are all the rage throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. However, we'd argue that there's no better place to experience this adventure, best known as zip-lining, than in the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, where the concept originated. There are several companies that offer canopy tours, and cruise lines offer zip-lining as a ship-sponsored excursion here.
 
Monteverde Cloud Forest. You've heard of the rainforest, but what's a cloud forest? Also called a fog forest, a cloud forest is a moist tropical or subtropical rainforest that occurs high in the mountains. At Monteverde in Costa Rica, the varied climate and altitude promote high biodiversity of mammals and plants; it's also a particular hot-spot for birders.
 
Eating Out
You’re in a seaport, so try some of the local catch. Corvina (sea bass) is the most popular offering, and it’s served in various forms and preparations. My favorite dish on a hot afternoon is ceviche, and you’ll find that just about every restaurant in town serves this savory marinated seafood concoction.
 
The most economical option is to pull up a table at one of the many open-air sodas along the Paseo de los Turistas, serving everything from sandwiches, drinks, and ice cream to fish. Sandwiches are priced at around $2, and a fish filet with rice and beans should cost around $4. If you want some seafood in a slightly more formal atmosphere, try the Jardin Cervecero, Capitan Moreno, Casa de los Mariscos, or the open-air Restaurant Aloha, all located on the Paseo de los Turistas.
 
A Frosty Churchill
No one should leave Puntarenas without trying a “Churchill.” Sold by scores of vendors out of makeshift carts, food trucks and kiosks all along the Paseo de los Turistas, these concoctions are made from freshly shaved ice smothered with a wide range of toppings. Without fail a Churchill will have some sweet syrup, condensed milk and fruit salad. Some also come with ice cream and some sort of sweet cookie or cracker. Most of the itinerant sellers serve them up in plastic cups, but if you look around, you might find them in large soda fountain style glasses, which I prefer. Dating to at least the 1940s, the local legend claims that the original creator of these refreshing sweet treats bore a striking resemblance to the then British Prime Minister.
For a less casual, sit-down meal, La Yunta Steakhouse, also on the Paseo de los Turistas, serves up steaks and seafood with many tables set on the patio or verandah just above, perfect for dining al fresco. Expect large portions; entrees range from approximately $6 to $19. It' open daily.
 
Shopping
 
The most visited shopping area of Puntarenas, as far as tourists are concerned, is the beachside Paseo de los Turistas walkway.There are also a few small souvenir stands next to the cruise terminal. The city centre has mostly shops for local trade This promenade is crowded with souvenir and craft shops, and stalls are scattered in between the restaurants and sodas (local eateries).
 
There is also a good selection of craft stores at the port of Puntarenas, catering to the passengers from the cruise ships, which dock for a day and move on. Sarchi, Costa Rica's main artisan centre (located around an hour to the east), is home to a tradition of woodcarving and boasts some of the best carvers in the region, being famous for the quality of its craftsmanship.
 
Puntarenas city centre is given over to local shoppers and there are several small interesting fresh markets here, as well as the large Central Market. Costa Rican music CDs are a good buy, especially if you are planning a party when you get home. The Central Market in Puntarenas is a great place to browse, although the selection of traditional crafts is not extensive - this market is mainly for the locals.
 
One essential buy in Puntarenas is the locally grown coffee - delicious, rich, inexpensive and available everywhere. A side suggestion would be the local rum, again delicious and rich-tasting, while a fun souvenir would be a miniature painted ox cart, based on the traditional carts that carried the coffee to market in olden days.
 
Puntarenas city centre is given over to local shoppers and there are several small interesting fresh markets here, as well as the large Central Market. Costa Rican music CDs are a good buy, especially if you are planning a party when you get home. The Central Market in Puntarenas is a great place to browse, although the selection of traditional crafts is not extensive - this market is mainly for the locals.
 
One essential buy in Puntarenas is the locally grown coffee - delicious, rich, inexpensive and available everywhere. A side suggestion would be the local rum, again delicious and rich-tasting, while a fun souvenir would be a miniature painted ox cart, based on the traditional carts that carried the coffee to market in olden days.
 
For serious shopping, a day trip to San Jose - a comfortable drive from Puntarenas, is the best chance, as this capital has a good selection of small and larger stores and malls. San Jose's pedestrianised Avenida Central is as good as it gets. However, if you are shopping at markets here, be very careful of your belongings, since pickpockets abound. It should be noted that many craft items and clothes are imported from other South American countries and sold as local.



 
 
 
 
 
 
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