Puntarenas is the largest province of Costa Rica, and in its main city you can find the country’s main port in the Pacific Ocean.
Since 1940, the city of Puntarenas was the main destination for local tourists that came from San Jose, which is why it was commonly known as the National Balneario (“balneario” is a specific recreational destination with features such as bathrooms, lifeguards, changing rooms and snack stands, among others). Puntarenas is still one of the most visited places by local and international tourists.
The port of Puntarenas no longer receives cargo ships; only huge cruises that are plenty of tourists from all over the world.
This city has a very popular boulevard called Paseo de los Turistas (The Tourists’ Walk). It surrounds the sea and has a large variety of businesses like restaurants, stands, bars and ice cream shops.
The official name of this street is Paseo Leon Cortes Castro and at the end you will find the ferry that crosses the Gulf of Nicoya. It also has special areas for skating and walking. Many times a year this street hosts the most famous parties of Puntarenas and Costa Rica.
The Carnivals of Puntarenas are celebrated for 10 days before Lent. These festivities started in 1970 and since then have kept their popularity among visitors. Krewes, parades, live music and lots of people gather here for these feasts.
The traditional Burial of the Sardine ends the celebrations at sunset when it is thrown to the sea. This ceremony is full of irreverence and humor, and receives many critics. Men use costumes and represent characters such as priests, altar boys, the widows of the sardine, a cop, a prosecutor, and the Devil.
The festivities of the Virgin of the Sea are also held every year in the closest Saturday to July 16th. This celebration started from the story of a miracle: this Virgin saved from death the crew of a lost ship. She is the patron saint of fishermen.
Many religious activities are celebrated along with music, rides, masquerades and delicious typical Costa Rican meals. There’s also a boat parade, where the boats are decorated with lights and flags.
In this city you will find some historical interesting sites, like the University College of Puntarenas, in the south side. Los Bańos is located here, which is one of the most important places for celebrating elegant parties and feasts. The Commerce Street was the most important activity center of Puntarenas, so hotels like the Fenix and the Miramar were built here. In 1948, the construction of Los Malecones began, which are walls that protect the city from strong tides.
You can also visit other historical places such as the Mora and Cańas Park.
On September 30th, 1860, the ex-president Juan Rafael Mora Porras and Jose Maria Cańas were executed here for trying to overthrow the elected president. They led the battle in the victorious war of 1856 against the American Freebooters, with the purpose of expelling William Walker from Central America.
The Market of Puntarenas has kept its original structure over time. It has the characteristic colors of the municipal buildings of Puntarenas: orange and white.
One of the beautiful architectural structures is the Cathedral of Puntarenas, declared historical and architectural heritage of Costa Rica.
It has a unique feature: its main door is facing east, unlike most catholic churches, and it is visited by many people.
Some buildings had their functions changed in order to preserve them. For example, the University College of Puntarenas is located in the building of the Old Customs House, National Heritage from the XIX century.
There’s also the Historical Marine Museum of the City of Puntarenas, where the history of this city is displayed along with its natural charms and the culture of its people. Here you will find natural history, archaeology, traditions and celebrations. It is located in the building of the Old Command Office.
You can find as well the House of Culture, which used to be the Command Office of the Civil Guard, with a section that operated as the local jail. In 1977, the property was transferred from the Ministry of Public Security to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.
The steeple of the hermitage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel can be found in the end where the Lighthouse “La Punta” was built. The Municipal Gymnasium is located in the old Plaza los Caites (“caites” is an old term for shoes), in honor to one of the oldest families of Puntarenas.
In Puntarenas you will find the Monseńor Sanabria Hospital, which is 10 stories high and is 100 meters away from the beach. All the basic services are found in this city as well as the Miguel “Lito” Perez Stadium and its first-division soccer team.
The recent Marine Park of the Pacific has a park, large areas for children to play and food stands, making it a perfect place for families. You can see all types of animals, from crocodiles to sharks. This recreational center promotes, supports and shares the investigation, education and sustainable use of the marine biodiversity.
Accommodations and gastronomy
In the city of Puntarenas there are many restaurants in front of the beach. They offer typical dishes from Costa Rica and Puntarenas, like the famous “Churchill”, which is a slush with powdered milk, condensed milk and other ingredients.
There are hotels that adjust to the budget of their guests and have amenities for everyone. Some of them include breakfast in their rates and have swimming pools, and also arrange tours to different natural destinations.
There are no large hotel chains or fast food chain restaurants.