Central Pacific: Puntarenas: Innumerable Possibilities

The Central Pacific is the centre of entertainment, where dynamic beaches, forests and sparkling towns await.

Puntarenas is the most important city in the province of the same name. The complete province embraces the territory comprised between the slopes of the mountains in the Guanacaste Mountain range and Playa Uvita in the south part of the coast.

Downtown Puntarenas is one of the most-visited places in the country. Its attractions include the popular “Paseo de los Turistas” ( Tourist Avenue ), spotted with small restaurants, where you can enjoy a cocktail while experimenting soft sea breezes. Many restaurants offer tasty seafood dishes for lunch or dinner. For dessert, don’t forget to sample the famed “Churchill,” a refreshing item made with flavored crushed ice prepared in a special Puntarenas fashion.

Puntarenas is Costa Rica’s main Pacific port. In addition to commercial trade, many cruise ships arrive here each week while tourists flood the main avenue. Just two hours from San José, Puntarenas has a well-developed tourist infrastructure with plenty of options for lodging, restaurants and outdoor activities.

Its long beach received the esteemed ecological “Blue Flag,” awarded by the government to beaches and other communities that maintain a high level of cleanliness, respect for the environment, sustainability and development.

Places to visit

Viewing crocodiles in their natural habitat isn’t always the safest idea. But at the Tárcoles river bridge, you can safely view a plethora of these creatures as they bathe in the sun, rest along the river banks, and ignore astonished spectators. The bridge is conveniently located on the road to the beach.

For many Costa Ricans, Jacó Beach symbolizes a weekend of rest. Getting away from the stress and tension of the city is easy, as this beach is located only a couple hours from the capital. But Jacó is not only popular with locals, visitors from all over the world flock here, taking advantage of its significant tourism infrastructure, with both luxury and affordable hotels, supermarkets, drugstores, shopping malls, restaurants and nightspots. Surfing is its most appealing offering, but the town also has excellent nightlife.

Herradura, a black sand beach lined with palm trees, lies just one mile north of Jacó. It offers a calm ocean that’s ideal for swimming, due to its near-perfect bay. Jacó, on the other hand, sometimes has strong tides and dangerous rip currents for swimmers.

Hermosa beach, three miles south of Jacó, is another good option similar to Jacó, but more peaceful. Surfers love it here because of the great waves and tranquility.

On the other side of the Nicoya Peninsula lie the remarkable beaches of Montezuma, Mal País and Tambor. Montezuma is a favorite among bohemians, with an incredible waterfall located just in front of the beach. Mal País is exactly the opposite to its name, it’s actually quite serene. Tambor has great resorts for those looking for luxury accommodations.

But beaches aren’t everything on this side of the country. Between Puntarenas and Jacó you will find that wet tropical forest and dry forest live together.

The Carara Biological Reserve was created in 1978 to protect one of the last remnants of transition zones in the country, as well as the biodiversity within its grand forests. While some hiking tours in Costa Rica may be too difficult for people with physical limitations, Carara is a place for everyone. Trails here are trouble-free and safe.

Puntarenas Marine Park

With almost 800 miles of coastline on both oceans, Costa Rica is proud of its marine resources and promoting education about marine biodiversity and conservation is increasingly important. Tourists can play a vital role in this task, and together, we can learn to both enjoy nature and help protect it.

The Puntarenas Marine Park was inaugurated in April 2002 with these goals in mind.

Emphasizing the importance of environmental education, the marine park teaches visitors about the various coastal and marine life found in the Pacific Ocean . The park’s attractions include Crocodile Territory, the White-tipped Shark gallery, with temporary exhibitions and a teaching area for student lectures and seminars. The name of the gallery, “White tipped Shark”, characterizes one of the common shark species in Coco’s Island .

The park also holds exhibits of numerous marine animals and fish, including the balloon fish, ocelo moray, jewel moray, fine spotted moray, sea urchins, whitetail pamsel fish, blue spiny lobster, anemone, orange star fish (usually known as sea star), lion fish and the gorgeous pacific sea horses. Its main attraction is a tank with two sharks.

An important feature of the park is that the internal souvenir shop and the restaurant are administrated by two groups of women of the community. This gives you an idea about the social importance of this project.

The Nicoya Gulf has one of the most important marine ecosystems in the country. Residents of the small towns on the gulf depend almost entirely on its aquatic resources, which include more than 300 fish species, 240 crustaceans, 500 mollusks and others.

But the gulf faces increasing problems caused by mismanagement, overfishing and pollution. While poverty affects many local residents, women are especially hard-pressed to generate a liveable income. For all these reasons, the Puntarenas Marine Park was declared of public interest in January 2000, and helps provide jobs, especially to local women.

Eventually, the park aims to become a national and international center for ocean studies with two main focus areas: environmental research and education through recreation. It currently offers four programs: education for students and adults who want to learn more about the ocean and its wonders; research focused on the reproduction of commercial fish; the use of cleaner marine technologies; and of course, the exhibition area.

The park is administrated by four organizations: the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), Universidad Nacional (UNA), the National Learning Institute (INA) and the Ministry of Energy and Environment (MINAE). It was built with the collaboration of FUNDES, a Dutch aid foundation. It is located three blocks east of the wharf in downtown Puntarenas.

Coco’s Island

The marine park’s Coco’s Island exhibit pays tribute to Costa Rica’s biggest and most well-known island.

Coco’s Island is a volcanic cone formed under the ocean’s surface some two millions years ago. Located 332 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco, the island was discovered in 1526 by Captain Joan Cabezas. But it wasn’t until 1832 that the Costa Rican government conducted its first expedition to rescue a group of Chileans that had been shipwrecked on the island.

Legends about hidden treasures on the island have been handed down for generations, sparking more than a few unsuccessful treasure hunts.

Coco’s Island became a national park in 1978 and was declared a Humanity Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Because of its unique biodiversity, scientists and researchers frequently travel to the island to study species of corals, mollusks, fish, plants, birds and insects. It is indeed a treasure island full of natural wealth.

Its enormous shark population, including the hammerhead, has made it one of the world’s top scuba diving sites.

Travel Tips

Puntarenas is the best departure point to the many other locations. The 60-mile trip from San José takes about two hours, via the General Cañas Highway and then the Pan-American Highway .

Visiting Coco’s Island requires prior permission from officials at the Isla del Coco Conservation Area.


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