Puntarenas, Costa Rica
The Puntarenas Vibe
Puntarenas, Costa Rica is not exactly a place I would suggest seeking out as a tourist destination.
It is basically a small city that is somewhat run down and dirty, but I will say, it still has its charms.
You might find yourself here for two reasons.
1. If you visit Costa Rica by cruise, the Pacific coast cruise terminal is located here.
2. If you take the ferry to or from the Nicoya Peninsula (to go to Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais etc.) the ferry leaves from the very tip of Puntarenas.
So, we don’t suggest spending a few nights here but we do have some great restaurant suggestions and tips for fun activities (especially for those of you looking for great day trips from the cruise ship).
Map Of Puntarenas
The city of Puntarenas is located in the Puntarenas Province (it’s confusing…I know) on the central Pacific coast of the country.
The city juts out into the ocean as a needle-like peninsula.
Puntarenas at a Glance
Nearest International Airport
San Jose International Airport in San Jose
Popular Things to Do
day tours to nearby towns, walk on the beach
Best Way to Get Around
Rental car, walking in the downtown area
Best Time of Year to Visit
Dry season is from late December until mid-April
Book Your Trip
Getting to Puntarenas
Flights to Costa Rica
The easiest way to get to Puntarenas is from the San Jose International Airport.
From here it is about 1.5 hour drive.
From the San Jose Airport, it will take you about one and a half hours to drive to the city of Puntarenas. The drive is fairly easy on well-maintained highways.
Just keep in mind that there are tolls on this road. You can pay in US dollars or Costa Rican colones.
In total, I would say it is about $5 to $7 in tolls. Sorry, I’ve never exactly counted it out.
We work exclusively with a local car rental company called Adobe for all our rental needs. They are the best company and we could rave about them all day.
Plus, they have given us a 10% discount and other great perks to pass on to you.
You can find out more and book your car here.
If you are traveling with a group of people and don’t plan on renting a car, a private shuttle is the way to go. You can all sit back and enjoy the Pacific coast scenery while a competent driver ensures you get to your destination safely.
We work exclusively with Adobe Transfer for private shuttles. You can find out more and get a shuttle price quote here.
There are public buses that run to and from Puntarenas throughout the day.
The nice thing about Puntarenas is that a lot of buses depart from here to different areas of the country. It’s a bit of a bus hub.
Anyway, we aren’t great with keeping up with the bus schedules so we suggest checking the Centro Casting website for all your bus needs.
Getting Around in Puntarenas
If you would like to just explore the downtown area of Puntarenas you can easily just walk around or hop in a taxi.
Most likely, if you are on a cruise and exit the cruise terminal there will be many people asking if you need a taxi.
Please, make sure you take a legal taxi. You can read more about that here. Illegal taxi drivers have been known to scam tourists and majorly overchaege them.
For trips in the surrounding area we suggest either renting a car or booking a tour.
Adobe, our favorite car rental company has an office just off of Puntarenas. They are happy to deliver your car to you for free within 12 miles of their office.
That means you can rent your car and have it delivered to you for free at the cruise terminal if you need.
Pro Tip: Rent a car with Adobe through our site and you will get a 10% discount! Score! You can find out more about it here.
Taking the ferry in Puntarenas
If you are planning to visit the Nicoya Peninsula (Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais) the best way to get here from the San Jose area of the Central Pacific coast is by taking the ferry.
The ferry terminal is located at the very tip of Puntarenas.
It is possible to book your tickets ahead of time. We suggest reading our guide to the ferry for all the details.
Book Your Transportation
There are two places in which cruises come to port in the harbor. These are called Puerto Caldera and Muelle de Cruceros in Puntarenas proper.
Most likely, your ship will park at Puerto Caldera as it is the largest seaport in Costa Rica.
Caldera is located out of the city proper. This makes it easy for you to get to other areas of the country quickly but will require about a 20-minute drive if you would like to get to downtown Puntarenas.
Both cruise terminals have bathrooms, WIFI, and pay phones.
This area follows the weather patterns of most of the rest of the Pacific coast.
You can expect dry weather and no rain from December through late April.
From May through August you will likely experience a daily afternoon rain storm, but in general, it should stay warm and sunny out.
From August until December you may have more wash-out days with heavier rains.
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I don’t really recommend staying in Puntarenas, so it was difficult to choose hotels that I would suggest.
However, if you find yourself spending the night in Puntarenas for some reason (we’ve been in that situation due to ferry issues and a bad storm), there are a few decent options.
Hotel Mar y Mar – Comfortable hotel with a pool. Rates are very fair and breakfast is included.
Cabinas Gosen – Basic rooms but they have everything you need. The staff here is super nice and everything is kept clean.
Fiesta Resort – This resort is not our favorite in Costa Rica, but if you want an all-inclusive place that is very budget friendly this is the spot!
Things to Do in Puntarenas
Explore the Downtown Area
There aren’t a whole lot of shops geared towards tourists in this area, but I think that makes it charming. It’s fun to walk the downtown area and see what life is like in this small city.
Walk on the Beach
Playa Puntarenas stretches along the whole southern half of the city. It is a nice long walk. You can stop along the way for lunch and snacks.
Puntarenas Highlights Shore Excursion
This tour includes transportation from your hotel or from the cruise port.
You will get the chance to take a boat down the Tarcoles River to see wildlife, eat delicious traditional food, learn about Puntarenas, see monkeys up close, and more!
eys up close, and more!
Enjoy a half-day private fishing tour with an experienced guide. Pick up near the cruise terminal is possible.
Visit Isla Tortuga
Isla Tortuga is an inhabited island off the Pacific coast with white sands and turquoise waters. This is a fun day trip that people of all ages will enjoy.
We strongly recommend this one!
Along the highway, before you turn into the city of Puntarenas you will see cars parked on the side of the road in front of food stands.
We suggest stopping here if you would like to try the traditional Costa Rican frozen treat called Churchill.
This consists of shaved ice, flavored syrup, powdered milk, and condensed milk.
I find it to be a bit too sweet for my liking, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Anyway, on to the restaurants!
Isla Coco’s Bar & Grill – If you are looking for a nice dinner of fresh caught seafood or fish, this is our choice for you.
Matobes – They serve great pizza among other things….but I suggest going here for the pizza.
Lunarossa – Our top choice for a more elevated date night type of experience. I think it is definitely the best restaurant in Puntarenas, and a bit more high-end than the other places on this list.
Restaurant & Marisqueria Gugas – A good spot for traditional Costa Rican meals at a very fair price. They also serve seafood.
Packing for Puntarenas
Puntarenas is not a fancy town. Dressing in casual clothes is completely fine. We suggest fast drying, breathable shorts and t-shirts. Keep in mind that we are sometimes a bit concerned about security here so having a secure backpack or money belt is sometimes helpful when walking around downtown.
When the sun goes down the mosquitos can be bad, so bug spray is always good to have.
Don’t forget your rain gear if visiting during green season.
Check out our Puntarenas Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials.
Puntarenas Travel Tips
We have never had any issues, but the downtown area of Puntarenas is not known for being the safest spot in the country. Just keep an eye on your belongings and exercise some caution when possible.