Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Costa Rica

Puntarenas Cruise Port: Tips, Attractions and Weather

Puntarenas aerial view
This aerial view shows the strip of land known as Puntarenas. Credit: Wikimedia

The Costa Rica port of Puntarenas is a common stop on Panama Canal cruises and an ideal eco tourism destination.

Cruise visitors will disembark in one of two locations—Puntarenas itself or Puerto Caldera, which is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the town.

Either way they land, visitors may not spend much time in the town of Puntarena because the biggest attractions lie nearby and the town is quite small. It actually is part of a narrow cape of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Nicoya. The area around Puntarenas is the Nicoya Peninsula.

The town lies among nearby volcanic beaches, tropical jungles and some of the highest mountains in Costa Rica. That means cruise visitors will have plenty of opportunities to swim, hike or climb.

Shopping is limited because of the city’s small size compared to other ports, but Puntarenas is known for selling large amounts of Costa Rican coffee. Coffee lovers will love it here.

Where is Puntarenas, Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is directly north of Panama in Central America. Puntarenas, which lies in the Gulf of Nicoya, is between two common ports of call during Panama Canal cruises. They are Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala and Panama City in Panama.

Puntarenas is 670 miles by car and 490 miles by air to the north. Panama City is 500 miles by car and 370 miles by air to the south. Panama Canal cruises usually have one day at sea in-between each port.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

One of the biggest attractions in Puntarenas itself is the town’s main beach and the Tourist Walk, or Paseo de los Turistas. It runs along the beach from the historic train station to La Punta and has many shops and restaurants.

Visitors also will find numerous kiosks by the cruise pier where they can buy local foods, drinks, arts and crafts.

Another attraction near the train station is Marino del Pacifico Park, which has fish aquariums with native Pacific Ocean species. The park also has a souvenir shop and restaurant.

Visitors might also be interested in the Historic Marine Museum in the historic Puntarenas barracks. It contains an amphitheater and public library. The museum exhibits paintings and sculptures, while the theater has music, dance and theater performances.

Outside of Puntarenas, the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls has one of the biggest waterfalls in Costa Rica with a 650-foot drop. The gardens include trails and swimming pools. It is located in Carara National Park.

Serious shoppers often take a day trip to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, which is a two-hour trip one way.

Other attractions include:

  • Zip lining because Costa Rica invented it and the views are great.
  • Horseback riding through the Valley of the Monkeys to see howler monkeys, orchids and parrots.
  • Rafting on the Corobici River.
  • Exploring the largest volcanic crater in the world at Poas Volcano National Park.
  • Learning how to harvest, mill and roast coffee at coffee farms.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Playa Hermosa has family-friendly beaches and overlooks the Gulf of Papagayo.

The beach at Playa Jaco, one of the most popular locations in Costa Rica, lies closest to San Jose in the Central Valley.

An excellent choice for beginners’ waves is Playa Ballena has light-beige powdery sand and possibly the best beginners waves in the area.

Montezuma often attracts visitors to this charming beach village near Puntarenas. It is located on the eastern shore of Nicoya Peninsula.

Other Tips

  • The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón and the U.S. dollar.
  • Taxi drives will usually accept U.S. dollars but may provide change in colóns.
  • Credit cards are accepted in many places, but traveler’s checks in U.S. currency are even more widely accepted and are usually a good choice.
  • Spanish is the official language, and English is sometimes spoken.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
September 12, 2021