The slogan most synonymous with verdant Costa Rica is “Pura Vida.” Directly translated, this catchy phrase means “Pure Life.”
This Central American country is well-known for many regions–from lavish spa getaways deep in Monteverde Cloud Forest to the postcard-worthy Volcano Arenal.
However, there still remain areas of untouched paradise, such as Puntarenas, the nation’s largest province located on the county’s northwestern coast, hugging the Gulf of Nicoya and sitting above Panama.
And though great in mass, one reason why Puntarenas remains so untouched is because it hasn’t been fully discovered by tourists yet. Reserves remain pristine, highways aren’t suffocated by advertisements and fast food joints, and life somehow has retained a slower pace here.
You may recognize the name Puntarenas because Puerto Caldera is one of Costa Rica’s most popular ports–the largest and also ranked the country’s most important cargo port. Being a hub for the nation’s Pacific Coast is hardly new, however– it has been known for centuries as a highly trafficked fishing port.
Locals will advise you to explore more the real Puntarenas region instead of sticking to an often overpriced cruise excursion when you visit. By purchasing a local operator’s package you are keeping money in the community and have the benefit of inside knowledge and escapes from the crowding. A company Puerto Puede, actually distributes free, local self-guided maps for tourists arriving at the cruise terminal, giving opportunity to explore this lesser-known region.
And, suffice to say, in an era when most everything feels inorganic and too stimulating, Puntarenas sincerely exemplifies “Pura Vida.”
Getting to Puntarenas
Today, you may recognize the name in association with cruises, as this is a favorite stop for large passenger boats. But Puntarenas can easily become its own trip and getting to this unspoiled piece of paradise is simple. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, is only about two hours away, and flights from all over the world arrive daily.
Activities in Puntarenas
More than likely, your first stop visiting this area of the country will be the town of Puntarenas, with a population of just over 100,000 and a culture that spans centuries. While you can walk the seaside promenade and observe colonial architecture, which is a direct tribute to its past, you can also explore the forward-thinking innovation here, such as Casa de la Culture, a once dirty jail that now hosts an array of cultural performances all year.
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral (or Puntarenas Cathedral for short) is perhaps the most striking piece of architecture in the entire city–the facade is mortar and brick, made of stone brought from Esparza. It is one of the most significant buildings in the region for the community, for its strong cultural and spiritual significance!
For those interested in marine life, Puntarenas is also home to Costa Rica’s sole aquarium, Parque Marino del Pacifico, which dually educates visitors and assists in the rehabilitation of injured fish and aquatic animals.
Once you’ve gotten a taste of the varied species in the area, you’re going to want to explore the real marine life of this region as well-and with an abundance of unspoiled wilderness surrounding Puntarenas, that shouldn’t be difficult.
Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary, just minutes outside the city, provides homes for some of Costa Rica’s fleeting wildlife, such as tapirs, spider monkeys, marmosets, and jaguars. Of course, spying a sloth, the curious and cuddly creature native to the region, is undoubtedly a highlight. The fact that the primary goal of the sanctuary is to promote conservation and provide refuge for dying species is all the more reason to keep it high on your traveling list.
In the market for an active vacation? Puntarenas is the answer. That postcard perfection you often relate with a short boat ride to Isla Tortuga brings you to crystal clear water optimal for snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, or simply lounging. ATV’ing through the jungles and virgin beaches of Puntarenas with companies such as Pura Vida Expeditions is an excellent way to explore the entirely uninhabited part of the region.
The Puntarenas region is special because it caters to all sorts of budgets accommodation wise. Whether you want to sleep under the sparkling stars without light pollution or enjoy the amenities of a boutique beachfront resort such as the adults-only Tambor Tropical nestled on the Nicoya Peninsula, the possibilities are endless. Tambor Tropical, a true nature lover’s paradise, is the ideal base for those dually searching for adventure and comfort. Sitting gracefully on the untouched ground, the resort is also committed to providing inspiration through community leadership by supporting the local school with its initiatives to implement sustainable practices.
Another luxury recommendation that retains the Costa Rican spirit is Puerto Azul Boutique Resort & Marina, a gorgeous property boasting the avant-garde architecture and tower suites with sweeping views of the nature surrounding. A dip in one of the resort’s pristine pools is the optimal way to cool down in the heat of the Costa Rican afternoon.
One of the greatest joys in travel is the ability to lose yourself in an entirely new environment, without the claustrophobia of excess noise pollution. Puntarenas is accessible, yet remote. Relaxing, yet busy. Local, yet refined. In short, the possibilities in Puntarenas are as unique as the region’s topography itself.