17 Things To Do In Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Aside from the vendors around the cruise port, a few Port of Call tours, and a few other wildlife spots, there aren’t too many fun activities to engage in when you’re in Puntarenas. It’s not an ideal tourist destination among the cities of Costa Rica, but there are ways you can make your stay in Puntarenas worthwhile. 

The best things to do in a city like Puntarenas vary depending on what tickles your fancy. Having spent a few weeks in Hotel La Punta and exploring Puntarenas with my husband, it’s safe for me to conclude that there aren’t a lot of enjoyable activities here. 

If there’s a cruise ship at Muelle de Cruceros, there will be a lot of vendors and such out front. This has always been interesting, but if there’s a lovely part of Puntarenas, I’ve yet to see it. 

Despite this, there are a few activities I enjoyed here that would easily pass as fantastic fun activities in Puntarenas. So, if you find yourself here and are looking to have some fun, this article is all you need. 

Key Takeaways

  • For a beach experience, the best beaches in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, include Playa Tambor, Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Biesanz, Playa Santa Teresa, Uvita Beach, and Jaco Beach.
  • For culinary experience, the best restaurants in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, include Casa Almendro and Restaurante Caballo Blanco, among a few others. 
  • For visitors on a tight budget, free things to do in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, include taking pictures in the Cathedral de Puntarenas and viewing crocodiles at the Tarcoles Bridge. 
  • For accommodation options, the best places to stay in Puntarenas include Hotel Cabinas Midey, Michael’s Surfside Hotel, and Hotel Cayuga.

Continue reading to discover some of the best things to do within and around Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

1. Visit Tortuga Island.

Tortuga is an amazing island where you can enjoy water activities. If you’re looking to avoid the packed tours, Tortuga Island is a perfect option. 

The only way to get here is by speed boat. It is a 45-minute ride from Puntarenas. On the way, you will see spider monkeys. From Puntarenas, the ship leaves at 8:30.

Alcatraz and Tolinga form Tortuga Island, a great day trip off Costa Rica’s coast. Start from Montezuma with a catamaran tour to spot dolphins en route.

The best thing to do is snorkel in clear waters or relax on white-sand beaches. You can even enjoy rum cocktails and activities like kayaking or jungle hikes. Early mornings beat the crowds. 

This is an ideal destination for spotting whales and turtles. You don’t need to be super athletic. The food is excellent, though not everyone would like the free drinks offered during the tour. 

2. Enjoy seeing wildlife.

Another exciting thing to do is see wildlife in Puntarenas. There are quite a few sanctuaries and parks where you can have this experience. One of these is the Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for animals harmed by humans, such as hunting and habitat destruction. 

The sanctuary helps animals heal and live well in captivity, giving them dignity. It also aims to release them back into the wild eventually.

You can come here (the entry fee is $38 per adult) to enjoy viewing animals. 

There are plenty of other similar wildlife centers across Costa Rica. You can take advantage of this guide to plan your visit. 

3. Take pictures at the Cathedral de Puntarenas.

This church in Puntarenas is easily accessible from any location. Inside, it might look a bit simple, but it’s super peaceful. It’s clean, chill, and nice and cool in there!

The tall ceiling keeps it cooler inside compared to the hot weather outside. Inside, it’s not fancy, but the colorful glass windows are pretty. You may even get lucky enough to see a wedding when you visit. 

There’s not much else to see in Puntarenas, so checking out the church is a good idea. You can take Instagram-worthy pictures here. 

I stopped here briefly during our Tom Thumb Tour, and it felt like stepping into history. The stained glass windows are beautiful, and you can find the church just off the street near the beach.

4. Take Port of Call Tours.

One of the most exciting things to do during your stay at Puntarenas is to go on any port-of-call tours. 

These tours are excursions or guided trips that cater to cruise ship passengers who are stopping at the port of Puntarenas for a short period of time. 

They typically offer a variety of activities and sightseeing opportunities in and around Puntarenas and its surrounding areas. However, some tours are better than others, depending on what you want.

It’s a perfect spot for watching Crocs, but not much else, from what I could tell.

Alternatively, you can take a crocodile tour on the Tarcoles River. 

6. Hiking Trail at Sendero

Sendero Perezoso Trail is another fun place to visit while you’re in Puntarenas. The trail takes between 1 and 2 hours. 

I can’t seem to understand why this is a favorite trail in the town where people have better experiences in alternatives like Hängebrücke—Waterfall Loop from Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park, and even Curi-Cancha Reserve—Quetzal Tree Loop from Monteverde.

7. Tree-climbing at Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is like a unique treasure in Costa Rica. 

It’s one of the few places left in the world with this type of forest. It is located in the Sierra de Tilarán mountains. 

The forest is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including 2.5% of all the types in the world. Approximately 10% of the world’s plant species exclusively inhabit the forest.

In the nearby town of Santa Elena, there are many hotels and restaurants. Plus, you can do fun things like climb trees, go down waterfalls, ride on zip lines, and hike in different places around there.

This Monteverde tour might interest you.

8. Boat Tour Around the Gulf of Nicoya Isles

The Gulf of Nicoya has many islands, each with its own unique features. Some of the of the big ones are:

  • Deer Island is known for its mangroves and 
  • Sugar Bread Islet is famous for its beautiful views and lots of seabirds, like pelicans. 
  • Chira Island is the biggest and has some tourism.
  • San Lucas Isle used to have a prison and has now become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Puntarenas. 

You can go on boat tours to these islands from Puntarenas, Playa Naranjo, or Cobano.

9. Explore Curú National Wildlife Refuge

For just $13 per person, you can gain access to Curu National Wildlife Refuge. It opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. every day.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica’s Gulf of Nicoya is home to the Curun National Wildlife Refuge. It stretches from Quesera Point to Curú Point. 

The refuge’s name derives from the Guanacaste trees that are common in the area. In 1983, they restored it to its natural state, transforming it into a protected area.

It’s essential because it’s where dry forests meet mangroves, creating a unique habitat sensitive to environmental changes.

If you love animals and nature, this is definitely a place to be in Puntarenas.

10. A long walk and dip-dive in the Montezuma waterfalls

Playa Montezuma is a small beach area in the Gulf of Nicoya. 

Its main beach stretches out into some rocks, and you can walk along a path to other beaches, such as Playa Cocal. 

The town of Montezuma is small, but it has stuff for tourists to do. 

One big thing to see is the Montezuma waterfall, which is 20 meters tall and has a natural pool. 

You can get there by taking a 20-minute walk along the river.

To visit the other two falls further up the mountain, there is an entrance fee of $2 (1,000 Colones). I recommend wearing sturdy, waterproof footwear.

11. See Crocodiles and Birds at the Tárcoles River

Without paying a dime, you can enjoy the view of moving crocodiles in their natural habitat at the Tárcoles River.

It is 118 kilometers long and has something unique to offer.

When you’re heading to the Pacific coast, make sure to stop at the main bridge over the river.

Lots of visitors come here to see these unique animals. 

You can also take boat tours to the river’s mouth to see birds and get a closer look at crocodiles, some of which have famous names from around the world. 

But this attempt will cost you some money because tour companies in the area will charge you for the tour. 

12. Bird-watching at Puntarenas and Mata Limón Estuaries 

The Gulf of Nicoya is home to the large pond known as Puntarenas Estuary. It’s about 8 kilometers wide. 

There are many birds there, making it a safe place for wildlife.

The water is usually calm, so you can see different kinds of boats there, like fishing boats, sailboats, and tourist yachts.

If you have little to spend, this is one area I can recommend you visit. 

On the other hand, the Mata Limón estuary is near the town of Caldera, which is not far from Puntarenas.

People there mainly do small-scale fishing, and it’s also a good spot for bird watching.

13. Cabuya Beach and Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve

Cabuya Beach is not far from Montezuma Beach. It’s unique because, when the tide goes out, a rocky path appears that connects the beach to Cabuya Island. 

Indigenous people buried long ago in a fascinating ancient cemetery on the island, still in use today.

Only a short distance from Cabuya

It’s a place where many different animals live, and it has one of the nicest and cleanest beaches around.

The park is open Wednesday–Sunday from 8 a.m.–4 p.m., except for national holidays. Foreigners can pay the $12 admission fee in cash.

14. Ballena Bay and Tambor Beach

Ballena Bay is considered one of the country’s prettiest bays. 

It is situated in the Gulf of Nicoya and extends all the way to Pochote Beach. 

The surrounding plants and trees are really thick and green. But what makes this bay really special is its horseshoe shape. 

Tambor, a small town, is located nearby. Even though it’s small, it has everything tourists need and lots of fun things to do.

15. Visit Stone Church and explore Puntarenas City.

Puntarenas City is a port on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast

It used to be a popular spot for local tourism. Nowadays, it still welcomes cruise ships at its updated dock and has a ferry terminal connecting it to the Nicoya Gulf, like Paquera and Cóbano. 

In Puntarenas City, there are many old buildings to explore, including the Stone Church. 

This church has an attractive facade and faces a small park and plaza. Benches provide some respite from the sun and heat.

You’ll find lots of fun things to do here, so you can experience the best of the area.

16. Surf in Barranca’s River- Mouth

Rio Boca Barranca is famous among surfers. It’s a top choice for adventure seekers and experienced surfers alike. 

The river’s mouth offers a long left wave that’s known worldwide for its challenging nature. It’s especially great for longboard surfing, and it’s the second-longest and slowest wave in Costa Rica. 

Surfers love it because they have more time to try out different moves and practice tricks.

17. Try the Churchill ice cream.

It is hard to come to Puntarenas without hearing about Churchhill, a popular treat. 

Shaved ice, condensed milk, kola syrup (very sweet but not like Coca-Cola), powdered milk, and ice cream or fruit are the ingredients for this treat known as Churchill. It’s not exactly healthy, but it’s definitely a refreshing treat worth trying at least once!

If you’re in town on a busy cruise ship day, you will see plenty of places to choose from to try a Churchill. 

I recommend Kiosco Bum Bum because they have it advertised on their sign. 

However, on Paseo de los Turistas, you will find several restaurants and shops selling churchills.

The bottom line

In Puntarenas, there aren’t so many things to do. I had to go above and beyond to find some of these activities. Many locals would lazily tell you to check out the beach, which is okay.

But avoid the city center because it’s run-down and people might constantly ask you for money.

The worst part is if you decide to stay in a secluded area where there isn’t a lot to see or do. The downtown area of Puntarenas is old, worn out, and not very uplifting. 

But with the few reviewed in the above article, you’re sure to have an excellent time in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

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Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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