Puntarenas Gulf of Nicoya Attractions
PUNTARENAS THE CITY
The port of Puntarenas was for many generations the symbol of summer for Central Valley inhabitants. On weekends, thousands flocked to the port, mainly by train, turning the city of Puntarenas into a tourism ant hill. A trip to Puntarenas was engraved in the minds of many who grew up in the era before international tourism. Today, the port is still important for being the point of entrance and departure for a large number of people who live on the Nicoya peninsula or the islands in the gulf. Costa Rica’s first yacht club and marina began to operate in Puntarenas’ estuary 40 years ago, and major development of the fishing industry also took place in the estuary.
With the opening of the Atlantic and Caldera Ports, many of the services that had been performed at Puntarenas were subsequently transferred to those two new ports. Commercial activity became less important and tourism became top priority. Today, it is a destination for cruise ships.
The city was founded on a narrow strip of land surrounded by water on three sides. The Gulf of Nicoya on one side, and the famous estuary on the other that consists of a large mangrove swamp with a healthy population of herons and pelicans. The access road to the city, known as the Paso de la Angostura (Narrow Passage)was constructed on a ribbon of land allowing single-lane traffic in each direction parallel to the old railroad track. This is part of the three-mile (5 km) strip leading into the city center at the tip. Along the popular section of the strip called Paseo de Los Turistas (Tourists Walkway), which runs parallel to the beach, are restaurants, bars and dance clubs which still see intense activity on weekends. The kiosks and open-air cafes that line the walkway offer visitors the region’s traditional food and drinks.
GULF OF NICOYA
From the port of Puntarenas, scheduled ferries carry passengers across the gulf to Paquera and Playa Naranjo on their way to the beaches of Nicoya Peninsula. Others set course for island destinations such as San Lucas Island, an old prison that inspired several novels and movies, and Tortuga Island, for its white sand beach and calm waters. There is no lodging on these islands and visits are limited to day trips, but one can enjoy a good nap in the shade of a palm tree here in perfect quietness since motorized sports are not permitted here. In the Biological Reserves of Negritos Island and Guayabo Island nearby, visitors can enjoy the wildlife and scenery aboard small boats with trained guides. The largest island in the Gulf, Chira, offers rustic lodgings.
MONTEZUMA has a wide expanse of beach and interesting tide pools along its rocky coastline. Small steams run down steep cliffs and burst forth into waterfalls; the views here are captivating. With the arrival of immigrants, the beach has become an artistic and cultural center, where works ranging from landscape paintings to bold fashion design have emerged. For those looking for a little more excitement there are canopy tours and horseback riding options.
A little before arriving at Montezuma is TAMBOR BEACH, famous for its tranquil and peaceful bay many consider heaven-made for watersports. From the small dock at Ballena Bay, fishing and pleasure tours are constantly leaving for one of the small islands in the Nicoya Gulf.
The road that borders this part of the peninsula leads eventually to CABUYA POINT, home to the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve. In 1963, this reserve became the first national territory to be given the status of a ‘protected area’ before becoming a ‘reserve’ in 1974. More than 85% of the reserve is covered with restored secondary forest and lowland tropical plant life. One of the trails in the reserve ends on the gorgeous CABO BLANCO BEACH. The reserve is 1.6 km from the town of Cabuya south of Montezuma.
From the town of Cobano, a road leads west for 11 km to Playa Carmen, splitting to head south for MALPAIS, which is internationally well-known, and has in recent years enjoyed a tourism boom. Since one of the country’s major rock groups took on the same name, the area has become even more famous. Today, Malpais is considered a paradise for surfers, writers, artists and vacationers. This beach town has in fact become a global village – like Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast – providing a curious and diverse mix of sub-cultutes, lodgings and restaurants. Taking the right turn at the fork road at Carmen leads to SANTA TERESA, with long white sand beaches, creeks and natural pools. Playa Santa Teresa is developing rapidly and is a particular favorite of surfers.